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SOM tells Liverpool to 'build a Bilbao' in £2 billion plan

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Liverpool needs to look to build the kind of iconic, exemplary buildings and urban environments the authorities have provided in Bilbao, Barcelona and Paris if it is to radically change its derelict image and mount a realistic bid for European City of Culture, 2008. That is according to som, which has drawn up a new £2 billion masterplan presented last week by the city's new urban regeneration company, Liverpool Vision.

Set up as the uk's first such company, Liverpool Vision last week unveiled the 34-page 'outline draft regeneration strategy' in which som recommends that the city primarily needs buildings of 'architectural significance' along the waterfront, which it sees as 'the front garden of the city', Liverpool's most important feature and the key to raising its image and prosperity. And one of those buildings, it says, needs to be a £20-£40 million edifice for a new cultural institution along the lines of Bilbao's Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum.

som, which won a competition for the masterplan, suggests that a perfect site for such a building lies to the south of The Three Graces - the Liver Building, Cunard Building and Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Offices - adjacent to the Maritime Museum. To the north, meanwhile, a vacant parcel in the Princes Dock development 'could provide the location for a mixed- use office, residential and amenity building.' The two together could add to the famous skyline and 'further define the waterfront garden area'.

In the northern area of the waterfront, som says that new buildings near to Princes Dock should eschew the conservative nature of those so far and be 'more robust' and 'intense', with mixed-use rather than solely office accomodation. 'The Hotel Artes hotel and office facility in Barcelona contributes to an active waterfront in that city as well as providing an architectural icon on the skyline', notes the strategy.

And som adds that the city needs to mimic examples found in Paris of providing new open spaces and upgraded streets in advance of built development to cause 'economic revival and the recreation of a vibrant urban fabric.' The Parc de la Villette to the east of the city provides open space for as yet unbuilt offices and housing, while the Parc de Citroen is the centrepiece for a future development - again its construction has led to the neighbouring transport infrastructure improvements.

Elsewhere the report emphasises the importance of the city's rich built heritage of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mercantile architecture as well as tree-planting, effective use of lighting, and quality paving with specially designed elements to add city 'character'.

Other necessary additions include a new £70 million arena, £50 million landmark towers at Princess Dock and east of Princess Dock, new underground railway stations, hotels, and expensive road improvements. Of the estimated £2 billion to be spent on these changes by 2007/2008, som says £200-250 million should be available through grants from Europe, English Partnerships and other enterprises.

Sir Bob Scott writes in the document that the 2008 bid for European City of Culture is particularly relevant since 2007 is the 800th anniversary of the granting of Liverpool's first charter, and the waterfront may be designated a World Heritage Site by unesco. Scott says, however, that with strong claims likely to come for the 2008 tag from Cardiff, Newcastle and Belfast, 'it might be advisable to keep up the sleeve a second option of a joint 'cross-Irish Sea' bid'.

Liverpool Vision is now consulting on som's plans, which were prepared with Gillespies, mva, e c Harris and Jones Lang LaSalle. It plans to then feed the views into a full strategy to be delivered for staged implementation in July.

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