In 2004 Liverpool finally got the recognition it was both craving, deserved and needed, being awarded World Heritage Status, ranking it alongside the Taj Mahal and Stonehenge. Now the U.N is looking at stripping Liverpool of its newly found lifeline, due to expansive new development plans.
It seems to be the old conundrum of preservation of the past or development of a new age, and how both can co-exist in harmony within the city. It is without doubt that the rich history of Liverpool’s buildings must be preserved, but it is in new development that it can be feasible for the city to prosper and maintain its heritage. Since the capital of culture Liverpool has resurrected its ailing economy, riding upon the back of tourism which is now worth £3bn a year to the economy and 42,000 jobs depend on it. Without this, and of course the Universities, Liverpool would be a ’dead’ city and would certainly regress, so it is important to keep developing and attracting both tourists and developers to the city.
The UN body arrived on the 14th of November and after monitoring the city will present its findings by the 23rd of December, an early Christmas present. They are chiefly concerned about the impact of Peel Holdings’ £5.5bn Liverpool Waters scheme, it would be on the northern docks and contain numerous Skyscrapers. Liverpool’s world heritage site, which is under threat, contains an area of the docks including the ‘three graces‘ – the Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings – which have defined the view from the river Mersey for almost a century and can be seen from almost any point in the city. They have warned the waterfront could lose its world heritage status if the project to regenerate the city’s northern docklands is approved as they believe it would have a detrimental impact.
Liverpool as a City has seen this before, and we can see in previous legacies which have been left around the city, crumbling modern monuments to the ideas of past visionaries. Still sour in the memory of many scousers is the loss of the Customs House, the Liverpool Overhead Railway and St. John’s Market, to be given in return such monstrosities as St Johns Precinct which typifies the concerns of what Liverpool could be left with after Peel has come and gone and One Park West, opposite the Hilton, designed by world renowned Architect Cesar Pelli supposedly to resemble Liverpool’s Shipping heritage, which should go the same way as the titanic.
On the other hand we have Liverpool One which has transformed the city from ailing northern slum into a city destination . Liverpool One has breathed new life into the heart of the city and like a domino effect will prompt development to fall out around it. The design creates new important links through the city, opening it up to the public, through to Albert docks for example, and respects the human scale of Liverpool, flowing seamlessly into the rest of the city. Next time you take a walk around remember to look up, many of the buildings in Liverpool One have been designed not to obstruct previous views of Historical buildings and indeed in cases help to frame them. It is thoughtful design like this which can be successful and takes collaboration from all parties to achieve, not just a developer taking a high rise design from shanghai and force feeding it to Liverpool.
The most recent Mann Island Development directly adjacent to the ’Graces’ shows how development can still take place in such a symbolic and historical setting. Dubbed as the ‘black coffins’ these buildings divide opinion, however take a second to appreciate there qualities and we can see how together they provide perhaps a model for future development: they do not try to compete with the existing buildings, in fact the gloss finish mirrors them and the clean lines, void of ornamentation, provide a stark contrast to highlight the decorative ‘Graces‘. There large sloping forms serve to allow views to still exist, the building is low for example nearest the Mersey so that the graces can still be seen from the Albert docks.
Liverpool is typically a five story high city and any vertical elements must be carefully considered as they will drastically alter the skyline, the U.N must consider the possible economic consequences of stripping Liverpool over the perceived damage to its heritage. However in essence there is a common cause between all parties involved: to safeguard the great historical past whilst maintaining a dynamic city which can develop, because in reality it is a symbiotic relationship, and together they can create a Liverpool which future generations can be proud of.
By Mark J. Tweddle