Liverpool From The Air – book review

By Stuart Ian Burns

In 2007, Liverpool celebrated its 800th birthday and for the first time, in the shape of the book, Liverpool: From The Air its citizens had a chance to see it from above, warts and all. Based, as most things these days seem to be on a website, this is ‘simply’ pages and pages of aerial photographs of the city and the surrounding area with short explanations and factoids describing each of the different landmarks. Those of us who live in tower blocks might live with this impression of the city from the sky, but even we get to see parts of the city we could only dream of.

What makes the endeavour special is that it captures the city in one of its moments of transition. Many of the pages feature parts of the city in the grip of building work, shifting from one pattern to another. The shot of the Paradise or Liverpool One Project shows a whole new neighbourhood in construction and there’s also a fascinating image of Beetham Tower, one of the new buildings on the skyline nearing completion and its these sights which will prove most revealing in years to come, just as the faded images of an unfinished Liverpool Cathedral are now.

But there’s also the chance to see familiar streets from another angle, how the structure of the place, usually so abstract from street experience fits together. Clearly such things are also possible online through Google Earth yet there is something arresting about being able to move the eye down Ranleigh Street, up shadowing Church Street then the newly constructed parts of Hanover Street in seconds and through a relief angle that favour aesthetics rather than information. At Google, buildings often simply become rooftops; here you can recognise what those buildings actually are.

Particularly interesting are the images of places less accessible to the public, such as the docks and estuary. Liverpool it transpires is still an important harbour carrying most of the bulk cargos heading from the UK to North America and there are shots of the containers being shifted too and from the portside and of ships thundering up and down the Mersey. Sporting venues are also served well, with both Aintree racecourse and the Royal Liverpool Golf Course in Hoylake somehow somehow fitted into a single frame. Some might wonder though why Anfield is favoured with two photographs and Goodison Park only one – that said, the picture of Everton’s ground is far larger, so that’s ok then.

Essentially you come away with the impression that Liverpool is an architectural patchwork with neo-classical, Edwardian, Victorian and Modernist styles glancing at each other across streets. It can be rather single minded if it wants to be though; the suburban space between the two football grounds is filled with uniform housing broken here and there were local development as led to the demolition of terraces in favour of the twisty semi-detached, in fictional terms Bread’s Kelsall Street replaced by Brookside Close.

About the only potential disappointment is that my own home isn’t there, despite being on the edge of Sefton Park; the park is included except we’ve been cut from the very edge of the composition. That’s more than made up in being able to see the likes of Lime Street Station, the place that’s delivered me home on so many occasions from the sky. The roof has a slight curve. Why haven’t I ever noticed that before?