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Wales Millennium Centre ( ), which also has a nickname locally as the Armadillo, is an arts centre located in the Cardiff Baymarker area of Cardiffmarker, Walesmarker. The site covers a total area of . Phase 1 of the building was opened during the weekend of the 26–28 November 2004 and phase 2 opened on 22 January 2009 with an inaugural concert. The centre has hosted performances of opera, ballet, dance, comedy and musicals.

The venue comprises one large theatre and two smaller halls; it also includes shops, bars and restaurants. The Centre is home to the national opera, dance, theatre and literature companies, as well as the national orchestra. In total, the Centre has eight arts organisations in residence.The main theatre, the Donald Gordon Theatre, holds 1,897 people, the BBC Hoddinott Hall holds 350 people and the Weston Studio Theatre holds 250 people.

In 2001 Lord Rowe-Beddoe was appointed the Chairman of Wales Millennium Centre, which is a company limited by guarantee, 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 Welsh National Opera. 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. 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. It was won by Iraq-born architect Zaha Hadid. 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. But she won this round too.


The decision by Millennium Commission to reject the bid for lottery money was announced on 22 December 1995. Many claim that the bid failed because of the widespread unpopularity of the Millennium Commission's support for the Royal Opera Housemarker in Londonmarker, which was seen as elitist. 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 Stadiummarker.

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."

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. 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.

Phase 1 – Donald Gordon Theatre and Weston Studio Theatre

The 1999 sketch of the Wales Millennium Centre by Jonathan Adams

In addition to the two main theatres of the Donald Gordon Theatre and Weston Studio Theatre, the phase 1 of the Wales Millennium Centre also has six function rooms: the Victor Salvi Room, the David Morgan Room, the Sony Room, the Seligman Room, the Japan Room and Function Room 6. The Urdd Gobaith Cymru houses a 140-bed hostel, as well as performance and teaching space. The Urdd Hall has 153 retractable seats and is under the control of the Urdd Gobaith Cymru.

The building also includes rehearsal rooms, orchestral facilities for the Welsh National Opera, dance studios for Diversions, called The Dance House, and the Blue Room, with seating for up to 100.

The foyer has three bars; the Penderyn Awen Foyer Bar on level 2, the Horizons Foyer Bar on level 4, and the Stones Foyer Bar on level 5. Gilby's @ the Bay, which is a restaurant, is also situated in the foyer, along Crema, which is a coffee shop, Hufen, which is an Ice cream parlour and One, which is a wine bar. Free performances also take place during the day in the foyer on the Glanfa Stage.

Design and construction

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 early 1998, by 1999 his design was starting to look more like the building it is today.

During construction of phase 1

Construction began on 25 February 2002, the main contractor being Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd and Kelsey Roofing Industries Ltd being the roofing contractor. 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. 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. All the materials used come from Walesmarker and was built from 1,350 tonnes of Welsh slate, 300,000 concrete blocks, a million metres of electric cable.


Multi-coloured layers of slate

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 Quarrymarker, the blue from Cwt y Bugail Quarrymarker, the green from the Nantlle Valleymarker, the grey from Llechwedd quarrymarker, and the black from the Corris Quarrymarker.

I always loved going to Ogmoremarker and Southerndownmarker. 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 Walesmarker 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


Copper oxide coated sheet steel

The Centre's main feature, the bronze coloured dome, which covers the Donald Gordon Theatre, is clad in steel that was treated with copper oxide. It was designed to withstand the weather conditions on the Cardiff Bay waterfront and will look better with age. The architect, Jonathan Adams, decided not to use copper and aluminium as they would both change colour with age and weather conditions.

We all know that steel making has been important to south Walesmarker, 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 Pontypoolmarker.

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


Used on the balconies in the foyer

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-Walesmarker 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


Bands of glass from the inside

Glass was used to incorporate into the bands of slate. The glass is 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 the upstairs bar areas and are internally illuminated at night.

The front windows from the inside

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, Gwyneth Lewis said:

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 Headmarker.

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.

—Gwyneth Lewis

"In These Stones Horizons Sing" is also an orchestral work, which was composed by Karl Jenkins, and commissioned by the Wales Millennium Centre for the opening of the Centre on 29 November, 2004.

Opening weekend celebrations

The building was officially opened on the weekend of the 26, 27 and 28 November 2004. The ceremony was organised by Bryn Terfel, the creative director of the whole opening weekend.

Day 1 – 26 November 2004

Plaque to commemorate the opening of the Wales Millennium Centre

The day started with a speech from Lord Rowe-Beddoe, chairman of Wales Millennium Centre, who declared to the crowd that the proceedings were underway. This was followed by a speech from Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister, who stressed that the new arts centre belonged to the whole nation, that it was for all of the people of Wales and not just for the elite.

The building was opened by Janet Thickpenny, a young mother from Barrymarker, who was chosen because her on her 40th birthday coincided with that of the opening day. A human chain delivered the symbolic key, designed and cast by Ann Catrin Evans, to Janet with a fanfare from the National Youth Brass Band of Wales to a Karl Jenkins specially commissioned work In These Stones Horizons Sing and the Centre was open.

The evening celebrations began with Cymru for the World, which celebrated the achievements of five leading Welsh artists; Gwyneth Jones, Shirley Bassey, Siân Phillips and the late Alun Hoddinott and Richard Burton, represented by his daughter Kate Burton. This included tributes from Robert Hardy, Jonathan Pryce, Derek Jacobi, Nana Mouskouri, Catrin Finch, Ruth Madoc and Ian McKellen.

