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Stirling stuff

Liverpool ONE didn't take the top architectural oscar at the weekend but it's arguably won a more important prize , says Larry Neild

Published on October 19th 2009.


Stirling stuff
WHATEVER your views about Liverpool One, there’s no doubt it has given the city a leg up the economic ladder.

What’s quite remarkable is that Liverpool One, as a development, survived the recession. This was emphasised just 24 hours before the Stirling Prize announcement when Grosvenor confirmed it was pulling out of an £800m city centre project in Preston

At the weekend it was up there on the national stage as one of the handful of hopefuls bidding for the greatest architectural Oscar – the Stirling Prize.

OK, it didn’t win, the prize went to architect Richard Rodgers for Maggie's Place, a cancer respite centre in London. Maggie's wasn’t my favourite, but I had guessed it would push all the right buttons with the judges.

Five on the Stirling short list were buildings, while the Liverpool One entry was for “Master Plan” for the whole of the £1bn project.

It deserved to win, but it probably ventured outside the comfort zone of the judging panel. Getting to the shortlist was, in itself, a victory, and at five minutes to nine on Saturday the entire population of Liverpool switched over from The X Factor to watch the result announced live on the telly.

Nah, only kidding. But getting a primetime free ad for Liverpool One (on Channel 4) for the minority not contributing to the ratings battle between Brucie and Simon, was better than nothing.

What’s quite remarkable is that Liverpool One has more or less survived the recession. This was emphasised just 24 hours before the Stirling Prize announcement when Grosvenor confirmed it was pulling out of an £800m city centre project in Preston.

Nine years ago, the Duke of Westminster’s ‘Consul General’ for Liverpool, Rod Holmes, shared Grosvenor’s big idea with a journo, and that journo was me. We stood on the top floor of the long gone Paradise Street car park as he explained his vision for the city centre.

At that time it was in his imagination, and I remain amazed by the accuracy of what he saw for Liverpool. He was gazing down at sites flattened in the 1941 Blitz. The bombed chippies of Liverpool. Our chips had been down since, and now it took a Duke to come to the rescue.

When I caught up with Holmes last week, he agreed that had work on Liverpool One reached only the half-way stage it could have faced being scaled back. In a nutshell, Liverpool got in there just in the nick of time.

He steered the project from start to finish, occasionally through somewhat stormy waters, played out behind closed doors. Ever the diplomat, he ensured the dialogue continued. He is full of praise for people like Sir David Henshaw and current Lord Mayor Mike Storey who were key players to make sure Paradise was not lost.

Had he been an Olympian, Holmes he would have received a medal for this endeavour. Yet he was the winner in an Olympian feat that has given this city some gold for the future.

James Stirling was a graduate of the School of Architecture at the University of Liverpool (1945-50) and went on to become one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. I interviewed him several times, mainly about the unfairly maligned Southgate Estate in Runcorn New Town. This was a community of futuristic plastic houses with porthole windows.

His brief had been to produce an innovative housing scheme and I’ve no doubt had it been built in London or a major European capital, it would have been world famous. Instead it earned infamy as ‘Legoland’ removed to be replaced by boring traditional houses.

Its demolition troubled him. He returned to the area some years later to remodel what is now the Tate at the Albert Dock. I swear there are some hints of Southgate at the Tate, as though Jim was giving an ‘up yours’ to Merseysiders.

He died prematurely, in 1992, after undergoing a minor operation.

Liverpool One was a worthy finalist in the Stirling Prize contest of 2009 and the team from BDP, led by Terry Davenport, must of proud of what they delivered. More importantly it has proved a winner with the millions of people heading to the new heart of Liverpool. And that, as any banker knows, is sterling news.

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

JayOctober 19th 2009.

Anonymous: Rapid is moving into GHL, is it not?

AnonymousOctober 19th 2009.

TKMaxx is moving into the empty GHL shop, good competition for Primark.

MarkOctober 19th 2009.

Liverpool one has done just what the pool needed, it has stopped local money pouring out into the trafford center and Chester. Lets face it the center was okay at best for shopping before, now we have one of the best shopping areas in the country - it can only be a very very good thing

32zzzedOctober 19th 2009.

stop being such a miserable gett. My wife works in l'pool one.

Archie TectOctober 19th 2009.

