Edward Luytens was originally commissioned to build Liverpool’s new Catholic Cathedral in 1930. His epic design looked like the love child of the Hagia Sofia and St Pauls. By 1953 the architect had died, the second world war had happened, costs had spiraled out of control, and the design was abandoned with only the crypt completed. A new competition was launched in 1959 and the commission was awarded to Frederick Gibberd.
Completed in 1967, Gibberd’s building is circular in plan, topped by a large conical roof. Crowning the roof is a huge stained glass lantern complete with pointed steel prongs pointing toward the heavens. Flying buttresses run down from the concrete ring supporting the lantern and take the weight all the way to the ground. Apparently these were suggested by the engineers and not part of the original design. Surrounding the main circular space are several geometrically shaped mini chapels, which provide a nice variety around the base of the exterior and some interesting extra spaces inside. The lantern in addition to a multitude of other stained windows of varying shapes and sizes bathe the interior, and especially the centrally placed altar, in multicoloured light. I imagine the services here are quite spectacular, if you are into that kind of thing.
I’m not generally a fan of modernist churches, perhaps because I don’t really associate churches with the modern world. Despite this, I really like this building. The colourful interior contrasts beautifully with the grey exterior. It has an appealing solidity about it, something which the best churches built in more traditional styles have. And I think this is emphasised by the buttresses which I feel actually improve Gibberd’s original design.
By the time I arrived at the Queen Elizabeth II courts it was quite late in the day. When looking towards the main entrance from Derby Square, the bright afternoon sun was hovering just over the roof, which kind of ruined my chances of a decent photo from that angle, but I have included one nonetheless.
The large edifice is clad in vertically ribbed panels of reddish sandy concrete. The verticality is emphasised in the towers, where strips of tiling punctuated by small arrow slit windows run from top to bottom. A raised glazed walkway – one of my favourite architectural features – connects two sections of the building and forms a nice gateway onto the square when approaching from behind the courts. The building is rich in details, the best being the little windows which are the focus of my first photo.
A strange element of this construction, and one which for me spoils it, is the lead covered mansard roof. It isn’t really visible from my photo selection, but from where I was taking lunch at the nearby Liverpool One complex it was the dominant feature. Apparently planning for the building started in 1974, a full 10 years before completion and just before the popularity the brutalist style began to wane. It is almost as if this postmodern element has been added to a brutalist base in an attempt to keep up with changing fashions. I think that this, in addition to the reddish colouring, results in something of a clumsy chimera of a building. It’s certainly not one for the purists, but it isn’t without its charms.
I was wandering down Water Street in Liverpool when this small office building caught my eye. At street level the building is very light, with smart brown tiling, large expanses of clear glass, and slender piers to support the bulk above. The upper floors are clad in precast concrete panels in a classic unfinished grey. The window surrounds protrude slightly and the glass is highly reflective with a copper hue. These elements all combine well to give that space age as envisaged in the 70s look.
The building looks to be for let, and seems to be in a prime location for both taxis and post boxes. So, if you are into concrete and need some office space it’s worth a look.
(Formerly New Hall Place or the Royal Sun Alliance Building)
Architects: Tripe & Wakeham Partnership
This building was constructed as part of Liverpool’s waterfront renewal programme in 1976 and is situated just a couple of hundred metres from the Royal Liver Building – Britain’s first reinforced concrete structure. It originally housed the Royal Sun Alliance Insurance group, and the shape of the building was dictated by the company’s structure at the time. Each of the 13 floors was occupied by a single department, with the larger departments at the bottom and smaller ones at the top. The resulting irregular pyramid shape gives a massive, heavy feel to the structure and this is accentuated by the narrow slit windows, which were designed to maximise energy efficiency. The vertically ribbed concrete has a sandy yellow colour that provides a nice contrast to the blue grey of the other buildings that make up Liverpool’s skyline when viewed from the Mersey.