“More Front than Blackpool”: Liverpool Risks Loss of World Heritage Status

It is reported that a UNESCO committee is to advise the removal of Liverpool’s World Heritage status, first bestowed in 2004. Whilst encompassing wider historic commercial districts, in general terms, this lines the City’s world-renowned waterfront.

Otherwise, its status rests upon the history of the City as a major international trading port in the C18 and C19, where it played a key role in not only the emergence of the British Empire and as a locus of migration, but also the transatlantic slave trade.

The World Heritage Committee has referred to “serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes”

Although its potential relegation is not news – where, due to modern redevelopment of the iconic waterfront, said demotion has been considered for over a decade – whether its status will remain intact, will be confirmed in July.

Despite the City Council claiming an investment of 1.5 billion into one hundred and fifty-seven heritage assets (the Albert Dock area hosts more Grade I listed buildings than any other place in the UK), a report from the World Heritage Committee has expressed “deep regret” at what has been termed the “serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes”.

Liverpool Waters and the new Everton FC stadium at Bramley Moore Dock were among those developments specifically referred to in the report.

The City has failed to take notice of repeated warnings

Heritage campaigner Wayne Colquhoun said that the City has ignored continual warnings concerning new development, and that “If you’re going to fill [that] dock in – as a mercantile and maritime city on top of already filling the other docks in – you’re displaying that over your universal value. They’ve pushed the boundaries and pushed it and pushed it.”

The Government has stated “We are disappointed in this recommendation and will continue to work with UNESCO, Historic England and Liverpool City Council to ensure the World Heritage Committee can make an informed decision when its meets next month.”

Are decisions being made remotely in light of Covid-19 fair?

Joanne Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, has requested the deferment of any decision for twelve months, where any such demotion would in her view be “hugely unfair”.

“We need [them] to see Bramley Moore Dock with their own eyes – physically or virtually,” she went on, where the removal of World Heritage status would prove a “missed opportunity in demonstrating to the world that heritage and regeneration are not mutually exclusive.”

Steve Rotherham, mayor of Liverpool City Region, also finds the proposal “deeply disappointing” and has called on the committee to reconsider. He writes “We are proud of our history but our heritage is a vital part of our regeneration. I’d urge them to take up our invitation to visit rather than taking their decision sat around a table on the other side of the world.”

They have a point. Principally due to the pandemic, but also the perpetual claim of under- resourcing, many important decisions – planning or otherwise – are now being made remotely, and by fundamentally detached bodies. As such, decisions will often be insufficiently informed, and therefore deeply flawed.

A balance between heritage and successful new development must always be sought

For obvious reasons, drawings or CGIs rarely reflect reality on the ground. And, for better or worse, Liverpool is not London and must be canny with its economy, for not merely the sake of its heritage, but also its community; for without one, there is not the other.

That being said – as suggested by both Anderson and Rotherham – the correlation between heritage and successful new development is a key factor in not only regeneration, but conservation, and, whilst admittedly fine, a degree of balance must be sought.

Concerning Liverpool Waters, Lindsey Asworth of Peel Developments has stated:

“Its simply not right to expect derelict parts of cities with such a rich history to stand still and be fossilised. This consent will open up opportunities and new prospects to link our UK businesses with other international businesses. Liverpool is now well placed to be alongside the best of the best.” It is not merely desirable that new and old exist cheek by jowl – resulting in environments that are authentic, rich, buoyant, dynamic and full of vigour – but essential.

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Art in the Age of Now: art brings Fulham Town Hall back to life

Among the high number of significant architectural gems located throughout West London, the former Fulham Town Hall is particularly striking. Located on Fulham Road, adjacent Fulham Broadway Station, the redundant town hall is a captivating structure and one that draws the attention of visitor and local alike.

A snapshot of Fulham Town Hall’s history

Its robust presence was designed by George Edwards in 1888-1890 and includes a handsomely ornamented exterior with Italianate influences and a twentieth century Baroque Extension designed by Francis Wood in 1904-1905. Given its special architectural and historic interest, the former Town Hall was as such designated Grade II* on 31st of July 1981.

Given the changes to Fulham’s social, economic and environmental circumstances over time, it became redundant as a town hall from 1965 and, whilst still intermittently used for offices and events, has remained vacant for the past decade. Now closed behind iron rail gates and sealed by large oak doors, it is no longer accessible to the wider public. That is, until recently.

Art has recently given the building a new purpose, but with the interiors left in tact (degradation included)

From May 20th – for the first time in over a decade – Fulham Town Hall’s doors reopened to welcome visitors back into its interior space via a new art exhibit, Art in the Age of Now. This free exhibition gave visitors the freedom to explore and discover not only hundreds of art works but also the ‘seen and unseen’ spaces of Fulham Town Hall in what is an immersive and unique experience.

