The villains of this piece are a collection of local politicians and business people who got together last week at the Institute of Wales. By blackballing the project, they destroyed any chance it might have of winning funding from the Millennium Commission.
The people of Wales should know what they have lost. Gone is the prospect of a 2,000-seat theatre incorporating the best acoustics that would show musicals, cabaret, pantomime, dance and opera. The Welsh National Opera, one of the finest opera touring companies in Europe will not, as result, have a home. A project that promised to do for Wales what the Sydney Opera House did for Australia has been needlessly frustrated: my design would have been the catalyst for the rejuvenation of the entire Cardiff Bay area, drawing in visitors, investment and tourism.
The design team planned to integrate a 10,000-square metre wing for the National Museum and Galleries of Wales into the opera house site. This would have featured a glass jewel, housing a 13th-century Celtic cargo boat, recently unearthed in the River Severn. Additionally, there would have been a 300-seat Imax theatre and exhibition spaces to show the evolution of Wales within the context of world history. The whole panorama of Cardiff Bay and the docks would have unfolded beyond an open-plan floor of nautical artifacts. The new design's emphasis on Welsh museum, art and popular music powerfully addressed concern that this would be an elitist building. This opera house and its accompanying museum promised to be a cultural complex for all the people of Wales.
The design had passed many tests. It had emerged as winner in an international architectural competition with 269 entries over two rounds. No one could fairly doubt that the winning design had been been selected because of its architectural and technical merit. Indeed, it had come to prominence despite being submitted as an outsider, rather than from one of four well- known architectural practices which were specially invited to participate in the final round.
The design captured the imagination of the local press, the architectural press and the national press, generating thousands of column inches. It was exhaustively re-examined, even after it was picked. Yet, it survived even this scrutiny.
Although the decision to stop the project so abruptly has been made in Wales, there are wider implications that will beg questions from all the organisations involved in this bid. The first will be to the Millennium Commission itself whose original remit, as cited by Peter Brooke, then Secretary of State for National Heritage, was to build 12 grand projects around the country. The commission made clear that the opera house was the type of project that it would want to support. Yet the commission has so far failed to approve funding for the scheme. It must now face the accusation that it lacks vision and courage to give life to new, modern projects that look forward to the next millennium. The failure of my design, despite its success in passing all the tests set for it, is a ghost that will haunt the Millennium Commission. It now looks like a bureaucratic body that is ill-equipped to respond to forward-looking ideas.
The decision to kill off the project also questions the whole process of architectural competitions in this country- which are often the best way to choose between rival designs. But above all, the biggest question is that, given the golden opportunity to reapply for Millennium Commission funding, and with a design improved to reflect its earlier critical reception, local factions took it upon themselves last week to kill off the project. It is for these individuals to identify themselves and explain actions that will result in a great loss to so many people in Wales, who want to give their country a modern face that is open to the arts and innovation. These individuals must answer now publicly to the visitors to the museum, to the audiences in the theatre, and to the Welsh National Opera. They must explain why they have killed off Wales' flagship for the future.Reuse content