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WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE

Site Details

© Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey licence number 0100022206

NPRN 403908

Map Reference ST17SE

Grid Reference ST1925974630

Unitary (Local) Authority Cardiff

Old County Glamorgan

Community Butetown

Type of Site CONCERT HALL

Broad Class CIVIL

Period 21st Century

Site Description The construction of an opera house, initially to the south-west of the West Bute Basin (NPRN 34288) and then on the present site of the Wales Millennium Centre north-west of the basin, had been an important aspect of the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation’s plans for the late-twentieth-century redevelopment of Cardiff Bay. However, the proposed project featuring the innovative design of Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, chosen as part of an international competition, failed to obtain financial support from the National Lottery-funded Millennium Commission in 1995.

A new project was therefore conceived which included a wider range of cultural offerings in addition to Opera. Although after several years the new concept managed to secure part funding from the Millennium Commission, as well as substantial support from the Welsh Assembly Government among others, the project continued to face difficulties. These included Cardiff Council purchasing the land for the site after the Wales Millennium Centre board failed to do so within the agreed timescale, and the owners of the property threatening to sell the land if work failed to begin by late 2001. Despite these complications, the Centre was constructed in two phases, 2002–2004, which included a 1,900-seat auditorium, a 250-seat studio theatre, a dance studio, a recording studio, an orchestral rehearsal hall, and gallery space as well as shops, cafes and restaurants, and 2004–2009, which included the Hoddinott Hall and Grace Williams Studio. The first phase was opened on 26 November 2004 in a ceremony which featured the passing of a key made by the artist Ann Catrin Evans from hand to hand followed by an opening show, singalong, and royal gala. The second phase was opened with a festival from 22 January to 1 February 2009 featuring school orchestral concerts, workshops, and events by leading artists.

The main first phase of the Wales Millennium Centre was designed by architect Jonathan Adams of Percy Thomas Architects. The main contractor was Sir Robert McAlpine. The structure is dominated by a large champagne-coloured stainless-steel dome, with surrounding walls constructed of polychromatic waste slate collected from quarries throughout Wales and laid in tapering layers. The front of the dome features a massive glazed inscription by the poet Gwyneth Lewis reading:

CREU.GWIR.IN.THESE.STONES
FEL.GWYDR.HORIZONS
O.FFWRNAIS.AWEN.SING

This can be read as two poetic lines intertwining: ‘Creu gwir / Fel gwydr / O ffwrnais awen (Creating truth like glass from inspiration’s furnace) and ‘In these stones’ / Horizons / Sing’.

(Sources: Newman, Buildings of Wales: Glamorgan (London: 1995), p. 264–5; Benjamin Thomas & Associates, Inc, ‘The Inner Harbour: Area Planning Brief, Final Report’ (1990); ‘Wales Millennium Centre’, www.sir-robert-mcalpine.com; John Darnton, ‘Britain Rejects Welsh Opera’s Plea for Financing’, New York Times, 25.12.1995; ‘Plans to Sell Millennium Centre Site’, BBC, 2.11.2000; Maev Kennedy, ‘Arts opening is moment of national pride for Wales’, The Guardian, 27.11.2004; Cathrine Mary Evans, ‘Pupils help to launch BBC Orchestra’s new home’, Wales Online, 15.1.2009)
A.N. Coward, RCAHMW, 31.7.2018

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