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Demise of Alsop's Fourth Grace casts a giant cloud over any future scheme


In the context of current architectural debate, it is inevitable that the demise of Will Alsop's Cloud will be interpreted as a nail in the coffin of the architectural icon. But does anybody really believe that Liverpool's Fourth Grace would have fared better had one of the more conservative proposals been taken on board?

The sorry tale is more an indictment of look-at-me patronage than of love-it-or-hate-it architecture.

Keen to prove the extent of their vision and ambition, would-be clients are quick to seize on headlinegrabbing schemes before gradually arriving at the realisation that the building they have commissioned is neither practical nor deliverable. The fact that these sober calculations are couched in terms of funding and planning - as opposed to purely architectural - issues, suggests that any of the proposals would have met a similar fate. But thanks to the controversial nature of the Cloud, this classic case of bureaucratic ineptitude will inevitably be overshadowed by the impression that Alsop's architecture is simply too crazy or too costly to see the light of day.

The real tragedy is not the loss of Alsop's scheme but the fact that, in their hastiness, those who have too hastily commissioned and then jettisoned Alsop's Cloud have unwittingly cast a shadow over any future scheme.

Whatever its intrinsic merits, any successor to the Cloud will, like Cardiff's Millennium Centre, inevitably be viewed as both a comedown and a compromise.

The one person who is likely to end up believing that every Cloud has a silver lining is Alsop himself. Just as Zaha Hadid now defines the loss of the Cardiff Opera House as one of the defining positive moments of her career, it is likely that Alsop will come to be revel in the role of the super-radical visionary Liverpool did not quite have the guts to commission. In any case, you only need to look at Alsop's recently unveiled - and, crucially, already under construction - plans for the Middlehaven area of Middlesbrough (pages 6-7) to realise that the Alsop office is like a Hydra. Cut off one of its heads and more will grow.

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