Wales Millennium Centre

Wales Millennium Centre

Infobox Stadium
stadium_name = Wales Millennium Centre
nickname = The Armadillo

location = Cardiff Bay, Cardiff, Wales
broke_ground = February 2002
opened = 26-28 November 2004
owner = Wales Millennium Centre
operator = Wales Millennium Centre
construction_cost = GB£106.2 million
architect = Percy Thomas Partnership,
now called Capita Architecture
tenants = Academi, Diversions, Hijinx Theatre, Touch Trust, Tŷ Cerdd, Urdd Gobaith Cymru and
Welsh National Opera.
seating_capacity = Donald Gordon Theatre: 1,897
Weston Studio Theatre: 250
Urdd Hall: 153 (retractable)
BBC Hoddinott Hall: 350 "(still in construction)"

Wales Millennium Centre ( _cy. Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru), which also has a nickname locally as The Armadillo,cite web |url= |publisher= BBC|title= Have Your Say - Wales Millennium Centre |accessdate=2008-05-01] is a centre for the performing arts located in the Cardiff Bay area of Cardiff, Wales. It was opened during the weekend of the 26-28 November 2004 and has hosted performances of opera, ballet, dance, comedy and musicals. The 37,000 square metre (398,000 square foot) building currently comprises two theatres and a smaller hall, shops, bars and restaurants, and seven resident Welsh arts organisations. The total area of the site covers 4.7 acres (1.9 hectares).

The main theatre, the Donald Gordon Theatre, holds 1,897 people and the second theatre, the Weston Studio Theatre, has a maximum capacity of 250 people.cite web |url= |publisher= Wales Millennium Centre|title=Function rooms|accessdate=2008-03-04] The Urdd Hall holds 153 people and the seating is retractable when not in use. By the autumn of 2008 the building will also incorporate the BBC Hoddinott Hall, which will hold 350 people, and will be home to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

In 2001 Lord Rowe-Beddoe was appointed the Chairman of the Wales Millennium Centre and he remains in this post today. Sir Michael Checkland is also a Board member


Cardiff Bay Opera House

The Centre is the successor to a previous project on the site, the Cardiff Bay Opera House. This was a plan, supported by the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, to construct a permanent home for the world-famous Welsh National Opera.cite web |url= |publisher=American Airlines |title= Entertainment |accessdate=2008-04-12] However, the project failed to win financial support from the Millennium Commission, the body which distributed funds from the UK National Lottery.

International competition

An international design competition was established by the Cardiff Bay Opera House Trust to decide on the architect for the project. The competition would eventually be in two rounds. The first round of the competition attracted 268 international competitors;cite web |url=,,2263977,00.html |publisher= Guardian News and Media Limited |title= Zaha Hadid |accessdate=2008-05-01] it was won by Iraq-born architect Zaha Hadid. The list of architectural practices that took part in the competition included Itsuko Hasegawa, Mario Botta, Rem Koolhaas, Rafael Moneo, Manfredi Nicoletti, Pietro Marcozzi Architect, Rusli Associates, Percy Thomas Partnership and Greg Lynn FORM.cite web |url=|publisher=Building Design|title=Diva Zaha steals the show in Cardiff Bay |accessdate=2008-03-04] cite web |url= |publisher= |title= International Architectural Competition Cardiff Bay Opera House |accessdate=2008-04-12] cite web |url= |publisher= BASILISK |title= Cardiff Bay Opera House |accessdate=2008-04-12] cite web |url= |publisher= Rusli Associates |title= CARDIFF BAY OPERA HOUSE, Wales, United Kingdom 1994 |accessdate=2008-04-12] Her avant-garde design was radical glass structure that surrounded the main theatre. However, her design was so radical that Lord Crickhowell as chair of the Cardiff Bay Opera House Trust, asked Hadid to submit her design again along with Norman Foster + Partners and Manfredi Nicoletti, who were asked to submit revised designs, for a second round of competition.cite web |url= |publisher= CNET Networks, Inc. |title= A monumental spot of local trouble |accessdate=2008-04-12] But she again won this round too.


