Huge umbrella to shelter Hull's Mediterranean renaissance

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HULL, A place that has never allowed its remoteness to confine big ambitions, revealed yesterday it will be building a huge umbrella in its city centre.

The umbrella is an ellipse-shaped roof, 920ft long by 100ft at its widest point and built from metal hoops and diamond tiles. It is part of a pounds 100m regeneration plan for the run-down Ferensway area that owes much to Barce-lona's regeneration.

The roof will cover a 1.25-acre boulevard containing a supermarket, 200 new homes, a multiplex cinema and hotel. It is designed by Sir Norman Foster's architectural firm Foster and Partners and nearly puts the city's 4,950ft Humber Bridge - which, when completed in 1981 was the world's longest - in the shade. London and Amsterdam, the company that won a four-way bidding contest to carry out Hull's redevelopment plan, called it "a dramatic statement unlike any other in the country".

Quite what the 17th- century metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, who was a local MP and who mentioned the Humber in the love poem "To His Coy Mistress", would have made of it is anyone's guess.

Jonathan Levy, spokesman for Hull's regeneration partnership, underlined its more practical values. "Despite our attention to Barcelona in our regeneration, we were not sure the weather would quite match theirs," he said. "It is a roof which creates protection from the elements in the winter but allows a breeze in warmer weather through its louvre structure, which allows it to be opened up to an air flow and then shut."

Few cities are quite as overlooked as Hull, yet as city centres go, it already has a lot to shout about. Old Hull is full of narrow cobbled streets and quays with taverns. The city centre was commended in the recent Rogers report on urban regeneration for its varied uses and the way it capitalises on urban space, rather than just leaving open areas to the outskirts of the city. Both of these attributes mirror Barcelona, and the new development picks up on this theme.

Yesterday's announcement also included plans for a new arts complex to house Hull's innovative Truck Theatre Company, the Albemarle Music Centre and a state-of-the-art transport interchange to link bus and rail services.

But it was the impressive roof that grabbed the most attention. "Though it is an opaque colour in our sketches that may change according to subsequent designs," Mr Levy said.