Coming as I do from the South Coast of England, my move to London 10 years ago seemed like quite a long way north to go. And living as I do in South London, I find any journey further north in the city than Bloomsbury to be a slight disorientating prospect. The idea therefore of going to Northern England, as I did last weekend, let alone finding a wealth of cultural and artistic gems up there was simply never conceivable. Which just goes to show how wrong I was.
Too often the rest of the UK is left in the very long shadow left by London’s worldwide glory. When tourists come to England, they head to London, and maybe Brighton if you’re lucky – they probably don’t even know the names of many of our other major cities. Having said this, the city of Liverpool has always been one step ahead. Not only was it a major shipbuilder of the past, putting its name to ships as famous as the Titanic, but it was also birthplace of the Beatles, the foursome who were inextricably linked with their hometown throughout their careers.
But today, Liverpool has gone so much further than being just the birthplace of the Beatles, and the name painted on the fated Titanic, and has proved itself to be a self-standing centre of artistic excellence, ready to shine in its own right. In fact, Liverpool is already being recognised as the UK’s new cultural capital: In 2008 it was the European Capital of Culture, and there can be little surprise why the city was chosen above the likes of London – it is literally bursting at the seams with culture, offering a cornucopia of superb art works hanging in the Walker Gallery including Pre-Raphaelite favourites and works by the likes of Hockney and Banksy, playing host to the biannual John Moores Painting Prize, and supporting innovative street art and sculpture like the now iconic Lambanana sculpture by Taro Chiezo which has very quickly become a symbol of the city. However, above all things, it is in its architecture, in my opinion, that Liverpool really shines.
The architecture of the city is so fantastically mixed, so innovative in places and classical in others that one feels disbelief that planning permission was ever granted, and at the same time great relief that it was. So often, when in front of the likes of Bilbao’s Guggenheim by Frank Gehry, or on seeing the incredible curves of the vineyard building of Marquez de Riscal in the Rioja region of Spain, I have bemoaned the lack of British imagination when it comes to installing creative new architectural projects. Most of the new buildings going up in London are pretty standard skyscrapers, and not very exciting at all. Yes, so the Shard is tall, but it’s not all that interesting besides. Yet in Liverpool, you have a superb array of new architectural projects which fill the city with contemporary relevance and an air of bold innovation and creative exploration. From the beauty of the UNESCO protected “Three Graces” (the Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building) full of neo-classical extravagance and art-deco sophistication, you have the wonderfully regulated but faultlessly reinvigorated Albert Docks, and the brilliant new iconic creation of the curvaceous yet cubic Museum of Liverpool (by Danish architect Kim Nielson) and the geometric and irregular Pier Head Ferry Terminal by Belfast architects, Hamilton’s.
The result is a brilliant mix of old and new; the old reflected in the sheer glass of the modern, the contemporary lines balancing out the elaborate facades of the old. Liverpool gives you hard industrial edges with refined cultural collections. Serious maritime history with playful Japanese sculptures. And all this some 2 hours north of London – it’s about time the spotlight of the world switched north and showed those European architectural innovators that the UK can do contemporary design too.
I leave you with some of my photos from the weekend. Enjoy!
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