The decision to reject the bid for lottery money by the Millennium Commission was announced on 22 December 1995. Many claim that the bid failed because of the widespread unpopularity of the Millennium Commission support for the Royal Opera House in London, which was seen as elitist.cite web |url= |publisher= METROPOLIS |title= Opera House Lottery: Zaha Hadid and the Cardiff Bay Project by Nicholas Crickhowell |accessdate=2008-04-12] Others say that the project was destroyed by conservatism and provincialism in relation to the modern architecture, and by Cardiff Council's support for the Millennium Stadium.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, announced in a news conference that the project was flawed by uncertainties in the building's financing and construction, which made it the project too risky. Lord Crickhowell interrupted that news conference to denounce the rejection. He said the decision was "...shocking and incomprehensible...If this had been a project in London, it would be getting backing...You can understand the annoyance of people in Wales that we can't get the kind of vitally important projects that London seems to be allowed."cite web |url= |publisher= New York Times |title= Britain Rejects Welsh Opera's Plea for Financing|accessdate=2008-03-04]

Origins of Wales Millennium Centre

After the Cardiff Bay Opera House project was rejected, a new project was conceived that included more than opera and was felt to be a better reflection of Welsh culture. The change of name symbolised this, but the project still had to overcome many hurdles. Funding from the Welsh Assembly and Millennium Commission took years to obtain. Cardiff Council had to buy the land after the previous owners, Grosvenor Waterside (Associated British Ports property division) threatened to built a retail centre there due to the delays.cite web |url= |publisher=BBC |title= Plans to sell Millennium Centre site|accessdate=2008-03-04] cite web |url= |publisher= BBC |title= Wales Millennium Centre site 'saved' |accessdate=2008-04-12] Further boosts were given by large donations from South African businessman Donald Gordon and a loan from the international bank, HSBC. The GB£20 million donation from Donald Gordon was split evenly between the Royal Opera House and Wales Millennium Centre and was spread over five years. This is believed to be the largest single private donation ever made to the arts in the UK.cite web |url= |publisher= Donald Gordon Foundation
title= Donald Gordon donates £20 million to Royal Opera and Wales Millennium Centre|accessdate=2008-04-12

Design and construction history

Phase I - Donald Gordon Theatre, Weston Studio Theatre & Urdd Hall

The centre was designed by Jonathan Adams, of local architects, Capita Percy Thomas, with Arup Acoustics providing the acoustic design. His first concept drawings were made in the spring of 1998,cite web |url= |publisher= BBC Wales |title= Building for the Nation|accessdate=2008-03-13] by 1999 his design was starting to look more like the building is today.

Construction began on 25 February 2002, the main contractor being Sir Robert McAlpine Ltdcite web |url=|title=Work starts on Wales Millennium Centre |accessdate=2008-02-07
] and Kelsey Roofing Industries Ltd being the roofing contractor.cite web |url= |publisher=Ramboll Whitbybird Limited |title=Wales Millennium Centre roof windload analysis |accessdate=2008-02-07] Carr and Angier were the theatre consultants. Other contractors included Stent (foundations), Swansea Institute (glass), GH James Cyf (stonemasonry), Rimex (stainless steel), Alfred McAlpine (slate), Coed Cymru (wood), Ann Catrin Evans (door furniture), Amber Hiscott (etchings on glass walls).

The architect's concept of the building was to design a building that expressed "Welshness" and that was instantly recognisable.cite web |url=|publisher=SPG Media Limited |title=Wales Millennium Centre |accessdate=2008-02-10] The building was designed to reflect the many different parts of Wales with local Welsh materials that dominate its history; slate, metal, wood and glass.cite web |url=|publisher=Wales Millennium Centre |title=Vision - Unmistakably Welsh and internationally outstanding |accessdate=2008-02-10] All the materials used come from Wales and was built from 1,350 tonnes of Welsh slate, 300,000 concrete blocks, a million metres of electric cable.cite web |url= |publisher= The Guardian |title= Arts opening is moment of national pride for Wales |accessdate=2008-04-12]


The exterior of the building is clad in multi-coloured slate collected from Welsh slate quarries. Narrow windows are built into the layers of slate to give the impression of rock strata they depict the different stone layers in sea cliffs. The purple slate came from the Penrhyn Quarry, the blue from Cwt y Bugail Quarry, the green from the Nantlle Valley, the grey from Llechwedd quarry, and the black from the Corris Quarry. The slate industry in Wales changed the landscape of North Wales forever and is a part of Welsh heritage.

