Architecture: Disabled art students see the light: The users of a new building are helping to design it. Jonathan Glancey reports

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The Independent Culture
When the architect Ian Taylor first met art students with severe visual disabilities to discuss a new building for them in Leicester, the talk was mainly of doorknobs and window catches. 'Now,' he says, 'the students are discussing ideas about space and light and sound - in a word, architecture. We've got to the stage where there is real dialogue between design team and students.'

The Richard Attenborough Centre for Disability and the Arts at Leicester University is the first of its kind: a real art school for those with severe disabilities that makes as few compromises as possible. Construction of Mr Taylor's building (the winner of a design competition sponsored by the Independent) will start in the autumn; it is scheduled to be completed by September 1995.

A mere 12 months to build the first of a new type of building, finished to a high standard - that will mean going some. The design team gathered around Mr Taylor is, however, expert in building fast and well. It comprises the quantity surveyors Michael Latham Associates, Curtins Consulting Engineers as structural engineers, David Beattie Associates as the building services contractor and Arup Acoustics for sound. Sound and light will play a key role in this radical building.

Mr Taylor, a 37-year-old London-based architect with Bennetts Associates, has worked on some of Britain's finest 'fast- track' buildings, including the sleek Number 1, Finsbury Square, at Broadgate in the City of London, a Kew Gardens-style palm house brought up to date, which is one of the most highly praised of modern office buildings. It was designed under the guiding hand of the late Peter Foggo, then a partner of Arup Associates. When Mr Foggo set up on his own, Mr Taylor went with him, working on a new generation of high-quality, high- speed buildings.

'There was, however, a point when I didn't want to work as an architect,' says Mr Taylor. 'I spent a couple of years setting up contemporary art exhibitions in redundant buildings. That brought me close to artists; the Attenborough Centre squares the circle for me, bringing my love of art and architecture together.

'Some of the design ideas - for example, the ways in which we'll bring daylight into the heart of the building - are novel; I hope that manufacturers interested in new structural developments, such as glass, will feel they can help us.'

The Richard Attenborough Centre is looking for charity. It has raised pounds 883,000 to date, but needs at least a further pounds 750,000 for the building to succeed. The first project of its kind, pioneered by a brilliant and committed team of artists and educationalists, the centre deserves to be the best a relatively small amount of money can buy. When complete, people from around the world will be saying what a wonderful idea it has been and what a superb building it is housed in. Please make this hope reality by making a donation to Dr Eleanor Hartley, The Richard Attenborough Centre, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH.

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