Here, the extravagance of the exterior can be seen to have been reciprocated throughout the interior, with tall ceilings, elegant stairwells, beautiful tiling, large halls and a wealth of lavish materials, colours and textures. That being said, it obviously remained in an state of deterioration as a direct result of its long vacancy.

The art works made effective use of all available spaces including rooms, corridors, halls, ceilings and floors, and, when juxtaposed against interior’s currently poor condition, have resulted in an unexpected interconnectedness. The exhibit not only utilises the space as it is – unapologetically, given the degree of loss and erosion evident there – but has been curated in such a way that ensures existing spaces compliment and remain in dialogue with individual pieces.

Some areas of the building look like works of art in their own right as a result of the art installations

Within this context, some of the art works cause no undue harm to original fabric, with examples including projections, or free-standing installations, frames and sculptures; all of which result in negligible impacts upon the listed building. Otherwise, some exhibits have been far more intrusive in terms of original fabric, as artists have (temporarily) executed their pieces directly onto the walls, ceilings and floors, which has in turn transformed these spaces – particularly the basement – into works of art in their own right.

Both approaches result in unique interaction between audience, artworks and space, and as a result, the exhibition and associated impacts are – in the main – understood to be wholly beneficial; principally by repopulating and making effective use of space, where the interrelationship between use and preservation is widely recognised a fundament of best conservation practice.

Here, reimagining existing yet eroded and redundant spaces has reinvigorated the vacant building whilst establishing an inspiring precedence for not only the future of the Fulham Town Hall, but also the reuse of all derelict buildings alike.

See it here: https://fulhamtownhall.com/

The Future is Old: a fascinating and thought provoking glimpse of London over the next 100 years

Futurescape - a view of London and how it might change over the next 100 years

Chatham House – of the renowned Chatham House Rule – is an independent policy institute and forum that (in their own words) seeks to assist the understanding of societies, governments and people, in a rapidly changing world.

To mark the thinktank’s 100-year anniversary, last month saw their unveiling of a 3D model that shows how London will look in 100 years and that ‘allows the public to explore a future of positive change.’  Here, the public can explore cities of the future, using Piccadilly Circus as an example.

Intended to ‘stimulate debate about the future of our cities over the next century’ – particularly pertinent given those places suddenly and drastically unpeopled by COVID -the model considers the real need to support increasingly sustainable living in urban centres, whilst urging new conversations about what people actually want there.

Introducing Futurescape

Futurescape emerged following consultation with scientists, architects, designers, sustainability experts and trend analysts concerning the need to create more positive futures for our urban environment; a need that is eternally evolving and in essence, never goes away. We struggle to get it right.

How might the future London look?

With Futurescape, four future dates are envisaged. In 2035, greenery and wildlife have been introduced into the city centre, whilst pedestrians share space with bikes, scooters and drones. CO2 emissions are therefore reduced; storytelling benches relate oral histories; and a solar-panelled food market offers new sources of protein (insects). Commerce and cars have no place.

In 2060, climate change and rising water levels result in new canal systems, whilst buildings, transport and businesses are sustained by renewable energy. Produce is increasingly local – utilising rooftops and waterways – whilst public space offers new, technology-based art forms such as hologram shows. Retail space is given over to leisure, and upcycling, upgrading and exchange have become standard.

By 2090 the clairvoyance perhaps runs out of steam – being fairly difficult to foresee accurately – albeit the environment is by then shaped by vertical farms, giant energy and lighting structures, new religious identities and floating, ‘sky barge’ dwellings. 2121 sees a prevalence of AI, buildings that shapeshift according to need and desire, and low gravity marketing pods that simulate Lunar or Martian living.

A future that remains rooted in the past

Futurescape – as intended – is undoubtedly an interesting basis for discussion concerning a subject in dire need of consideration. It’s also a lot of fun besides. But what is most heartening – despite the unambiguously futuristic cityscape that can be seen to coalesce around the Circus over the hundred years – is that many of its more famous monuments and buildings survive, with the real hub remaining Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain and its statue of Anteros.

As such, the future can be seen to remain explicitly rooted in the past. Here, the ongoing narrative evidenced by retained heritage, shows the central role to be played by conservation in the prospective making of our places. In an increasingly fast world – amidst what Chatham House describes as ‘seismic change’ – the survival ofoldfriends like Anteros nevertheless continue to provide some quantum of stability and security.

See it here: https://futurescape.chathamhouse.org