I always loved going to Ogmore and Southerndown. I thought the cliffs there looked like a building anyway. A building capable of withstanding the roughest weather for hundreds of years. The older they get, the better they look. I wondered if it would be possible to make a building which had the same qualities as these magnificent cliffs. To do that I needed a lot of stone. Normal stone for buildings has to be specially cut into blocks; it takes a long time to make and costs a fortune. But in north Wales the historic slate industry has left behind whole mountains of waste stone that no-one wants. This was stone cut from the mountainside for nearly two hundred years but which wasn’t good enough to make roof slates. Over 90% was thrown away. But it was ideal for making walls like the one I had in mind...

—Jonathan Adams, the architect


The structure is dominated by a huge dome, clad in steel which has been treated with copper oxide to give it a bronze colour. It has been designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the waterfront, and to look better with age. The steel industry was once a major employer in Wales, which is why it was decided to use bronze coloured textured stainless steel for the shell dome. The architect decided against using copper and aluminium because they would both change colour with weathering.

We all know that steel making has been important to South Wales, just as slate making has changed the landscape of the north. We have to use a special type of steel that won’t go rusty near to the salt-laden, maritime air of Cardiff Bay. This stainless steel will be made near to Pontypool. For the Wales Millennium Centre I thought it was important that the materials should have a "natural" texture, and that they should be instantly recognisable to anyone seeing them, even from a distance. For this reason I felt it was important that the steel of the shell should have the rough grain and the riveted pattern that we think of as more typical of old industrial structures, such as those that used to be commonplace around the landscape of the industrial south.

—Jonathan Adams


Both inside and outside the building, including the main Donald Gordon theatre, the balconies and the rear of the building, is dominated by bands of hardwood lining the walls.

Like the exterior of the building, the principal internal spaces are designed to make the best use of natural materials in their natural state. The structure and detail of the concourse galleries echo the form of the exterior, with the curving strata formed in native hardwoods. Oak, ash, beech, sycamore, alder, birch, chestnut and cherry woods from renewable sources in mid-Wales will be used together in proportions that reflect their relative availability from the forest. The design of the concourse galleries is intended to evoke the image of the edge of the forest, partly as a counterpoint to the coastal nature of the exterior, and partly because the edge of the forest in folklore and mythology represents a line between the real world and the magical world, a line which resembles the front edge of the theatre stage. The form of trees is created by the interweaving curvature of the gallery edges, and by the random positioning of the supporting columns.

—Jonathan Adams


Glass was used to incorporate into the bands of slate. The glass is cm to in|15|abbr=no thick and was cut and installed by the Architectural Glass Department at Swansea Institute. Glass is used not in the contemporary British architectural style of the glass curtain.

Jonathan Adams said, "The glass veins in the external walls of the Wales Millennium Centre make use of conventional glass in a unique way: the sheets of glass are stacked together and fused in a kiln to form solid blocks."


Inscribed on the front of the dome, above the main entrance, are two poetic lines, written by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The Welsh version is "Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen", which means "Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration". The English is "In These Stones Horizons Sing". The lettering is formed by windows in an upstairs bar area; these are internally illuminated at night, giving spectacular reflections in the water features.

The idea of this monumental inscription comes from Roman classical architecture. The Romans brought Christianity to these islands, along with the custom of engraving stone. The form of the Celtic cross embodies the cross-fertilisation of indigenous and Roman cultures, from which the Welsh nation first emerged. The monumental inscription is a familiar feature of Roman architecture. The inscription over the entrance of the Wales Millennium Centre is a revival of this classical tradition, and also a recognition of the formative influence of Roman culture upon our nation. We’re lucky to have two languages; one that we share with half the world and one which belongs just to us. Words in songs, stories and poems have helped to make Wales the proud country that it is.

