Branson Coates

National Centre for Pop Music (NCPM), Sheffield, 1998

For this first major work, the Branson-Coates Agency came up with an architectural sign whose aesthetic power managed to offer an original response to the programme while at the same time weaving a subtle bond with the project’s cultural and physical context. In this museum devoted to Pop Music, architecture makes permanent reference to the musical genre, in an ongoing dialogue with the site. The National Centre for Popular Music was meant to symbolize the cultural conversion of Sheffield’s old abandoned industrial neighborhoods, a city particularly involved with steel. Like an evocation of the silos which are plentiful in the industrial zones of English cities, the four huge round buildings also look like a set of drums. Their facetted cladding made of steel panels acts like a kaleidoscope, and reflects the immediate context “in an openly Pop manner”, to use Nigel Coates’s own words. By night it offers a new look over Sheffield by reflecting and magnifying the interplay of colours which animate the city. At the top of each “drum”, a kinetic device is designed to provide a natural ventilation through the passive use of the prevailing winds, operating like a weather vane. The form of the silos and the ventilation systems may call to mind Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House, but the overall plan links up with the Italian architecture of the Quattrocento (in particular Palladio’s Villa Capra), because it is organized on the basis of a cross-shaped plan like several of the agency’s earlier projects (Oyster House, 1998; powerhouse::UK, London, 1998). For the architects, this configuration is akin to the role played by drums in Pop music: a rigorous structure based on which everyone can express their creativity. Going against the grain of the linear organization of traditional museums, visitors here are invited to create their own circuit, choosing from the four exhibition spaces, fanning out from the central cross-shaped hall; Soundscapes, a 3D acoustic environment created by the musician and producer Martyn Ware; Perspective, presenting Pop Music ranging from its influences to its societal aspects; Making Music, offering visitors participatory activities; and lastly the venue earmarked for temporary exhibitions. The NCPM opened in 1999, benefitting at that time from the latest information technologies, and was considered as the first interactive temple dedicated to Pop Music. The project went bankrupt, however, hardly a year after its inauguration.

Gilles Rion

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