Friday, November 04, 2011

The Three Disgraces

Liverpool’s Pier Head is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This accolade was bestowed upon the city in 2004, mainly in recognition of what are known locally as ‘The Three Graces’. These are three supremely elegant buildings which have graced the waterfront on the east bank of the River Mersey for a hundred years (Figure 26.1). Each has its own unique architectural features, many of them intricate, and all are loved by Liverpudlians and visitors alike.

Figure 26.1: (Left to right) The Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building, a.k.a. 'The Three Graces'

Copyright 2005 Chris Howells

In 1992, I bought a two-storey apartment situated directly across the mile-wide river. I loved it purely because of the view. At all times of day, I would stand on the roof terrace and gaze in silent admiration upon one of the world’s most beautiful waterfronts. I sold the place at the turn of the millennium. A decade on, the view has been spoiled – and in a way I could never have imagined.

A while ago, I took my family to the recently-opened Museum of Liverpool. Our opinions of its exhibits differed considerably, as you might expect, but we were unanimous in our verdict of the edifice itself (Figure 26.2). What a sight. My eyes are still smarting. The phrase ‘in keeping with its surroundings’ seems to have been made unceremoniously redundant. There, among the Baroque, Byzantine and Italian Renaissance influences of the Three Graces, now stands the proverbial sore thumb.

Figure 26.2: The Museum of Liverpool, in all its 'splendour'

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

Sadly, on our way out, there was no escape from the visual assault. Mann Island, opposite the museum’s main entrance, is now home to three monstrous chunks of granite-and-glass (Figure 26.3), which obscure the view of the Three Graces from the ever-popular Albert Dock. Worse still, they are black – the only non-white buildings at the Pier Head. In terms of aesthetics, fine architectural detail and respect for surroundings, my sons’ Lego constructions are arguably superior.

Figure 26.3: Mann Island monstrosities

Copyright 2011 MonkeyFish Marketing Ltd.

La guinda del pastel, however, is the new Ferry Terminal (Figure 26.4). This is truly awful. Having such a ludicrous block of wonky masonry dumped directly in front of the (Grade 1 listed) Royal Liver Building is akin to seeing the image of George W. Bush carved into Mount Rushmore.

Figure 26.4: The new Ferry Terminal, beyond a wide expanse of concrete with not a single tree or shrub in sight.

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

There is, of course, no accounting for taste. This leads to a more fundamental point. Architecture, as with art and literature, is vulnerable to acute subjectivity. Was Gaudi a better architect than Frank Lloyd Wright? Were Bach’s works ‘better’ than those of Mozart? Is an unmade bed a ‘better’ art exhibit than Constable’s Hay Wain? Some arguments cannot be settled, and this is the very reason why charlatans and bullshitters are so prevalent among arty types. Anyone who believes Liverpool’s new buildings are hideous could be dismissed as a Philistine who ‘just doesn’t get it’. The world of science is different. Its rational and empirical nature ensures that pretentiousness and ignorance are swiftly, and brutally, exposed and condemned.

If the architects are damned by their own creations, then, what about those who sanctioned the planning applications in the first place? Liverpool Council’s decision-makers were ultimately responsible for desecrating the Pier Head. I have already heard some cynics suggest that ‘the kickbacks must have been substantial’. Of course, libel laws being as they are, I would never publish a conclusion without evidence, however logical it might be to draw.

All the unlovely buildings (Figures 26.5, 26.6 and 26.7) – where do they all come from?

Figure 26.5: The Port of Liverpool Building is now overshadowed by the black blocks of Mann Island

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

Figure 26.6: The new museum (right) makes this shot even less appealing than the previous one.

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

Figure 26.7: Laugh or cry?

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

Copyright 2011 Paul Spradbery

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