AS ARCHITECTS draw up plans for a new Liverpool skyline, many question whether there is an overall strategy for the city’s waterfront.
Last month, the Daily Post revealed designs for an £80m, 36-storey skyscraper had been criticised in a review by a government body.
It criticised the tower planned for Princes Dock, which the Commission for Architect- ure and the Built Environment (CABE) said lacked quality and appeared “joyless”.
More worrying were the concerns the review high-lighted over the quality of the building itself – set to be Liverpool’s tallest building.
While architects draw up plans for modern towers of glass that will change Merseyside’s waterfront, there are question marks over what we will be left with once it is all finished.
Modern-looking designs have been rejected by traditionalists who feel it would blight the position of buildings already treasured by Liverpudlians.
To further the debate, the Daily Post asked leading architects and experts their views on where the water- front should go from here.
Jim Gill, Chief Executive, Liverpool Vision:
Refurbishment started on the Albert Dock 22 years ago, and it has stayed in splendid isolation.
If you look at it on its own, it is a wonderful restoration but I think it has failed as part of a broader regeneration package because nothing has happened around it.
The waterfront offers a huge opportunity for Liverpool as it is a wonderful location and what you’ve got is a national museum and car park. the majority of which isn’t even open to the public and is pretty scruffy- looking.
The Pier Head itself is mostly empty. You can’t go down to there and think “what a pleasant place to spend an evening”. We want to give people a reason to cross The Strand. If nothing is done, Liverpool’s waterfront would be a hugely under- exploited resource for the city.
Jonathan Brown, Merseyside Civic Society:
Seven miles of waterfront puts Liverpool on a par with world cities like Nice, Sydney or downtown Manhattan. At present we have still to develop sufficient civic vision to understand what that means in planning terms.
For instance, the Albert Dock’s water space is actually bigger than Trafalgar Square in London – stretching in each direction we are blessed with an exten-sive series of magnificent historic “water-squares”, unique in all the world. Magnificent because their setting overlooks the mighty Mersey, with the great metropolis of Liverpool rising up behind.
This legacy in stone is a gift from the past that our friends in other cities would die for. So, what have we spent the last two decades doing with those “water squares”, whose heritage is acknowledged as of “univer-sal human significance” by the United Nations? What lessons have we learned since central government stepped in and saved the Albert Dock from demolition?
It is painful to say that we have spent much of that time filling many of the old docks in for car parking and “anytown” development, and allowed the rise of an exclusive, suburban-scale “apartmentopolis” of flats, forecourts for car dealerships and fast-food restaurants. The latest example of this lack of stewardship is the abominable multi-storey car park just up from the Liver Buildings on the Princes dock – an absolute eyesore, and the foolhardy proposals to fill in the Georgian Waterloo Dock.
The increasing outcry shows united concern at potential damage to what is not just one of Liverpool’s but the world’s prize heritage assets. We urgently need an ambitious and above all imaginative review of the riverfront’s potential.
Maggie Mullan, architect at Austin-Smith Lord, and past president of Liverpool Architecture Society:
I think, in general, the proposals for the waterfront are very positive.
What we really do need to do is build on the confidence of the city with the people procuring these projects listening to the public’s preferences.
Where the tall buildings are concerned, we need to look closely at how the city manifests itself and where the clusters will be.
The World Heritage Status is positive but you’ve got to consider what the long-term development will be for Liverpool as a 21st-century city.
The buildings are not Roman remains and it’s important to remember, if it hadn’t been for pioneering developers, the Three Graces would not be here today.
Susan Hanley-Place MBE, Chief Executive, The Mersey Heritage Trust:
People use “modernism” and “iconic” when talking about depersonalised designs. Modernist architec-ture was a style of the 1930s which rejects the whole idea of community and human perspective in favour of what architects think we should be looking at.
In the 1950s and 1960s, there was the hypothesis that in the future we would be living in huge towering impersonal buildings, and if you look at architecture that was inspired and built in that time, a lot of it has been knocked down.
We should be able to distinguish between something that is modern for the sake of being modern and something that takes into account every- thing that has happened in the past. Why would we want to live in a world of buildings with great impersonal vistas so we can look up at towering glass and concrete?
Building modern towers on the Pier Head alongside the Liver Building and Cunard Building would be like mixing chalk and cheese and would destroy the scale of the site.
Why do people feel that it’s necessary to create a New York-style sky line?
In Liverpool we risk build-ing an impersonal environment. It may be futuristic but it isn’t progress.
Dominic Wilkinson, North West Chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects:
What people don’t think about is how places like the Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool Buildings actually treated their historic context.
A lot of the buildings we look at today knocked down buildings to build new ones so we need to protect our heritage but not be too rev-erential towards it. I’m not suggesting that we knock down the Three Graces, but just to look at how new buildings can work with them.
There are a lot of interesting and iconic buildings planned for the waterfront as you would expect and I think they will establish interesting relationships between the new and the old.
I think the World Heritage Status can be a positive or a negative thing.
It will be positive if Unesco embrace the need for change, but we need to make sure that limits don’t prevent the regeneration that is so vital for Liverpool.
I think new buildings and tall buildings enliven the skyline of a city.
Looking back in history, the 19th-century Liverpool skyline was radically different to the 20th century.
And there’s no reason why the 21st century can’t be different again.
Walter Menzies, chief executive of the Mersey Basin Campaign, who is an architect by training:
Mediocrity is the last refuge of the uninspired and this is no time for Liverpool to be mediocre or uninspired. What happens on the city’s waterfront in the next few years will define it for generations to come. It will go a long way towards deciding whether Liverpool really does take its place alongside Europe’s elite cities in terms of prosperity, reputation and influence.
Liverpool has a superb architectural heritage that must inspire its future. Its Victorian buildings were at the cutting edge of design for their time, and we must recapture that spirit of confidence and adventure.
Liverpool’s waterfront is its trump card. Few cities can match its scale and grandeur. Quality, awe-inspiring archit-ecture on the waterfront is what’s needed.