Liverpool(e): Mover, Shaker, Architectural Risk-Taker, the first exhibition at RIBA North, opens on 17 June

Graeme Shankland’s city centre panorama from 1963 is framed by St George’s Hall on the left and the Museum and Library on the right ©RIBA Collections

Liverpool(e): Mover, Shaker, Architectural Risk-Taker, RIBA North
17 June – 16 September 2017

‘Liverpoole is one of the wonders of Britain. What it may grow to in time I know not.’
Daniel Defoe, 1715

Liverpool(e): Mover, Shaker, Architectural Risk-Taker is the first exhibition at RIBA North, the new national architecture centre on the Liverpool Waterfront, which opens on 17 June to the public. Celebrating Liverpool’s architectural ambition and history, the show features over 30 original drawings, models and watercolours from the RIBA Collections for designs for Liverpool that were never realised. Many of the drawings are on display to the public for the first time thanks to National Lottery players, as they have been restored by a £67,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Collectively, they reveal much about the process behind Liverpool’s development, from architectural competitions to speculative ideas that were not realised. Dating from the 1700’s to the mid 20th century, highlights of the exhibition range from a Seaman’s Memorial on the Waterfront to drawings by Sir Denys Lasdun, Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott for the city’s two famous cathedrals.

In a newly commissioned film, leading architects look at Liverpool’s architectural audacity, its willingness to consider unconventional schemes and how this maverick enthusiasm has resulted in the dramatic and celebrated skyline we see today.

Joseph Sharples, co-curator of the exhibition and author of the Pevsner Architectural Guide to Liverpool, says: ‘The RIBA Drawings Collection is an astonishing resource, but its riches are not widely known among non-specialists. This is a great opportunity for audiences in Liverpool to see some of its treasures. Superb watercolours of the original proposals for St George’s Hall show how this famous Liverpool landmark reached its final form, while vivid sketches by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the Roman Catholic cathedral give a sense of direct contact with the architect’s creative process. Many of the Liverpool-related drawings in the RIBA were made as entries for design competitions, and this suggested the theme of the exhibition. With its dynamism and its exceptional setting, Liverpool has always challenged architects to design bold – and sometimes controversial – schemes. To see these unbuilt projects gathered together is a reminder that today’s city is the result of countless choices between alternative visions. The creativity Liverpool has inspired in the past can be a benchmark for the future.’

Amongst the ambitious proposals is a design for the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral by Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson from 1901/1902. He proposed a hexagonal space with pairs of unusual radiating transepts, like the petals of a flower. It would have been roofed with a dome, and the transepts would have had huge windows, flooding the space with light. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott won the contest but Nicholson was able to reuse his idea for the chapel of Clifton College in Bristol.

Stirrat Johnson Marshall envisioned a bridge over St James’s Cemetery with thrilling views for an exercise at Liverpool School of Architecture. He envisaged a ponderous Gothic viaduct with a dizzying height.

Another vast-scaled idea on display is by Graeme Shankland who reinvented Liverpool’s skyline. On a two metre wide panorama visitors can get a glimpse at what the planning consultant imagined for an urban renewal after two thirds of the city’s buildings were declared to be obsolete during the 1960s.

At the same time, Sir Denys Lasdun wanted to introduce his new Brutalist style to Liverpool. The architect, who is well-known for the National Theatre in London, designed a new Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral with a distinctive roof of a shallow cone, folded into deep furrows and ridges probably intended to be made of concrete and glass. His entry was rejected and instead Frederick Gibberd got to leave his mark in the city.

RIBA North is a new national architecture centre and cultural destination on the waterfront in Liverpool. At the heart of RIBA North is the purpose built gallery space, which will host a bold programme of temporary exhibitions, showcasing new and innovative approaches to architectural practice as well as the historic RIBA Collections, the nation’s richest resource of architecture drawings, photographs and prints, dating from the late 15th century to the present day. There will also be architectural city tours, workshops for young people and children, a selection of talks and debates and a new café and shop. The centre is situated in Mann Island, a building designed by Matt Brook of Broadway Malyan which won a RIBA North West award in 2015.

The launch exhibition has been made possible by money raised by National Lottery players and funding from Broadway Malyan. As well as supporting the production of the exhibition the National Lottery grant from HLF enabled the RIBA to undertake conservation on 30 items from the RIBA Collection, making them stable enough to be put on public display for the first time.

Nathan Lee, Head of HLF North West, said: “Liverpool’s bold and stunning architecture is nationally, and internationally, renowned. We’re delighted that money raised by National Lottery players can enable RIBA North to open with this fascinating exhibition, celebrating the city’s architectural heritage and offering a glimpse into how the cityscape might have looked.”

RIBA2®Edmund Sumner