—Jonathan Adams

Creu Gwir Fel Gwydr o Ffwrnais Awen

Of the inscription, Gwyneth Lewis said:

I wanted the words to reflect the architecture of the building. Its copper dome reminded me of the furnaces from Wales's industrial heritage and also Ceridwen's cauldron, from which the early poet Taliesin received his inspiration ('awen'). Awen suggests both poetic inspiration and the general creative vision by which people and societies form their aspirations.

Gwyneth Lewis

In These Stones Horizons Sing

Of the inscription,

It was important to me that the English words on the building should not simply be a translation of the Welsh, that they should have their own message. The strata of the slate frontage of the Wales Millennium Centre reminded me of the horizons just beyond Penarth Head. The sea has, traditionally, been for Cardiff the means by which the Welsh export their best to the world and the route by which the world comes to Cardiff. The stones inside the theatre literally sing with opera, musicals and orchestral music, and I wanted to convey the sense of an international space created by the art of music.cite web |url= | |title=In These Stones Horizons Sing|accessdate=2008-03-01]

—Gwyneth Lewis

Phase II - BBC Hoddinott Hall

The work on the new extension to the Wales Millennium Centre will be completed by autumn 2008 and will be the new home for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC National Chorus of Wales. It is due to be opened in January 2009 and the inaugural concert will be on 22 January 2009. The concert will be performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conducted by Thierry Fischer. [cite web |url=|publisher= Wales Millennium Centre |title= Inaugural Concert |accessdate=2008-10-05]

The new theatre will be called the BBC Hoddinott Hall, after the late Welsh classical composer Alun Hoddinott CBE (August 11, 1929 – March 12, 2008).cite web |url= |publisher= The Bach Cantatas Website |title= Alun Hoddinott (Composer)|accessdate=2008-04-12] It will also include a custom-built broadcast, recording and performance facilities and will hold 350 people, together with a second space for practice rooms, administration offices, a music library and backstage facilities.cite web |url= |publisher= BBC |title= BBC Cymru Wales Annual Review 2006/2007 |accessdate=2008-04-12]

The BBC Hoddinott Hall was also designed by the same architectural team of Capita Percy Thomas, now called Capita Architecture, acousticians Arup Acoustics and the main contractor has again been Sir Robert McAlpine.cite web |url= |publisher=Capita Symonds |title= Work underway on WMC's new addition |accessdate=2008-04-12]

Resident organisations

The Wales Millennium Centre is currently home to seven resident arts companies:

* Academi - The Welsh National Literature Promotion Agency and Society For Writers
* Diversions - the Dance Company of Wales - Wales' national dance company
* Hijinx Theatre - an award-winning, innovative theatre company that promotes community work, aiming to bring together people of all ages
* Touch Trust - providing educational touch and movement therapies to people with profound disabilities and autism
* Tŷ Cerdd - music information centre for Wales’ amateur and professional musicians
* Urdd Gobaith Cymru (The Welsh League of Youth) - The Welsh language youth movement
* Welsh National Opera - The international touring opera company

When the BBC Hoddinott Hall is opened, it will also be home to:
* BBC National Orchestra of Wales - The only professional national symphony orchestra for Wales

They all have office and work space in the Centre, with performance spaces, rehearsal halls, a fully equipped recording studio, and a dance house.


In addition to the 2 theatres (Donald Gordon Theatre and Weston Studio Theatre), the building also has six function rooms: Victor Salvi Room, The David Morgan Room, The Sony Room, The Seligman Room, The Japan Room and Function Room 6. The building also includes rehearsal rooms and orchestral facilities for the Welsh National Opera, also dance studios for Diversions, called the The Dance House, it includes the Blue Room, with seating for up to 100. The Urdd Gobaith Cymru houses a 140-bed hostel, as well as performance and teaching space. The Urdd Hall has 153 seats and is under the control of the Urdd.cite web |url=|publisher= Wales Millennium Centre |title= Theatrical Productions |accessdate=2008-04-12] It will also include the BBC Hoddinott Hall, which will hold 350 people.

