The Â£l04million Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay got under way in February with the signing of a contract with Sir Robert McAlpine.
Although there is plenty of sandstone and granite in the 2,700 acre Cardiff Bay development, slate, the stone synonymous with Wales, has been conspicuously absent. The Wales Millennium Centre will provide it -2,500 tonnes of it.
The Centre, designed by Jonathan Adams of the Percy Thomas Partnership, has been on and off the drawing board several times in the past five years. Work nearly began in 2000, but in September that year contractors Arnec pulled out after costs shot up by Â£10million to Â£85million.
Jonathan Adams said earlier this year (see NSS January issue): "Each time someone has come onto the project they have voiced concerns about the buildability of the walls."
McAlpine had the same reservations but developed a simpler way of building the slate walls that are inspired by the cliffs of south Wales and built to the traditions of dry stone wallers in the north using slate from all over the principality. The idea is that the centre represents the whole of the nation.
The walls will not, in fact, be laid dry, but will use a dark mortar to give the impression of them being dry stone wails.
With the McAlpine sample panel accepted and the National Assembly for Wales confirming its commitment to paying Â£37mfflion towards the new price, JCB5 rolled on to the site on 25 February, heralding the start of the count-down to opening at the end of 2004.
The next two-and-a-half years will see the emergence of a prestigious, 37,000m 39m high venue for the performing arts that is already being hailed as an architectural icon - although fears have also been voiced about the ability of the region to fill such a large hall consistently
Construction work began at 8.15am when Sir Robert McAlpine took formal possession of the site.
Jenny Randerson, Minister for Culture in the Welsh Assembly, said: "I am delighted that work on the Wales Millennium Centre has now begun.
"This goal has been realised and the project is now well and truly on track. It is an exciting and historic moment for the people of Cardiff and indeed for Wales as a whole."
Formally accepting the transfer of the site, Cullum McAlpine said: "The Wales Millennium Centre is probably the most significant new public building in Wales for many years and we are delighted to have been awarded the construction contract for this major project."