“ Museum of urban life in central Manchester. The centre features interactive exhibits and changing exhibitions on the subject of city life. Urbis challenges ideas and concepts relating to the development of cities and highlights both environmental and social issues that must be considered in the future development of the urban environment. Like many modern museums Urbis is highly interactive and is developed with education and learning as a key focus. Urbis' programme of changing exhibitions focuses on the culture of the modern city, with explorations of design, architecture, graffiti, photography, music and fashion. „
Urbis is a museum devoted to exploring the concept of the city. It contains various exhibits explaining various aspects of city living, how cities 'work' and interactive features.
The building is amazing, working in construction myself I feel it is a great feat of architecture and engineering. From outside, the building has a triangular profile, and looks like a large shard of glass embedded in the ground next to Victoria Station. When you enter the museum at ground floor level, you are greeted by the reception staff and then directed to a lift that travels diagonally upwards all the way to the top floor. You view the exhibition from the top level downwards.
I was very impressed by the lift (this is probably due to me being an engineer) - it has glass sides and you are able to see your progress as you travel along the 'track' that the lift follows (my kids loved this!).
We went to Urbis to see a special exhibition about the 1996 IRA bombing and the impact it has had on Manchester City Centre. There were videos, recordings and witness accounts of the events before, during and after the explosion. There were also some exhibits, including the traffic lights that were within close range of the bomb (and remained remarkably intact). It was very interesting, and worth going for.
Sadly, the rest of the museum was a bit of a let-down. The other 'exhibits' consisted of wall displays, and although there are a lot of interactive things (like the sound booth with 'city noises'), it just seems like there isn't very much in the building. You could do the whole lot in half an hour - thank goodness it was free to get in.
The shop is really good, and is accessed from outside the museum. Because it's a separate entity, I quite often go in there if I'm looking for gifts, or a quirky present for myself. They have loads of unusual stuff in there, from bags to T-shirts, to books, to mugs, to window stickers, to board games, to models..... A lot of it is Manchester-themed, but a lot of it is general interest, so there is probably something for everyone.
I would say the museum is more aimed at younger people (although I don't exactly consider myself to be ancient!). I think they could do so much more with the museum part, but I would say you should go just to see the building!
I try not to make a habit of finding myself in Manchester. The reason for that is very simple - I lived there for three years once. Now those of you who have never been to Manchester will be curious to know if it ever stops raining there - but like I said, I only lived there for three years so I'm not really able to tell you........ My brother recently got married to a lovely Mancunian girl (you're allowed to wish me "Mazal Tov" but please don't say "please god by you" and pinch my cheeks!) Unfortunately her family are United supporters but I'm just going to have to learn to live with that. The wedding was the reason that it came to pass that I found myself in Manchester with a little bit of time to kill. The 3 years that I spent in Manchester as a student from 1993 - 96 were not the happiest of my life but I actually quite enjoyed the city. In 1996 however the IRA planted a bloody great bomb in the centre of town and made a bit of a mess of things. I took the hint and left sharpish! This big bang left a large part of the Arndale Centre in little bits - which any of you who went to the Arndale Centre before 1996 would probably agree was a good thing. (No-one was killed in the bombing as the perpetrators called through a warning and the area was cleared in time). The blank canvas that was left, together with the Commonwealth Games last year, gave the city a pretty unique opportunity to have a go at rebuilding things. Thus it was that I found myself wandering through Manchester town centre, checking out the newly done up Corn Exchange (once a bit of a dive selling candles, kaftans and joss sticks to students - now lots of classy fashion places), wandering into Selfridges to admire lots of clothes that I'll never be able to afford without a mortgage and generally admiring the way in which the city has changed since I left (I'm told that the night life is pretty kicking too), when all of a s
udden I wander round a corner to see this huge glass pyramid. "What the hell is that?" I asked myself (this is the first op on it so I couldn't even turn to my trusty Dooyoo for guidance!) Being a naturally curious kind of fellow I decided to wander around til I found an entrance - easier said than done as its quite a big building but eventually I found myself standing inside the vast lobby repeating my enquiry to the friendly member of staff who came over immediately to help. Over the next couple of hours, having parted with a fiver (far cheaper than two hours in Selfridges!), I was to learn rather a lot.......... * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Urbis is a state of the art museum of the city - not Manchester itself but the actual concept of the city. Its location is perhaps appropriate in that Manchester was the first industrial city in the world, based on the processing of cotton and the manufacture of cotton based goods. It looks at the way in which we have interacted and continue to interact with the city, how we shape it and it shapes us. Sounds poncey? Okay - let's take a very simple example. Put yourself in the centre of your town and contemplate the different ways in which you interact with it on a regular basis. In the day time it may well serve as a place of work. In the evening its a place of entertainment. And at night when the streets are quiet, its a place where you don't feel particularly comfortable walking about alone. Now think about your last holiday. The place that you were visiting was equally a place of work and entertainment for the locals - but you related to it as something else entirely - as somewhere new to be explored - as a constant source of wonder as you uncovered new shops, foods, cultures. A place means different things to different people at different times. Or let's look at another scenario familiar to anyone who has lived
