Something very strange is happening in Liverpool, England. In a remarkable piece of urban planning one of the most recognisable areas of the city has been changed forever by one piece of modern design. Is this beneficial to Liverpool, or has this attempt at contemporary architecture within a historically sensitive setting ruined a section of the city that so many know and love?
A large portion of the Liverpool docklands is a designated cultural World Heritage Site, an area deemed as having outstanding universal value to the international community. A key part of this is the ‘three graces’, the Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings that occupy Pier Head and form the backdrop to many postcards of Liverpool. Atop the Liver building is the Liver bird, the symbol upon which the branding of Liverpool and Liverpool Football Club is based.
In the build up to Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008 it was conceived to build a fourth grace adjacent to the existing three. A competition was held, with three stand out entries. Whilst all had their critics, they were all architecturally interesting proposals that would have added a new dimension to the cities waterfront. But in 2004 the chosen scheme was scrapped due to spiralling cost. Instead a much simpler, lower budget proposal was drawn up and in 2008 work began on the new Mann Island Development, by architects Broadway Malyan.
This observer has watched at first with interest, then confusion, and finally dismay as the development has made an impact. The three black glass blocks are not sympathetic to their historic landscape, nor are they distinctive enough to be argued purposefully opposite to the existing. It appears the architects have attempted to replicate Foster’s Willis Building in through reflecting the surroundings, but the effect is far from the iconic imagery of the Ipswich masterpiece.
Is Liverpool selling its historical and cultural soul for a few luxury apartments and a quick profit? And how long before a ‘luxury penthouse’ is added to St George’s Hall?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.