Architecture: Is this a cinema that I see before me?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Get thee to a lottery! They've built a new picture house in Stratford- upon-Avon. It is beautiful, but we may not see its like again, says Nonie Niesewand.

When French TV sent a team to film British architectural grands projets just before Christmas they must have been astonished to be shown this version of the Cinema Paradiso in Stratford-upon-Avon. The French crew had been poised to zone in on the Dome, Somerset House and such. But President of RIBA, David Rock, who is on the Arts Council to appraise all the schemes coming in for funding, insists that this make-over and extension of a Twenties garage by the London-based architects Panter Hudspith is a good example of what it's all about.

"I got it across to them that in England the grand projet is lottery funding spread about in lots of little bits all over the UK. It is the people's money; many small projects makes a great difference to society."

Locals with backing from Councillor Cyril Bennis petitioned for a downtown cinema - the only one in Stratford closed years ago. Donations kicked off with pounds 25. Once City Screens took over the project it got Arts Council funding of pounds 690,000 for the building, which cost just under a million. It took two years from summer 1995.

By supporting the projection room from the side walls of the cinema rather than the zinc roof they avoided fire protecting the whole roof and saved money. Lousy access, from the back door only, was overcome by turning the courtyard into parking for the disabled and putting the foyer on the first floor, reached by stairs with walking stick stair-rails and a talking lift, its Portuguese accent denoting its country of origin.

The bar at roof level opens out on to a terrace. Fine details, from the crazy modern chandeliers, metalwork fish door handles on the children's lavatories, to a well-designed kiosk for popcorn and peanuts, is testimony to the architects' policy of trying everything out in their own practice first.

As one of the first Arts Council lottery-funded buildings to be completed it may be a benchmark. The good thing about the lottery spreading money around the country and maintaining small firms of builders and architects and engineers and surveyors is that it has produced buildings for the community that go beyond the bare minimum.

The bad news for architects is the lottery cut-back. The Government White Paper which comes before Parliament this month proposes to reallocate some of the money from the lottery into different new bodies which will administer it. Arts, Heritage, Sport, Millennium and Charities will all lose one fifth of their lottery money when a sixth, the New Opportunities fund, channels money into schools and hospitals.

This sounds great but it could be used to fund teachers learning IT and to set up fitness clubs around the country. "The effect on building will be greater than the Government would have you believe," says David Rock.

`How do they do that?' an exhibition about the making of the Stratford- upon-Avon Picture House, at RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London W1, until February 8.

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