In 1988, a new arts centre, based at Pier 8, was proposed to raise the cultural profile of the city and bring more businesses and tourism into the area. Salford City Council commissioned the internationally famous architects James Stirling and Michael Wilford www.michaelwilford.com to produce designs for the arts centre. Stirling died suddenly in 1992, and Michael Wilford was confirmed as architect. Lottery funding was secured, building began in April 1997, and was completed three years later.
The total cost of the project, £106 million, includes The Lowry building, the large triangular Plaza, the terraced areas down to the canal and the Lifting Footbridge leading to Trafford Wharfside and the Imperial War Museum - North. Also included in The Lowry project is the Digital World Centre (DWC) - a high-tech business centre providing quality, serviced premises.
The Lowry is triangular in shape, to fit with its site at the end of Pier 8. In area it is the size of 5 football pitches. The building stands on 803 concrete piles sunk down into the bedrock; it was made from 48,000 tons of concrete, 2,466 tons of steel and 5,263 sq metres of glass.
From the outside, it has a ship-like appearance, especially when viewed from across the canal. This maritime feeling transmits through to the interior as well. Standing just outside the Lyric Theatre, you can see the porthole windows in the Tower and the stairways and landings that look like ships' gangways.
The Lowry comprises a sequence of geometrical shapes - hexagon, circle, triangle and rectangle. The promenade runs all the way round building is intended to give leisurely access to all parts of the building. The spaces are designed in layers like an onion and decorated with the bright colours that are typical of Michael Wilford's architecture. First is the cool glass and stainless steel skin around the outside to reflect the sky and water; then comes the blue terrazzo floor of the foyer, with silver lines that are reminiscent of the longitude and latitude lines on a nautical map.