Scouse Wedding was how Phil Redmond described Capital of Culture. Maybe Liverpool One could be described as a Scouse tart. Get a groupie of architects, give them individual projects to play with and the result is the Paradise Project, a hotch-potch of buildings, some good, some interesting, but a lot of blandness.There is a danger it will look jilted in a few years unless it is well looked after. Grosvenor built what was Runcorn Shopping City and eventually managed to flog it. Recent reports about the fortunes of what is now called Halton Lea indicate problems. Will Grosvenor eventually flog Liverpool One?Meanwhile I agree it is bringing jobs and money into town.

Dicky MaddockOctober 19th 2009.

Tel's very correct. But remind me about the radio station and art gallery again

Derek HOctober 19th 2009.

despite all the naysayers I think Liverpool One is pretty fine achievement. BUT, I cannot help but wonder what will happen to the empty Clayton Square. The bottom of Bold Street was lovely for clothes and Church Street now has pound shops. The main George Henry Lee store still lies empty.

TelOctober 19th 2009.

Ronnie, Liverpool One is not just a shopping centre. Last time I looked there were lots of restaurants, cafes, a radio station and an art gallery. It was Bill Davies who wanted a shopping centre - a covered mall on top of Chavasse Park. The council didn't want to go down that road, particularly as it involved a man whose middle names are Land and Bank. Liverpool One isn't for every one. But every time I go there I see plenty of satisfied punters enjoying themselves. And it's busy. For years we moaned that there was no decent shopping in the city. Now we've got it, some people are still moaning and predicting it won't last. No wonder we're called whinge city. But if you're in opposition politics, I suppose it's in your interest to talk the place down.

AnonymousOctober 19th 2009.

Hmm, and here's me thinking Mr Nield lives in some Geogian/Edwardian timewarp. His comments will be most unwelcome to some anti-modernists. I agree Liverpool One has breathed new life into what had bn a dying city. We've gone from Hopeless to a city of Hope. Winning the Stirling Prize was not important.

plastermanOctober 19th 2009.

radio station - new radio merseyside buildingart gallery - don't know whether you have noticed, but alot of time money and effort has twice been spent on the Bluecoat.I think architecturally L1 works well as a shopping hub, and is a great master plan. Visually it is dull, but dull lasts quite well. The fact that there is now real fashion style features means it may become timeless.People forget that in times gone by, the buildings we love now as classics will also have come up against opposition from people who just didn't like change and the possibility that something good may be happening. They're the pessimists, the naysayers, the whingers and the downright boring.Personally, I think the L1 development has added a great deal to the city -jobs, entertainment, decent chain places to eat fairly dull food, and a place to eat some good food too. To upgrade the city centre like it needed to be, would have been impossible any other way. Its unfortunate that some of the city is now lays unused, but its all still a very busy city centre. I like it that way, heres hoping it stays that way.

Ronnie de RamperOctober 19th 2009.

Salivating over a shopping centre! Has the world gone mad? People shopped before. The Grosvenor One mall simply substitutes for other shops, leaving the rest of the city centre looking like an expanded version of London Road. It's a pretty humdrum centre too. Once the veneer of newness has worn off, it'll look jaded pretty quickly.But the much bigger problem lies on the commercial front. At the moment, to pump up occupancy levels, franchises are being offered rent free, or heavily discounted, or based on 'share of take'. Once rents move to a real commercial level, you'll see the boards start going up. All this guff about "millions of shoppers" is smoke & mirrors PR too. Two million shoppers a month? 24 million a year? Get real! Only babies get taken in by this nonsense. If these figures really are true, and people really are spending like never before, then we'll see some economic spillover in months and years to come. My bet though is that this is just another shopping centre with no lasting impact. Check back in twelve months time.

AnonymousOctober 19th 2009.

Rapid had moved into the back building of GHL. The main building on Church Street is still empty after 18 months

DigOctober 19th 2009.

People who think the opposite of you Ronnie may also say check back in 12 months. Wait there, it's October. Liverpool One has been open for twelve months and still looks brand new and has thousansds of shoppers pouring in every day to shop in shops that aren't boarded up. I don't know what the figures actually are but every time I've been it has been very busy. You could say being so close to winning the Stirling Prize is a pretty huge impact for a shopping centre. Oh, and yeah, stop being such a miserable get.

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