Liverpool’s waterfront – ruined or updated?

 July 29, 2009         7 Comments

If you follow the view of the blogosphere, you may have come to the conclusion that the Mann Island developments buildings, together with the new Merseytravel ferry terminal building (that also doubles as the Beatles Story’s second outlet) and Liverpool Museum, amount to nothing less than the wholesale destruction of the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mann Island Developments buildings with Liverpool Museum

Indeed, that’s what architects seem to think too.

Mersey Ferry building

The Planners should hang their heads in shame at the ruination of the view from the Albert Dock, and from the ferries, prior to resigning their positions.

And these.

The result is this anti-context, anti-scale, uncivilised building, exuding a staggering lack of decorum on the benighted World Heritage Site that is Liverpool’s waterfront.

And these:

Some of the most crass development I have ever viewed is crammed into a tiny area along the waterfront in and adjacent to the World Heritage Site.

And Liverpool’s bloggers.

This is part of the biggest architectural disaster to my city since the Blitz of the Second World War. I am ashamed of what they have done to the World Heritage Site in the name of progress.

Such judgements are necessarily subjective, and though I’m reserving judgement for now on the new Liverpool Museum, I can’t possibly see how the Mann Island Developments buildings or new ferry terminal can be judged to be sympathetic to the surrounding area.

Liverpool Museum

In some ways I quite like the Mann Island buildings, but they seem to me totally at odds with the surrounding areas, as if two damaged Borg cubes have suddenly crashed down to Earth on the site of the ill-fated Fourth Grace.

The buildings, along with the museum, almost completely obscure the view of the Three Graces from the viewpoint of the Albert Dock, and add an intrusive full stop to the waterfront’s narrative from Birkenhead.

If you add Liverpool’s One Park West, Alexandra Tower, the new Hilton, Beetham Tower and the proposed King Edward Tower it’s enough to make you wonder exactly what UNESCO is doing. What on earth must the proposals that have been shot down look like?

As for the Mersey Ferry building, UNESCO seems assured that the building fits in with the surrounding buildings because it’s clad in the same materials. Again, I’m puzzled as to how this thought process came about.

There’s a danger that among buildings like the Three Graces it becomes almost impossible to construct any new structures, as there’s an inherent difficulty in competing with those buildings.

To try and replicate their style would be the wrong decision, but any new bulding runs the risk of being judged in comparison to three of the finest examples of Edwardian architecture in the world.

As such, designing new buildings to sit alongisde them must feel like a bit of a hiding to nothing, as Will Alsop found out with his Cloud.

Nevertheless, I’m surprised that pretty much all of the new developments sharing the waterfront have been approved, including the ferry terminal, Mann Island and the hopeless One Park West buildings. I’m a bit dubious about the new Liverpool Museum too, if I’m honest.

Liverpool Hilton

None are particularly sympathetic to the Three Graces, and while there’s something to be said for contrasting architectural styles sharing that space, the waterfront’s in danger of becoming a cluttered hodge-podge of styles, colours and materials.

New buildings, particularly in protected areas, are always likely to attract a kneejerk reaction, but in the case of the new UNESCO-approved waterfront I’ll be surprised if there’s not a movement in a couple of decades to tear down half of them.

There’s such a confusing array of QUANGOS, agencies, interest groups and local government involved that it’s practically impossible to work out who’s ultimately responsible for making these decisions too.

It’s the only reason I can think why so many people have sleepwalked into green-lighting all of these unsympathetic, unlovely buildings.

• Museum of Liverpool building by John Valente. Mersey Ferry Terminal building by Neill Shenton. Both images licensed through Creative Commons.

• Liverpool Hilton image by Dave Evans

Comments

  1. I like the museum, it probably will age badly but I think if the Museum delivers on the inside, i think those who doubt the architecture may grow to like it. Perhaps a bit like The Beatles, an awful, ugly name but synonymous with great music. Hope so anyway. When i went to see the new area I was glad Liverpool was actually being brave for once and not clinging on to pandering to beautiful buildings with an ugly past.

  2. Friends in the right places, coercion, threats and money. That’s all it takes to get something built along the waterfront. Love it or hate it, at least Liverpool ONE had a (Stirling-approved) Masterplan and, the result is it hangs together as a considered whole (I think). I love the Museum of Liverpool, the rest? Well, the Blitz did less damage…

  3. I’m still making my mind up about the Museum to be fair. And I agree there’s something to be said for new and contrasting architecture on the Pier Head.

    I think taken together, though, it’s far too much going on in one spot and it detracts from the waterfront.

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