Corporate financing and rebranding

Infobox Awards
title = Wales Millennium Centre logos
halign = center
award1 = multiple image | align = center | direction = horizontal | header = | header_align = left/right/center | header_background = | footer = | footer_align = center | footer_background = | width = |
| width1 = 128 | caption1 =
| width2 = 170 | caption2 =
2007 to present
The total cost of the project was GB£106.2 million. The National Lottery Millennium Fund provided £31.7 million, a further GB£37 million came from The National Assembly for Wales and £10.4 million was donated by the Arts Council of Wales. In addition a private investor, South African businessman Donald Gordon donated £20 million to be shared equally between the Royal Opera House and the Wales Millennium Centre. The centre also received a £13.5 million loan from HSBC. The remaining funds for the project came from a major sponsorship deal with the Principality Building Society. Today the Centre has many corporations and public bodies who provide sponsorship to the Centre.cite web |url= |publisher= Wales Millennium Centre|title=Corporate Support |accessdate=2008-02-13]

The National Assembly for Wales announced on 6 November 2007 that it was to pay off the outstanding loan of £13.5 million from HSBC and also increase the annual funding. From April 2008, the National Assembly for Wales have given a grant to the Wales Millennium Centre with GB£3.5 million per anuum for 3 years.cite web |url= |publisher= Welsh Assembly Government |title= Wales Millennium Centre |accessdate=2008-10-05] This would only repay the capital debt and not any ongoing operating loss as the Centre remains profitable. The money used to pay the debt came from unallocated funds from the Assembly's previous budget and it was said by the Minister for Heritage, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, that the new money allocation would not come at the expense of other art projects from other parts of Wales.cite web |url= |publisher=Welsh Assembly Government |title=The Wales Millennium Centre, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, the Minister for Heritage|accessdate=2008-02-13]

In November 2006, Wales Millennium Centre announced that they would begin a two phase rebranding project. The project was won by a local Cardiff company, Sweet. The first phase of the project would involve a new corporate logo, the second phase would include the complete redesign of other marketing tools, such as brochures and advertisements.cite web |url=|publisher=|title= 01-04-07 Wales Millennium Centre

In popular culture

"Doctor Who" and "Torchwood"

The Centre has begun to take on iconic status amongst the people of Wales and the rest of the UK, making numerous appearances in film and television including "Doctor Who", whose new series was produced by BBC Wales. It has appeared six times to date: as itself from outside in the episode "Boom Town", its marquee momentarily at the end of the episode "Bad Wolf", its lobby as a hospital lobby in the far future in the episode "New Earth", briefly in the episodes "Utopia" and "The Stolen Earth", and also in the final episode of series 3, "Last of the Time Lords".

The spin-off series "Torchwood", has its headquarters, known as "The Hub", set underneath the Water Tower, Roald Dahl Plass,cite web |url= |publisher= Torchwood Locations |title= 'The Hub' - Roald Dahl Plass |accessdate=2008-05-01] with the Wales Millennium Centre's frontage featuring heavily through the show.

"Jones Jones Jones"

On 3 November 2006, a record breaking attempt to gather the most people with the same surname, Jones, took place in the centre under the show banner "Jones Jones Jones", filmed for television by S4C. The record was broken with 1224 Joneses filling the Donald Gordon Theatre.cite web |url= |publisher= UHMedia* |title= 1,224 Joneses have broken the world record! |accessdate=2008-02-08]


External links

* [ Wales Millennium Centre official website]
* [ Wales Millennium Centre on the BBC Wales website]
* [ Wales Millennium Centre on the Welsh Assembly Government website]
* [ Academi website]
* [ Diversions website]
* [ Hijinx website]
* [ Touch Trust website]
* [ Tŷ Cerdd website]
* [ Urdd website]
* [ Wales National Opera website]
* [ BBC National Orchestra of Wales website]

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