Urban catwalk

18th March 2005 at 00:00
An exciting exhibition in Manchester offers pupils the chance to design a futuristic cityscape. David Bocking reports

Wacky, wild and fun: that's urban design, says Debbie Measor, learning co-ordinator at Manchester's Urbis Centre. Surrounded by purple airships, giant swirling checkerboards and floating orange apartment blocks, it's hard to disagree. SuperCity is architect Will Alsop's idea for the M62 corridor, transforming an 80-mile coast-to-coast zone into kilometre-wide art villages, tiered vertical farms, and high-rise villages (or "stacks") of 5,000 people. The stacks would be "objects of curiosity and wonder in the manner of the castles of the Welsh Marches," says Alsop, and the design process would be fluid and creative.

"I could imagine putting together a city like that," says SuperCitizen Vicky Davies. "It would be cool, with loads of random things. It would be like those space films set in the future. I could imagine living there - it would attract tourists too." Vicky is 14, and lives in the SuperCity zone of Manchester.

The exhibition, at Urbis until May 15, takes Alsop's ideas and slaps them across the walls and ceilings in luminous colours and semi-abstract shapes and squiggles. A vast cityscape with strange circular doodles is dotted among Bradford's concrete and brick buildings, and an orange and green plastic model represents the "Brain of Barnsley".

The idea is to make visitors think about the places they live in and how to design and build them. The exhibition is supported by a teaching pack and three workshops aimed at key stages 1-4 students of art and design, design and technology, geography and citizenship.

The Year 9 students of Chorlton High School are taking the City Zone workshop, where they wander round the exhibition for inspiration and then get together to design a young people's zone using Alsop's design process and a large supply of props. "What about a tall farm?" says Harriet Gaskell, aged 13. "We could build it in layers, like a rain forest," suggests Nazeera Dodia, also 13.

Gradually, the city zone takes shape: a chillout area built from huge cushions, with a cherry tree on top, and a solar-powered farm on platforms, complete with restaurant, roof garden and a space for animals between the stilts. Fellow students are designing giant mug-shaped cafes, sweet shops inside giant lollipops, and a music zone incorporating a barter-based CD swap-shop.

After each group has brainstormed its way to a design vision, they set to with crepe paper, wire, sticks and glue and create an Alsop-like image of their city zone on tracing paper, taking careful consideration of energy needs and target users. Geography teacher Anthony Gillett is impressed by his students' enthusiasm; he believes that, although the workshop is focused on design, his students are picking up plenty of information about sustainable living and urban regeneration.

"Manchester is a changing city, and as they look round, students will see that some of these things are being built," he says. "Maybe not as outrageously, but it's like a catwalk: you see a fashion and say 'how can you walk down the street wearing that?' But maybe a modified version will end up on the high street, and the same thing will happen with buildings here in Manchester."

"I could see a city like this in the future," says 14-year-old Danny Higginson. "You'd need to get the Government to believe in it, but I can see signs of it now." He looks around at the triangular museum, by Manchester Victoria Railway Station: "Like Urbis, for example."

l Cost: pound;2 (+ VAT) per pupil includes the exhibition and one of three workshops: Dream Garden (KS12); Cityzone (KS23); SuperCity Challenge (KS4). Other Urbis workshops are up to pound;3 per pupil

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