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Listen in, listen Ian!

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Oh, I remember now [Jul. 23rd, 2003|05:32 pm]
Listen in, listen Ian!
I knew I had something to talk about.

I went to urbis on Monday when I was in Manchester. It was crap.

You start off by going up diagonally in a glass lift. It doesn't get much better than this. On the way up, a guide gives you a brief introduction to the museum, and explains that the reason the building is built so as not to give a clear view(it is a glass building, but has thin horizontal stripes of clear and frosted glass) is that the architect only wanted to give brief glimpses of the view. What a tosser. Why not create a building that might provide what the users want it to rather than artificially limiting its use for vague conceptual reasons? Also, we were informed in the lift that no photos should be taken on the exhibition floors as the exhibits are copyright controlled. Jeez. Welcome to Manchester's brightest new attraction.

The actual exhibits in the museum defy description on the whole. "Ephemeral" may be the best adjective I can come up with to describe them. Rather than displaying interesting objects, useful information and some good interactive bits they seem to have gone for being as interactive as possible for the sake of it. "We're so good at museums!", you can almost hear the designers shout.

Unfortunately, they aren't. Most of the interactive exhibits are confusing, for example, the section which attempts to show some short films about various aspects of the history of Manchester. For no apparent reason other than the fact that it's possible, access to various parts of the films is controlled by running your foot along a strip light in the floor. That must have seemed like such a good idea at the time. Tellingly, one of the best exhibits in the entire museum is the interesting selection of historic photos on either side of the screen with writing telling you about them. No need for flashing lights, loud noises or confusing user interfaces. Not coincidentally, no distraction caused by them either.

The whole thing is barely informative in any way possible. We all know that cities are big and noisy, and if you're in a new one it can be a little disorienting. We don't need a tape recording of traffic noise, market traders and police sirens to tell us this. And whilst a section for visitors' feedback can be interesting in a museum, urbis seems obsessed with it. A selection of visitor's descriptions of the route from Piccadilly station to urbis. A section where visitors can leave post-it notes on a wall answering a number of important questions, including the truly profound "Is Boddington's really the cream of Manchester?" A wall running the full length of one floor tiled with little id card things the visitor can make, with a photo of themselves, and a space for their likes and dislikes. Half a floor taken up with that? There's only so many times it's interesting to discover that Simon from Sheffield likes pies and dislikes Monday mornings, and it's about five. Not the 20,000 or so that urbis appears to think it is.

Urbis is promoted as one of the centrepiece attractions in Manchester these days. While I'd encourage any visitors to go and look at the building, and the Millennium Quarter in which it's set, for God's sake don't waste your money going in. Go to the fantastic Art Gallery or the Museum of Science and Industry instead. Both are free, and both are infinitely superior to urbis.


[User Picture]From: shereenb
2003-07-23 12:18 pm (UTC)
From the pics on their website the building looks pretty enough. But all their waffle about the exhibitions Arrive, Change, Order etc. reminds me of the W5 [1] in Belfast. They'd obviously thought those were really kewl names and forced stuff in to suit as best they could.

[1] Who, What, Why, When, Where?
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