Leisure: Music on the waterfront sets new Bristol fashion

A new pounds 93m performing arts centre on the waterfront at Bristol was given the go-ahead yesterday when the Arts Council announced that its bid for pounds 70m of lottery money had been accepted. It will put Bristol on the international arts map. Kathy Marks explains how.
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The Harbourside Centre's futuristic style will rival that of the Pompidou in Paris when it opens in the autumn of 2002. The Bristol building is all jagged outlines and asymmetrical planes, with glass walls to provide views over the water and the city.

But its backers hope that the quality and mix of the performances staged there will be as much of a draw as the design. The centre will feature a 2,300-seat concert hall with state-of-the-art acoustics and a 450-seat dance theatre.

The pounds 93m complex is the centrepiece of a massive redevelopment project in the former Bristol docks. An interactive science museum and a virtual- reality wildlife centre are to be built on the same site.

The awarding of a grant that will meet most of the design and building costs was disclosed by Lord Gowrie, chairman of the Arts Council, in Bristol yesterday. He said he expected the Harbourside Centre to become "a pivotal centre for the performing arts". The complex is to be home to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia, as well as to two leading dance companies. It will have a resident composer, Graham Fitkin, and choreographer, Lea Anderson. Resident jazz and folk musicians and ensembles are also to be appointed.

Duncan Fraser, its director, said that it would provide a big boost to the south-west region as well as attracting artists of international renown. He hopes to lure orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic as well as jazz and rock performers. But education will also be a strong focus, with resident orchestras, dance companies and artists expected to work with local schools and community groups. There will be space for school concerts, workshops and master classes.

"Community education will be at its creative heart," said Mr Fraser. "This will be a building where people can have a real relationship with the artists. We want to get away from this idea that you open the doors for rehearsals and lock them when the ensembles leave."

The huge glass building was designed by the veteran German architect Gunter Behnisch, and his son Stefan, who were also responsible for Munich's highly acclaimed Olympic stadium and the Parliament Building in Bonn.

Stefan Behnisch says the Harbourside Centre is intended to have "a transparency which reflects, both visually and metaphorically, the qualities of the surrounding water".

The complex was originally planned to replace Bristol's existing concert hall, but became part of the waterside redevelopment, the largest inner- city urban regeneration project in Europe.

With Science World and Wildscreen World, both of which received funding from the Millennium Commission, it will occupy 10 acres at the heart of a revitalised 66-acre site of former dockyards and industrial land.

The first pounds 4.3m of lottery money will be used to complete design work, with construction due to begin in late 1999. More than pounds 10m has been raised from the private sector.