Bryn Terfel started off with a short speech and introduced the Wales Millennium Centre singers and dancers, who in hard hats and donkey jackets sang and danced the story of the construction of the building. They were later joined by all 322 participants in a chorus, including Gwyn Hughes Jones, Bryn Terfel and Dennis O'Neill sang a duet from Pearl Fishers. Diversions performed a new ballet based on one of Alun Hoddinott’s works. The Welsh National Opera performed La Traviata, in their new home. The evening ranged across all musical types from popular to classical.

Day 2 – 27 November 2004

The second day was an open door for the public to explore the Centre with a continuous stream of hundreds of people filling through the building from early morning until the fireworks display out in the Roald Dahl Plassmarker.

Day 3 – 28 November 2004

The final day of the opening weekend began with the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and the Prince of Wales who met First Minister Rhodri Morgan and Lord Rowe-Beddoe, and marked the event by unveiling a plaque. Philip Madoc, Siân Phillips, Gaby Roslin, Michael Ball, Charlotte Church, Catrin Finch and Only Men Aloud! were among the artists that entertained the audience during the first act. The second act was opened by the Welsh National Opera and later the Kirov Ballet and Cirque Éloize entertained the audience. Bryn Terfel ended the celebrations.

Phase 2 (C Bay) – BBC Hoddinott Hall

The BBC Hoddinott Hall

Phase 2 of the Centre is home to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW) and the BBC National Chorus of Wales. It was opened on 22 January 2009 with an inaugural concert performed by the BBC NOW and conducted by Thierry Fischer. Phase 2 includes the 350 seater BBC Hoddinott Hall ( ), also known simply as Hoddinott Hall, which is named after the late Welsh classical composer Alun Hoddinott CBE (August 11, 1929 – March 12, 2008), and the Grace Williams Studio, which is named after another Welsh composer, Grace Williams (February 19, 1906 – February 10, 1977), and is used as a centre for education and outreach work. Phase 2 also has space for practice rooms, a music library, backstage facilities, it also provides a four storey office space for Wales Millennium Centre and the Arts Council of Wales.

Design and construction

The original plans for the Centre were that it would have a concert hall, however the final design of phase 1 did not include one. Space though had been left for a concert hall to be built in the future when phase 1 of the Centre was opened in 2004, and construction on phase 2 was then due to begin early in 2005. However, construction of phase 2 did not actually begin until April 2007. Phase 2 was designed to fit into the Centre’s curved slate frontage, with an upper part constructed from timber.

The entrance to the BBC Hoddinott Hall from within the Wales Millennium Centre

Phase 2 of the Centre was designed by the then newly qualified Tim Green and Keith Vince of Capita Architecture, formerly called Capita Percy Thomas and now part of Capita Symonds, with Arup Acoustics again providing the acoustic design. The main contractor was again Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, with MJN Colston Ltd responsible for the design and installation of all the mechanical, electrical and public health services in the building. Other subcontractors on the project included URS Corporation, Davis Langdon and Hulley & Kirkwood.

Tim Green said of the building that the exterior of the building was designed to be in keeping with the existing Wales Millennium Centre, while the interior had a theme all of its own. "The concept behind the design of the interior of Hoddinott Hall was that of a traditional Welsh chapel." "The timber treatment at low level is very reminiscent of Victorian chapels and the masonry above. The stonework you would normally get in a stone chapel has been replaced by concrete."

During the design and construction period, the project name for phase 2 was C Bay. Construction of phase 2 began in April 2007, and ended when the keys to the building were handed over at an official ceremony in September 2008, and the beginning of the fitting out of the BBC Hoddinott Hall by BBC Wales.

Opening Festival

To commemorate the opening of the BBC Hoddinott Hall an inaugural concert took place on 22 January 2009. It was part of the Opening Festival which took place between 22 January and 1 February 2009. The concert was performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and was conducted by Thierry Fischer. The concert included the world premiere of St Vitus in the Kettle by Simon Holt, the orchestra’s composer in association, who took over from Michael Berkeley. The BBC Hoddinott Hall was officially opened by the Prince of Wales on 31 January 2009, where he unveiled a plaque.

Resident organisations

Diversions at the Wales Millennium Centre

The Wales Millennium Centre is home to eight 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 - a 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 amateur and professional musicians, including the Welsh Music Information Centre, Welsh Amateur Music Federation, National Youth Arts Wales and Cyfansoddwyr Cymru (Composers of Wales)
  • Urdd Gobaith Cymru (The Welsh League of Youth) - the Welsh language youth movement
  • Welsh National Opera - an international touring opera company
  • BBC National Orchestra of Wales - The only professional national symphony orchestra for Wales

All these organisations have office and work space in the Centre, along with performance spaces, rehearsal halls, recording studio, and dance hall. In addition, the headquarters of the Arts Council of Wales is also located in phase 2 of the Centre.

Corporate financing and rebranding

The total cost of phase 1 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 Housemarker 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.

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 annum for 3 years. 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.

The cost of phase 2 of the project was approximately £18 million, however the BBC does not own the building, they have leased it for 25 years from the Lime Property Fund, which is a subsidiary of Aviva Investors. The building was built by Concert Bay Ltd, which is a subsidiary of Sir Robert McAlpine Enterprises Ltd who co-funded the scheme along with Lime Property Fund.

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 involved a new corporate logo, the second phase included the complete redesign of other marketing tools, such as brochures and advertisements.

In popular culture

Doctor Who and Torchwood

The Centre has made 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 Plassmarker, 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 1,224 Joneses filling the Donald Gordon Theatre. The previous record was set in Swedenmarker in 2004 when 583 people gathered who had the same surname of Norberg.

Gavin & Stacey

Episode 1 of the second series of BBC TV show, Gavin & Stacey was filmed in the Wales Millennium Centre. The centre was supposed to be Heathrow Airportmarker in Londonmarker.


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