in a city which has a fair immigrant population. Immigrants generally cluster - its natural to do so - good to have a sense of familiarity and shared culture with your neighbours in a new and scary place. Eventually, the nature of the place changes as the new group gains a critical mass - it has happened with various groups over the ages - just think of the Irish in Kilburn, Jews in Golders Green, Asians in Ealing - all examples of our influence on changing the meaning of a place. Okay - this is the sort of thing that I get excited about - I have a degree in Human Geography - essentially 3 years of studying (okay loafing around and drinking at the tax payers expense) where humans live and why and how they interact with their surroundings. But this is quite interesting stuff on a basic level and its presented well at Urbis using all sorts of interactive methods - so let's get back to the place. After you hand in your coat and bags you are welcomed to a lift by a helpful and well trained member of staff who gives you a brief rundown on what you'll be seeing. I found that being a smart arse put them off their patter so don't try to be like me - no-one likes a smart arse anyway! The lift drops you off at the top of the pyramid into the "Arrive" zone where the experience begins with a noisy introduction to the city in the form of a multimedia presentation that literally surrounds you, buffeting you with noise and images from all sides. This must be the feeling that an immigrant gets when arriving in the city for the first time. Its not a comfortable sensation and its cleverly done. Film over you are disgorged into the rest of the zone which largely deals with immigrants. It includes personal testimonies of people who have settled in Manchester from the various population groups and lets you hear their coping strategies. The idea of course is to make you identify with someone - being Jewish I picked up on Richar
d the kosher deli owner's experience. You don't have to watch all of these - the choice is up to you - but the characters that I watched were all interesting, including clubbers, a local tatooist and a young boy from Afghanistan. The next zone is called "Change" and looks at the way in which communities and the city in which they live change through the course of time with particular reference to the Jewish, Italian and Caribbean communities. It is all done through clever, interactive methods allowing you to choose the groups that interest you (or ignore everything if you wish). Leaving the specific experience of Manchester behind, you come to an area with a series of phone both sized TV screens which are activated when you move towards them and present the stories of people in different cities around the world - all fascinating. Again, pick those that interest you. "Order" looks at the way in which order is kept in the city with some interesting exhibits concerning crime. There's a smart little machine where you can choose your crime and city and receive your "sentence", a look at the way in which the built environment effects us. One of the most popular exhibits in this section was that dealing with CCTV. Involving the use of a large number of cameras and TV screens it sought to demonstrate how under surveillance we all are. One had the possibility to sit and choose and image, include a few personal details and to get an "ID card" printed out which could then be added to the many thousands stuck to the walls of the exhibit. The final station is "Explore" allowing you to take a look at selected items of various cities to examine why certain cities have become synonymous with certain things and how people interact what seem to be similar places in very different ways. This last section in particular uses a vast array of interactive devices which will certainly keep the kids occu
pied. Urbis is a really interesting piece of work and I'm not sure how relevant it would be to the casually interested - certainly Manchester has plenty of other things to commend it such as Granada studios, the Lowry museum and a rejuvenated downtown. Where I feel it really works well however is with the multitude of school groups that seemed to be thronging the place. Certainly anyone from the age of about 11 with any sort of interest in the Human side of Geography would be well advised to see this place whether in some sort of organised school outing or privately. Had this been there when I was at University I would have found all sorts of inspiration for my course work. I don't think that it would work to well for young kids. The interactive stuff is cleverly done and varied but the subject matter is probably a little to serious. Those who are going to get the greatest benefit would be students from GCSE upwards and those who are curious about where they live. The boring stuff: For more info go to www.urbis.org.uk Located close to Victoria Station and certainly walkable from Manchester Piccadily. Trams go to Victoria and the main bus stop is close by. Effectively if you can get into the centre of town its easy to find. Open 10:00 - 18:00, 7 days a week. Fiver for an adult, 3.50 for nippers over 8 years (younger get in free). Special rates for Mancunians. Organised school groups up to 18 are free. Family rates available. Concessions to students, pensioners, disabled, groups etc etc etc. All sorts of exhibitions and learnign programmes available - check the website for details. Enjoy!