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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 16:30 GMT
Age-old crafts create new centre
By Roger Pinney
BBC Wales reporter

Slate exterior
Slate from Snowdonia clads the walls of the arts centre
As the Wales Millennium Centre opens, the BBC Wales news website explores how the new building physically represents its mother country.

Travelling through Wales to the Wales Millennium Centre is like a journey to the heart of this country's history and traditional crafts.

Architect Jonathan Adams has incorporated materials and skills developed over centuries throughout the whole of Wales.

I took a journey to find out what inspired him, and to meet some of the craftspeople involved - beginning in the slate quarries of Snowdonia.

Slate has shaped and coloured this landscape with the massive waste slate mountains which cast shadows across the industrial towns of Bethesda and Blaenau Ffestiniog.

In the 19th century their quarries, and the thousands of people who worked them, roofed the world.

Today they have provided one of the most striking aspects of the exterior of the new Wales Millennium Centre.

Quarryman Mark Jones
Quarryman Mark Jones says the slate makes him feel involved
More than 1,000 tonnes of slate, in colours ranging from the blues and greys of Blaenau and Cwt y Bugail through to the heathers of Bethesda, now clad the building in Cardiff Bay.

This is an industry in which age-old skills persist. Slate splitting is still best done by hand. And the millennium centre has been good for employment here too, with 60 jobs created as a result of it.

Mark Jones is one of the quarry workers who have been involved in the project, and he is proud of it, even if Cardiff Bay is 195 miles away.

The centre is hardly on the doorstep of these workers and their families, but he believes the connections made through the construction will have an impact.

" I'm looking forward to going there." Mr Jones said " By providing the slate we can all feel part of this."

Hopefully in time it will represent the country in the same way the Sydney Opera House stands for Australia
Rod Bender, glass designer
At Glynllifon, south of Caernarfon, metal worker Ann Catrin Evans has been working against a tight deadline to finish her contributions on time.

The workshop is a dark place with a great forge glowing and warming at the centre of it.

Ann Catrin is one of Wales leading artisans. Her work is striking in design but inspired by a combination of art and functionality.

For the millennium centre, she made a great key and padlock for the opening ceremony. They not only had to look good, they had to work as well with a small replica of the key in brass as a presentation to the Queen.

Ann Catrin Evans
Ann Catrin Evans created the key for the opening ceremony
But her work did not end there. Ann Catrin Evans also made the pushplates on main doors in the centre's public areas.

For some of these, she drew on the ripples made in sand by the tides around the Welsh coastline.

Ann Catrin is intrigued by the thought that centre users will pass through her art on the way to enjoy the arts on offer in the building itself.

" I formed the shapes using my own hand," she says. " That way they should feel good to the hands that use them."

From the outside, the shape of the Wales Millennium Centre is as striking as any building. Even the critics who dubbed it armadillo-like have recognised that.

Metal pushplates
Ripples on sand are the inspiration for Ann Catrin Evans' pushplates
But pass through the rolling hills of mid-Wales and the inspiration becomes immediately apparent.

Look closely at the slate exterior though and you will discover fissures of glass. The architect Jonathan Adams wanted these to resemble water and ice - key components of the Welsh landscape.

To achieve this, he turned to the Architectural Glass Department at Swansea Institute. There, lecturer Rod Bender first rejected the notion.

Six years on, and a new patented construction process later fulfilled Jonathan Adams' commission.

" It was a real learning process for us." said the Australian now settled in Wales.

Mirrors and glass were created at Swansea Institute
"I've even had to turn into a businessman and set up a company to achieve this."

Mr Bender was also responsible for mirrors which draw light into the building.

"The centre has real potential to put Wales on the map." he added.

"Hopefully, when people look at it they'll think of Wales and hopefully in time it will represent the country in the same way the Sydney Opera House stands for Australia."


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