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Mersey as you've never seen it before

Angie Sammons takes in the sea view atop the Seaforth radar tower and finds out why the towering glass Observatory is a breath of fresh air

Written by . Published on March 19th 2008.

Mersey as you've never seen it before

YOU can only get to it in a special vehicle. The ordinary public aren't allowed anywhere near it. It is full of dangerous chemicals, and why on Earth would you want to go there anyway?

No, not the Ladies or Gents in any Concert Square bar you care to mention, but the Seaforth radar tower.

It might be an equally terrifying prospect close up, empty but for the asbestos, and you may have read of big ideas afoot to demolish it, replace it with something three times higher and rename it the Mersey Observatory.

But this one has got people fired up, and so have things progressed on he idea that a 50m high illuminated tower has won an international design competition in which 10,000 people voted. The £11.6 million design, which looks like a gigantic glass vase, is by Duggan Morris Architects and was the unanimous choice of the judging panel.

It is certainly striking in the visual here, but that's only half of the story. Confidential was given access to the radar tower on a bright sunny day this week to see what's in store.

The structure, as it stands, is full of asbestos and can only be reached by a four wheel drive vehicle which passes over the mud logged, rocky terrain of a metal recycling yard within the Port of Liverpool Freeport. All that will change.

So why get excited? Well if you like a view this is for you. From the top of the tower as it stands, Liverpool's landmarks bask in golden light, Beetham and Unity towers jostling for position with the establishment Liver Buildings and cathedrals from a little hitherto seen perspective. Further in and the bustle and clatter of the busy port are observed in a new light.

Eyes to the left and take in the whole sweep of the Mersey Estuary out to the Bar and the Irish Sea beyond. Straight ahead is Snowdonia. Behind, the Gormley men are mere dots as they impassively stare out to sea.

And stare out to sea you will. It, and the sky were shimmering blue and gold the day we went, but that changes all the time. The colours are never the same twice in a row down here and Joe Morris's new design plans to reflect that, literally, clad in photosensitive glass that will alter hue as the light passes through it from dawn to dusk on the high and low tides of the four seasons. Joe Morris told us: “We get lots of projects to work on, such as social housing an schools, so this has been a very special challenge for us, given this amazing location. The setting for the Mersey Observatory is entirely unique both geographically and culturally. The challenge was to create something to complement the extraordinary setting as well as having sufficient gravitas to act as a 'beacon' in its own right."

Unusually, the design calls for two complementary structures: a viewing tower and a separate café and exhibition centre. Duggan Morris calls them the 'lamp' and 'bowl'. The Observatory tower is designed to be illuminated from the inside and contains two viewing platforms. A lift would carry people to an enclosed, all-weather viewing platform, and further up to an open air viewing platform atop the tower.

The second, lower building contains the support facilities including reception, information point, exhibitions, restaurant, café and toilets, as well as a rooftop viewing 'amphitheatre' intended for closer views of the bird sanctuary near Crosby Marina.

The project is led by the Mersey Basin Campaign and backed by a partnership that includes the Northwest Regional Development Agency, Mersey Waterfront and Peel Holdings.

Now the real work begins. The architects must develop their preliminary designs to a much more detailed level, and crucially the team behind the project must put together the funding package that will make the Mersey Observatory a reality.

Ian Hamilton Fazey, chairman of the Waterloo Residents Association and also a member of the judging panel, said: "One interesting statistic from the public consultation is that 95 per cent of the people who commented supported the Observatory concept – less than five per cent attacked it per se. The vast majority of people realise that any public money for this project is simply not transferable: it is a case of "use it or lose it."

He added: "Anyone who has had the opportunity to go on to the roof of the existing radar tower knows that there is one single "Wow! factor" that it is impossible to miss.”

A view (of a view) we tend to share.

See: www.merseyobservatory.com

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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

BlofeldMarch 19th 2008.

S.P.E.C.T.R.E. does not tolerate failure!(Pulls hidden lever, floor retracts and Lord Street falls into a Big Dig pit)

Lord StreetMarch 19th 2008.

The Moon? Is the Sun not an option? I drove past Bradley this morning but I saw him too late... and missed him!

Sir Thomas StreetMarch 19th 2008.

Great heavens! It's Hugo Drax! Did he design the power station that takes his name?

London RoadMarch 19th 2008.

What about if we lock Mike Storey, Warren Bradley and all the other blithering incompetents in this radar tower, load it onto a passing rocket and fire it off to the moon.

A. E. ScousemanMarch 19th 2008.

In that picture above, 'Architect Joe' looks like a Bond villain. I hope this Waterloo Vase isn't going to be his futuristic headquarters from which he will embark upon fiendish plots for world domination. I mean it's bad enough that we have to suffer Mike Storey and his cronies in he neighbourhood.

Hugo DraxMarch 19th 2008.

London Road; take care of Mr. Bradley. See some harm comes to him!

Riva WadeMarch 19th 2008.

Having been fortunate to have visited the Radar Tower many times when my husband was employed there, the views across the Mersey are fantastic. I think the new design and building will fit in admirably, and will compliment the Gormley Statues and hopefully the new Marina when that is built, Hope I live long enough to see the transformation of Seaforth Water Front

seaview guesthome dsoMarch 19th 2008.

where have those statues gone! damnation is nought sacred and is that not the ghurkin or am i at the end of a bottlr of rouge. mon dieu i've just fallen overrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

seaview guesthome dsoMarch 19th 2008.

mon dieu i ave returned from the floor to read fifi's message.'ow about a rendezvous mon petit waitrose?

DukeMarch 19th 2008.

Hope I live long enough to see the end of the big dig. Not banking on it however.

Fifi the French WaitressMarch 19th 2008.

Non, Monsieur. c'est une carafe de vin. C'est le vin blanc malheureusement...

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