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Urbis (the name taken from Latin, meaning ‘of the city’) opened in 2002, initially as an exhibition centre of city life, with four floors of permanent exhibits, featuring cities around the globe from Singapore to Sao Paolo, Los Angeles to Paris. Born out of the legacy of the 1996 IRA bomb, Urbis was a product of the ambition Manchester had for its future development, acting as a key cultural destination at the Northern end of the city in the newly developed Millennium Quarter.

Since then Urbis has undergone many changes. This started with a new exhibition programme focussing on popular, contemporary and urban culture;  launched with the Peter Saville Show in 2004. This was complemented by learning and community activities, events, city tours, a cafe, shop and aswell as an award-winning bar and restaurant The Modern Bar & Restaurant.

Never comfortable being a labelled ‘a museum’, over six years Urbis developed a new way of exhibiting the world – immersing people in the experience of popular culture, which encouraged visitors to see it, feel it, love it and live it.  

Today this site remains a testament to its legacy; all it sought and succeeded in achieving.  


Designed by the local firm Ian Simpson Architects and built in 2002, Urbis was situated in Cathedral Gardens, Manchester,  at the heart of Manchester’s redeveloped Millennium Quarter.  Standing at 35 m high it  replaced what was once a derelict car park and  soon came to be recognised as one of Manchester’s most iconic buildings – standing as a symbol of regeneration within the city.

The design was chosen following the results of an international competition organised by Manchester City Council. Simpson’s design was chosen as it left room to create a surrounding green space, which became known as Cathedral Gardens. 

Its striking feature is the unique glass façade, consisting of over 2,000 panes of glass and a curved roof constructed using pre-aged, emerald coloured copper tiling, a signature of the style of Ian Simpson; complementing the colour of the glass and sitting nicely with the surrounding historic public realm.

Urbis appears to change shape according to which angle it is approached from. Its 35 m peak (South elevation) slope, down to 6m  (North elevation), leaving space for the surrounding historic buildings including Victoria Station, Chetham’s School of Music and Manchester Cathedral.

Urbis still exists as a building and houses its Shop, City Tours programme and The Modern Bar and Restaurant and RECLAIM programme, although this closed to the public on 27 February 2010. In  2011, Urbis will re-open as The National Football Museum, previously located at Preston.

Urbis funding & governance

Urbis Creatives Collective


Ian Simpson Interview (PDF) by Mark Rainey in Castlefield, Manchester: 24/05/2007.

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