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Schmidt Hammer Lassen to design maritime complex at £4.5bn Wirral Waters

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Schmidt Hammer Lassen has been picked to design a new Maritime Knowledge Hub within the 1.4 million m² Wirral Waters scheme on Merseyside

The Danish practice, now part of global giant Perkins+Will, will work with local delivery architect Ellis Williams on the scheme, which is being billed as ‘one of the most important parts’ of Peel Holdings’ wider £4.5 billion regeneration of the Wirral and Birkenhead docks.

It is understood the team was appointed following an invited international competition.

As well as creating a hub for marine ‘entrepreneurship, enterprise, skills and culture’, the complex will revamp the 1860s central hydraulic tower and engine house designed by Jesse Hartley as a copy of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The Grade II-listed building was bombed during the Second World War and has remained largely derelict ever since.

The Schmidt Hammer Lassen-designed complex will sit next to Glenn Howells Architects’ £10.5 million Wirral Metropolitan College block, which was completed in 2015, winning an RIBA National Award the year after. It was the first new building to be constructed within Wirral Waters since Peel began working on its 30-year plan for the derelict brownfield site in 2005. Glenn Howells is also working on plans for a £6 million office block, dubbed No1 Tower Road South, on a neighbouring plot.

Speaking about the proposed Maritime Knowledge Hub, Richard Mawdsley, director of development for Wirral Waters at Peel Land and Property, said: ‘The design of [this scheme] and the regeneration of the tower has to be something truly special with education, industry and culture at its very core.

’The tower is a very important local asset, full of history and heritage and it’s only right that it takes centre stage of the Wirral Waters regeneration project.”

Schmidt Hammer Lassen founding partner Morten Schmidt added: ‘Designing a complex that is one of the most transformative new developments in the Liverpool region called for thoughtful architectural design that respects the heritage of the existing building while looking towards the future.

‘Our design brings the hydraulic tower back to life while creating an architectural expression that connects new and old through beautiful courtyards, a unifying façade, and complementary building volumes.’

New masterplan for Wirral Waters 2018

New masterplan for Wirral Waters 2018

New masterplan for Wirral Waters 2018

In 2010 Wirral Waters was spared a lengthy public inquiry after then communities secretary Eric Pickles refused to call in the masterplan designs.

A string of practices including Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, HKR, GHA, Liverpool-based architects Falconer Chester Hall and Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) worked on the original proposal – the largest planning application ever submitted in the UK when lodged with Wirral Council in 2009.

Architect’s view Schmidt Hammer Lassen on the Maritime Knowledge Hub

The main themes that permeate our winning design are the integration of green space, the use of raw and recycled materials, and the blending of the existing historic elements with the new high design building.

The 19th-century hydraulic tower will retain as much of its original character as possible, and will house the Maritime Industries Centre’s work and meeting spaces, three pools including a HydroLab, a café and visitors’ portal, and an observatory that will provide views over Wirral Waters and the greater Liverpool area. The new building will accommodate the bulk of the Marine Technology Centre, the Offshore Survival Training Centre, and the Marine Simulation and Training Centre, and will drive research and innovation by bringing education, employers and businesses together.

A wall of reused bricks visually linking past and future will surround the two buildings that make up the Maritime Knowledge Hub, and will provide shelter for staff and visitors against the exposed conditions caused by the River Mersey’s open waters and high winds. The wall will also create intimate outdoor spaces including three pocket gardens and an existing central courtyard that will be reimagined with thoughtful new details. The integration of green spaces will extend to roof terraces that can be used for meetings and events.

The composition of the old hydraulic tower is diverse in shape and richly ornamented. The new additions, which will appear as a series of glowing boxes at night, strive to achieve the opposite effect, serving as a subtle, simple contrast to the Liverpool landmark. The interiors of the buildings will feature open ceilings with visible trays and pipes, and will consist of raw materials such as steel and concrete, serving the simple, low maintenance needs of offshore buildings.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • 'It was understood the team was appointed following an international competition'
    It would be interesting to know more about this competition - who participated, and how their ideas compared with those of the winner, given that Jesse Hartley's neglected and derelict hydraulic tower seems to be not just the only link with the area's past, but arguably the only structure of real architectural quality, even if the design was lifted from Florence.

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