“Culture is a companion that no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy,
no enemy can alienate, no despotism can enslave.
At home a friend, abroad
an introduction, in solitude a solace, and in society an ornament.
It chastens vice, it guides virtue, it gives, at once, grace
and government to genius. Without it, what is man?
A splendid slave, a reasoning savage.”
Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719)
What better words could justify and sanction the creation of the Cyprus Cultural Centre?
The Cyprus Cultural Foundation was created in 2005 by a decision of the Council of Ministers and was tasked with the creation of a Cyprus Cultural Centre in Nicosia, first of its kind on the island. The Centre will be one of the most significant new works of architecture in Nicosia.
The offices of the Foundation are housed in a restored sandstone building on Byron Avenue on the site where the Cultural Centre will be built. Kikis Lazarides, former Chairman of the Laiki Group and member of the International Olympic Committee, is President of the Foundation, and the Director is Tassos Angelis.
It is only in the last forty-seven years that Cyprus has been an independent Republic but Nicosia remains perhaps the last capital of Europe not to have its own Opera House or Symphony Hall. That is why the main purpose of this project is to establish a national centre for performing arts. The main venue will combine an opera house and concert hall capable of accommodating 120 member orchestras and audiences of up to 1.400 people. A smaller hall, next to it, will comprise 500 seats for chamber music, jazz, modern dance, conferences and lectures.
The building will also play a strong role in the civic and educational life of the capital. In addition to the main performance halls, the building will have an outdoor theatre suitable for larger scale concerts and popular entertainment which will use extempore auditoria that can be dismantled after the performances. A wing of the building will house specialized libraries and educational facilities for teachers and students. The foyers will be designed to incorporate an exhibition area, shops and a variety of cafeterias. The Centre will also offer state of the art conference facilities.
The Centre is located close to the Presidential Palace and the House of Representatives, in an area that has been designated as a major cultural zone. The district is at the centre of the new city, creating an additional focal point for the capital, beyond the city walls.
In October 2006 the Foundation launched an international architectural competition, open to all qualified architects. A total of 60 leading architectural offices from around the world submitted valid entries to the competition. The list was narrowed down to eight finalists, each with an international reputation and portfolio of such international standards that whichever was chosen, Cyprus would have been the winner.
The President of the nine-member jury faced with the difficult task of choosing the architectural design is the former Commerce, Industry and Tourism Minister, Michael Colocassides. The other members included Vladimir Ashkenazy, London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Director, established architects Charles Correa and Theo David and the former Chief Executive of the Sydney Opera House who is currently in charge of the South Bank Centre in London, Michael Lynch. As the members of the jury commented, they were faced with “an embarrassment of riches.”
The decision was a difficult one but the jury unanimously voted in favour of the entry submitted by Hopkins Architects of London. The practice is supported by the Nicosia-based architectural practice of Vardas + Patsalosavvis, engineers Over Arup & Partners, acousticians Kirkegaard Associates, and theatre consultants Carr and Angier.
Hopkins Architects was founded in 1976 by Michael and Patty Hopkins. It now employs over 100 people at its London office and a further 30 in Dubai. The practice has a wide portfolio of buildings, including many for the Arts, which have won numerous architectural awards. It is internationally recognized for its work in sustainable design. It is currently working on three University projects in the US at Yale, Princeton and Rice and has recently completed the Shin-Marunouchi building for Mitsubishi in Tokyo, to be opened in April 2007.
Tassos Angelis, Director of the Cyprus Cultural Foundation, which administered the competition said that the Hopkins proposal addressed most effectively the special requirements of the competition. “We did not want a massive enclosed structure but one that would pour itself out into the surrounding area where something is expected to happen 24 hours a day, if possible. The entry succeeded in relating the proposed cultural centre complex to the entire area, notably to other built and natural landmarks such as the Pedieos Park to the west and the new House of Representatives building to the east.”
Speaking on behalf of the jury, Michael Colocassides, chair of the jurors said that they were unanimous in choosing the Hopkins design for the intelligence, elegance and dynamic sensitivity of the plan. “The design showed a sensitivity to the opportunities presented by the local climate in its openness and the use of interior courtyards giving serious consideration to the environmental sustainability in the design.”
The estimated cost of the project will be about 80 million euro, plus another 20 million for various fees. A great share of the expenditure will be met from EU cohesion funds, the remaining money will be provided from government funding and large sponsorship deals. Officials from Brussels have already visited the site and approved of the project. The time-table for completion is 2010-2011, in time for Cyprus’ first EU presidency in July 2012 when the Cultural Centre is expected to provide venues for the main events.