Urbis - Cathedral Gardens, Manchester, UK

Ian Simpson
Date Built
Cathedral Gardens
Rising like the funnel of a giant cruise liner from the Cathedral Gardens, Urbis is one of my favourite buildings in Manchester. As you turn the corner of the Corn Exchange it rises dramatically in front of you. The building was designed by Ian Simpson Architects, a practice that has created a number of signature buildings in the new Manchester. It came out of a Millennium Lottery funded £29m international competition for a City Centre landmark building.

It was intended to be a museum about life in cities around the world and offered an interesting format that involved riding up to the top of the building in a lift that resembled a funicular railway then working your way back down through the exhibits.

The building has not been without controversy. In February, 2002, the Manchester Metro News ran a story headlined "Secret £1M loss at Urbis". The newspaper was outraged that the City Council had been concealing the fact that the museum was going to cost £1M a year to operate. However one Councillor pointed out that the Millennium Quarter had already generated £93 Million in public sector investment and £500 Million of private sector funding, as well as creating 1100 jobs.

In December of 2006 the Manchester Evening News said of Urbis,

"BOSSES at Manchester's Urbis museum are celebrating a dramatic turnaround in visitor numbers. They say it is largely due to the success of exhibitions focusing on the city's own life.

One of Manchester's most controversial museums, Urbis was slammed by critics three years ago after it was revealed it was attracting fewer than 200 visitors per day. There were even calls for it to be scrapped.

But by last year it had pulled in a total of 500,000 people since it opened in 2002. By the end of this month, it is expected 250,000 will have walked through the doors this year, an increase of almost 45 per cent on last year.

The museum, whose profile has been enhanced by the presence of the M.E.N.'s partner TV station Channel M, says 60,000 more people have visited the contemporary exhibition centre since Manchester and its people were placed firmly at the heart of its programme."

In 2011 Urbis is closed in preparation for its re-opening as the National Football Museum.  The new museum's websites says that, "The National Football Museum is re-opening in Manchester in early 2012; providing a world-class home for the greatest collection of football memorabilia ever assembled. .....  The National Football Museum at Urbis is unique in the way it celebrates and explores the people's game. It is evolving, ambitious and rooted in history and contemporary culture providing an accessible, fun, inspiring environment which welcomes everyone."


Update - June 2010

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