In 1996 an IRA bomb hit the area of Manchester around the old Print Works and Arngate. Fortunately, although 300 hundred people were injured, there were no fatalities and happily, the destruction was limited, in the main, to a car park. As it rebuilt in the aftermath of the bombing, Manchester became an international model of city centre development, with innovative buildings, malls, monuments, and spaces. But the star of this showpiece of urban development must surely be Urbis, Manchester’s state of the art exhibition centre.
Urbis, which is Latin for of the city, was the result of a design competition. The winner was local architect Ian Simpson.
Urbis shares one edge of a triangular garden space with Chetham’s Music School and the old Corn Exchange, which now houses the trendy Triangle Shopping Complex. It is a tall cylindrical concrete building coated in 200,000 panels of glass with emerald lights at their centre. There is a 3 foot insulation clearance between the concrete of the building and its glass exterior. At one end an external spire stretches like a bird towards the old city, while below it, the inside is like the prow of a ship.
The core focus at Urbis is Manchester – what makes up this fantastic city and how its citizens and visitors interact with it. The local television station, Channel M is housed here, promoting performers, producing shows and broadcasting uniquely Manchester events.
Urbis is a centre for workshops and tours, like the City Sights Regeneration Tour, exploring Manchester after the bomb, the Faith Tour, exploring city churches, or the Behind the Scenes at Urbis Tour, which looks at the history, the architecture and the organization of Urbis.
The Urbis foyer is marketplace for local artists and craftspeople as well as an information centre on city life and history. Its shop offers a great range of books on Manchester and its people as well calendars, posters, prints, crafts and souvenirs of the city and the region. Urbis café is a meeting place, a place for Mancunians and visitors to socialize. Urbis’ three floors of show space house exhibitions about city life.
Urbis is a fascinating place to visit, not just as an introduction to the city of Manchester, or as an exploration of its story, or of its latest productions but for its own sake as a unique example of architecture and as a unique centre of city life and art.