Ian Simpson Architects' "city experience" visitor attraction takes pride of place in new city centre.
A swooping glass "ski jump" of a building will be the centrepiece of Manchester's reconstructed city centre, which was devastated by an IRA bomb in 1996.

The £29m Urbis Centre is a visitor attraction dedicated to the experience of a modern city. Designed by local practice Ian Simpson Architects after it won an international competition in 1998, it is also Manchester's landmark millennium project.

Recently released drawings show the centre, which started on site in February, standing at the edge of a new landscaped public square north of the refurbished Corn Exchange, to be known as the Millennium Quarter. The six-storey building faces across the square to Manchester Cathedral and a new city park leading to the River Irwell.

"The building is itself part of the city experience it exhibits," says Ian Simpson. A skin of frameless glazing, made up of alternating horizontal strips of clear and translucent sand-blasted glass, gives views in and out of the building. Inside, there is a novel diagonal funicular lift to transport visitors to the start of the exhibition on the top storey, and a "wonderwall", on to which real-time images of life in other world cities will be projected.

The exhibition has been conceived by three designers – Land, Event and At Large – co-ordinated by architect DEGW. Instead of presenting historical museum exhibits, the idea is to fill Urbis with unexpected music, sounds, poetry, films, photographs, computer-generated images and every imaginable sensation found in a big city.

As DEGW architectural director Stephen Greenberg says: "Urbis is about people's experience of the city, and the impact it has on their lives. It is about understanding the city emotionally as well as intellectually."

Client Manchester City Council is keenly aware of the impact that the building will have on its city centre. When completed in December 2001, it should play a vital part in transforming Manchester's tight grid of streets, dominated by fortress-like shopping centres, into a sequence of landscaped squares and stylish public buildings that people will take pleasure in visiting – and even inhabiting.