Architect 'not surprised' by VAF row

THE architect who designed a controversial £16.5 million arts venue for an Essex town has revealed he was neither surprised nor concerned at the outcry it caused.

By Roddy Ashworth

THE architect who designed a controversial £16.5 million arts venue for an Essex town has revealed he was neither surprised nor concerned at the outcry it caused.

And Rafael Vinoly, who was visiting the county to give the annual Colchester Lecture, said the amount of fevered debate the building generated had proven how important it actually was.

The “Visual Arts Facility” (VAF) is currently under construction on part of the town's former bus station, in a site off Queen Street and East Hill.


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Internationally renowned, Mr Vinoly was appointed architect in 2003 after winning a worldwide competition run by Firstsite, the local arts organisation that will eventually occupy the building.

Funded for the most part from outside agencies, including Arts Council East and the East of England Development Agency, the proposals for the VAF created a deep and bitter divide between local politicians and residents alike.

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Championed by the borough council's Liberal Democrat group, the plan was disowned by the local Lib Dem MP Bob Russell, who actively campaigned against its construction.

And many bus users objected to its location, forming their own protest group which not only collected thousands of signatures on a petition against it but even put forward single-issue candidates in local elections.

Mr Vinoly told the EADT: “The level of opposition was commensurate to the importance of the building. I expected the level of anti-feeling towards it.

“It is part the sensitivity of the building. Any building designed by the kind of architects who got through to the final stage of the competition would have generated an equal reaction.

“I am too old to get exasperated by such things. If you don't have a high level of resilience it would become impossible.”

Mr Vinoly added he was very pleased with the ongoing construction of the VAF but that he felt it was important the rest of the existing bus station should move from its current site next to it.

“It is very arrogant to say it must go, but it will go. It is a question of time. It will be better for the bus station and for this project.

“It needs to be an open space. There is a lack of central open green spaces in Colchester, and as a place for congregation and interaction I think it is absolutely fundamental.”

Construction of the VAF is scheduled for completion by autumn this year and it is expected to open to the public in March 2008.

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