Liverpool is a great maritime city in the north-west of England, with a remarkable history, culture and a rich architectural legacy. It had a period of great prosperity in the 18th and 19th centuries due to its maritime trade, which resulted in the construction of prestigious buildings and wealthy neighbourhoods. However, the bombing raids in the Second World War, as well as the fact that during the 1960s a significant portion of shipping trade moved to the south of England, inevitably led to the economic decline of the area. At the same time, poor maintenance resulted in the loss of some historic buildings and structures, while bad restoration works also caused irreparable damage.
Nowadays, Liverpool’s built environment is undergoing profound changes at a rapid rate. Τhe city’s 800’s anniversary in 2007, as well as the title of European Capital of Culture for 2008 has exacerbated the regeneration works that had already started to pick up over the last decade. The regeneration is a combination of multi-million projects that aim at changes in three sectors:
- the protection and preservation of cultural and historic buildings,
- the development of business and retail,
- the reorganisation of urban space.
- The social impact of such an excessive funding on a poor city like Liverpool should not be underestimated.
The first sector focuses on the cultural and historic structures. One of the main works is the restoration of one of Liverpool’s historic landmark buildings, the University’s Victoria Building. This red-brick and terracotta building, which was constructed between 1889 an 1892, and spawned the term “red-brick university”, was until recently used as part of the University. After its £7m restoration, which is expected to be completed in time to coincide with the city’s title as European Capital of Culture, it will be transformed into a museum that will house an exhibition of the cultural, educational and art treasures owned by the university and have never been displayed.
The most important and expensive project (£9,75m) regarding the historic buildings of Liverpool that is currently taking place, is the restoration of the oldest building in city centre, the Bluecoat Art Centre. It opened its doors as an Anglican boy’s school in 1725 and is now a base for local artists and writers. The development of Bluecoat, which started in April 2004 and is expected to finish in August 2007, will primarily restore the fabric façade of the existing building. During the restoration works, layers of paint, which have built over the centuries on the details and around the windows, are slowing being dissolved away to uncover the stone beneath prior to fresh painting. All the old mortar is being removed and the brickwork is being repainted with new mortar, the colour of which has been carefully chosen by the conservation architects.
Furthermore, a new wing will be created, to house an art gallery and performance space for Bluecoat’s contemporary arts programme. In addition, the existing rooms will be reorganised to create better access throughout and to improve the space for both the artists and visitors. The new extension will be made of historically accurate materials, as well as bricks collected during the demolition of an existing extension (south-west wing), erected in 1950s.
At the same time, several other historic buildings are undergoing minor restoration works in order to improve access and to help them return to their original glory. Among others is the St. George’s Hall, which was built in 1854, as law courts and a venue for music festivals . It is one of the finest neo-classical buildings in Europe and probably the most representative example of the city’s prosperity in the 19th century. Although here the restoration works mainly include the recreation of the Hall’s original 1850s décor in the interior, in the second biggest museum of the city (Museum of Liverpool), which was built in 1993, a stunning £35m promises its complete alteration to a modern building in the historic environment of the Docks . In the same area, where the existing “Three Graces”  (The Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool Authority Buildings), as well as the pioneering Albert Dock are architectural reflections of Liverpool’s previous prosperity, the ambitious regeneration plans to the city forced to a quest of a “Fourth Grace”, the Kings Waterfront.
Although the City Council’s intentions for this building are propagated as representative building of the “new Liverpool”, the potential use of its spaces reveals a purely commercial logic (hotels, offices, conference centre etc). This commercial logic is more than clear in the case of Paradise Project. This £750m project will include 168.000m² of retail space in more than 160 shops, two hotels, 465 flats and 3,000 car parking spaces. And although such developments are usually constructed outside the city, surprisingly this construction will take place in the heart of Liverpool.
The final and the most ambiguous level of regeneration takes place in the most deprived areas of the city. The scheme aims to revitalise the areas by reducing excessive housing, repairing and refurnishing the existing Victorian terraced houses of historical and architectural interest and replacing others with new. Kensington- Edge Lane is one of the urban zones mostly affected by this project. It is noteworthy that this is one of the poorest areas in Britain and suffers from high rates of criminality. In terms of urban re-design the main objective is to create a widened expressway for better access to the city centre from the east in time for Capital of Culture 2008. The scheme includes the demolition of 250 terrace houses, while another 150 will be knocked down to create a more attractive “gateway” into Liverpool.
There is no doubt that the aim of these regeneration projects is to produce revenue via new employment opportunities, investment and major improvements to the quality of life in Liverpool, something that has partly been achieved. However, much controversy lies upon the character of these transformations. Initially, a question to be answered is whether massive modern constructions like the Kings Waterfront and the Paradise Project highlight Liverpool’s historical and architectural heritage or they simply erode it. In other words, it is difficult to assess whether projects like these appertain in the city’s physical character or whether they respond to the pressures of Globalization and, consequently clash with the city’s identity.
However, the main concern is whether these changes are happening to benefit all the people of Liverpool, or they will simply boost huge retail companies. The proposal of the City Council to establish 35 streets as UK’s first partially privatised city centre combined with the decision to demolish working class residencies in Kensington raised huge oppositions. So, are all these happening for the revitalisation of the city, or are they just a face-lift in an era of superficial urbanism? It is not easy to give answers to all these questions, since it is essential to take into account many and different factors (economic, social and political). It is certain though, that the regeneration of Liverpool attracts a great deal of attention as a new model of privatized regeneration that will be applied in other cities in Great Britain as well.
1. The architect Harvey Lonsdale Elmes was commissioned to design two buildings, a court and a hall for music festivals. However, due to funding “issues” they were combined.
2. “Docks” is called the area of the port (waterfront) of Liverpool. In 2004 it was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site, reflecting the city’s importance in the development of the world’s trading system and dock technology.
3. The “Three Graces” are three of the most recognisable buildings of Liverpool. They are situated on the Waterfront of the city and they were constructed in early 1900s.
- BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/liverpool/capital_of_culture/index.shtml
- Bluecoat Art Centre http://www.bluecoatartscentre.com/
- English Heritage and CABE (2001) Building in context: new developments in historic areas
- English Heritage http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/
- Jones, P., Wilks-Heeg, S. (2004), ‘Capitalising Culture: Liverpool 2008’ in Local Economy (19) no. 3: (Nov 2004) p341-360
- Kensington Regeneration http://www.kensingtonregeneration.com/
- Liverpool Vision (2005) Liverpool City Centre Development update, October 2005
- Liverpool Vision http://www.liverpoolvision.co.uk/
- Liverpool Capital of Culture http://www.liverpool08.com/
- Liverpool City Council, (2003), Liverpool Urban design guide, Liverpool: Liverpool City Council
- Liverpool City Council, (2003), Liverpool, The world in one city: Winner, Liverpool: Liverpool City Council
- Liverpool City Council http://www.liverpool.gov.uk/
- Liverpool Echo (2004) “Grace was a “waste of time”’, August 20.
- Paradise Project, www.liverpoolpsda.co.uk