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Comment - Liverpool's Nerve

Liverpool’s museum will prove the city is holding its nerve and thinking big.

One of the inevitable consequences of regeneration is the argument about the balance needed between quality, value for money and… oh yes, profit.
Since the 1980s I have lived in York, Hull, Newcastle and Birkenhead, and my work during that period has taken in Leeds, Sunderland, Gateshead, Wallsend and South Shields. In all of these places and cities I have seen architects, developers, planners and others strive to create projects which will in
turn create jobs, facilities and infrastructure, value, image and profit.
This process is particularly intense in Liverpool, which is currently undergoing dramatic regeneration, and where there is added complexity as much of the city centre is a World Heritage Site. This classification, which recognises the relatively intact nature of the city’s Victorian and Edwardian built
heritage, has been interpreted by some as a license to oppose any new build. Others fear the award’s potential to restrict their ability to attract investment – or to make money – in a city ripe for development. There have been virulent (though fairly brainless) debates in the Liverpool press about building quality, as the city strives to catch up economically with the likes of Manchester and Leeds, and as attention on Liverpool as European Capital of Culture 2008 raises the temperature.
Anyone wanting to build on the totemic Liverpool Pierhead has found themselves, quite rightly, under intense scrutiny. This includes my own organisation, which is currently building a new Museum of
Liverpool. This will be the biggest new national museum in this country for 100 years and will be a stunning addition to the city’s remarkable collection of museums and art galleries. AJ readers will remember that the Mann Island site we propose to build on was the site of Will Alsop’s now-dropped Cloud complex, part of which was originally tohouse the new museum.
Personally I loved the Cloud, even though many hated it. But, contrary to much illinformed speculation, it was not aesthetics, nor Liverpool’s loss of nerve, nor architectural conservatism, which brought about the demise of Alsop’s scheme – it was simple economics. I know because I was in the room when the scheme was chosen from a shortlist including Foster and Rogers proposals, and I
was also in the room when the plug was pulled.
There is an understanding in Liverpool that we have a lot to live up to in terms of the city’s historical riches. The Cloud would have proved that it is possible to build quality architecture within an urban World Heritage Site. The quality of the Museum of Liverpool will do so definitively. As the structure takes shape during 2008 we shall see whether or not Liverpool has lost its nerve.

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