Architecture: Spaces Available Art. Science. Car Parks. Bristol Has Great Ideas, but No Money. by Noni E Niesewand
Niesewand, Nonie, The Independent (London, England)
WHEN PRINCESS Anne opens the new science gallery in Bristol, called Explore, on June 14 she won't be able to visit the walk-in womb. Or take the voyage along the sperm trail as it fertilises an egg on a wrap-around screen. This isn't to spare the Princess any blushes, but quite simply, the building will be empty. It is "opening" without its contents and will remain empty until spring 2000.
Fortunately Chris Wilkinson, the architect responsible for converting a 1902 reinforced concrete train shed here, has provided some amusements. A gigantic bubble-gum dispenser in transparent plastic full of purple balls, for example. As the balls are filled with salts, they change colour as the room heats up, till they get white hot - which is their way of lowering the temperature. The system is called Eutonics.
"The building doubles as a sort of scientific exhibit in itself," project architect Stafford Critchlow explains. But Explore must wait until the old Bristol Exploratory museum closes its doors and moves its contents into this new location before they can open. In the early 1980s, Exploratory popularised science with hands-on exhibits. They applied for Lottery money to celebrate the Millennium, but were told they had to have a new building to get any money. So that's how Explore was born. Not with a big bang but more of a begging bowl. "We said the Princess would be first through our doors and so she is," is how Gillian Thomas, chief executive of @t Bristol, tersely explains the opening that really isn't. @t Bristol is the catalyst for what will be a pounds 400m urban rejuvenation scheme across 66 acres of the river front with a mix of public and private spaces. They have peppered sales literature with words like "Imagin@tion" and "Cre@tion" as Bristol reinvents itself as a Landmark city with pounds 41.3m of lottery money. But there are some holes in this mix of commercial and public development on the former wasteland of the harbourside. Like the car park that doubles as an exhibition centre deep underground. It seems strange to put art underground in a car park, but the organisers of @t Bristol need to attract users. Besides, they're unabashed about littering the place with art. The car park was built to serve the performing arts theatre that doesn't exist, after the new Arts Council chairman, Gerry Robinson, refused a bid for pounds 55m to fund it. Sophisticated ducting can whisk away exhaust fumes from 530 cars as they rev up after nightly performances. Now the car park is looking for a new role - and revenue. While it will still serves as a car park in the daytime, it is being threatened by a property developer's proposals, currently up for planning permission to build another car park for 700 vehicles nearby, along with a casino, nightclub, gym and office blocks. Planning permission has not been granted yet, and the plans are up for referral after the Cathedral complained about it blocking their sight lines. Not only the clergy are concerned. "We had enough difficulty persuading the Millennium Commission to fund a car park in the first place," says architect David Caird from the Concept Planning Group, who did the masterplan for 11 acres at the core of the 66-acre site. "And yes, I am worried and disappointed by the plans to develop the site in the hub of the public space." Caird's beautifully landscaped plans still show the faceted glass cantilever of a theatre on the waterfront, by the German architect Beynisch. When you see it you realise what a hole in the ground its absence leaves. It shows tree-lined containers, benches and sculptures.There will be a black slate fountain by William Pye, which can be drained in one section to turn into a huge amphitheatre. The big, paved square that roofs the underground is dotted with helicopter lights. Computerised by artist David Ward to plot the sun's movements at its zenith …
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Publication information: Article title: Architecture: Spaces Available Art. Science. Car Parks. Bristol Has Great Ideas, but No Money. by Noni E Niesewand. Contributors: Niesewand, Nonie - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: May 31, 1999. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.