Amazing Grace - Liverpool Looks Up
Liverpool is one of a number of British Cities looking at competing for the title of European City of Culture in 2008 as well as celebrating the 800th anniversary of the City. Already famous for it's football teams, sinking ocean liners, a band called the Beatles, and an iconic waterfront Liverpool has one more trick up it's sleeve - the Fourth Grace.
This empty space left next to the three signature building's of the city, including Britain's first skyscraper the Royal Liver Building, has been opened up to a design competition inviting some of Britain's leading architects to enter. The brief is to provide a building with cultural facilities such as a concert hall, to remodel the waterfront into an attractive plaza, to get people living in the center again by providing residential housing and to create a signature building that will put Liverpool on the map as the Guggenheim has done in Bilbao.

The Contenders...
#1 Richard Rogers Partnership - Famous for his avante garde post modernism with such buildings as the Pomipdiou Centre this entry is something of a depature from his usual designs looking more like an organic Foster's creation from the late 90s with surprisingly little piping on the outside.
The proposal consists of two residential towers of 20 and 30 floors flanking a wind absorbing mixed use center including public aspects, office space and a hotel. The public aspects will consist of a 2500 seat auditorium, a martime museum, a jazz and comedy club and even an observation platform so people can enjoy the views. Parking is also provided for 700 spaces, and the street planning provides many new retail opportunities.

#2 Foster and Partners - Evoking memories of the strong Martime past Liverpool has Foster has come up with a quite extraordinary design. With the hull of a ship ending over the water in a box, and topped by a massive bridge this proposal is certainly imaginative looking. Featuring four buildings in one that contain all the same aspects as the Rogers design including a martime museum literally hanging over the water, this also features a massive covered public space as well as a remodelled plaza.

#3 Edward Cullinan - With two towers rising up to 35 floors and 500ft in height this proposal is designed to look more traditional whilst at the same time being an ultra modern building. A globe shaped 1000 seat theatre, plus a new marina for barges and a five star hotel are amongst the highlights for this entrant. There will also be 1500 new parking spaces underground, perhaps not the most forward looking solution for a 21st century project to handle the anticipated flood of visitors plus the new residents occupying the 150 planned apartments in the towers.

#4 Will Alsop - The sculptor turned architect comes up with another individual design. Less formed than the previous three entrants this one is seen as a concept rather than a complete planning document and is subject to change. Containing 340 residential units, offices, hotel, retail and lesuire in a series of six conceptual zones up to 20floors in height this is the only design that is not attempting to dominate the waterfront. The highlights are integrated transport and a scuplture park to present a history of Liverpool.





Public consultation for this scheme has been widespread and the favourite is Cullinan whilst Alsop is lingering in last place. Rather tellingly Alsop has also come last in the survey of architects conducted. The developers have been eager to stress that the public's opinion is more important than anything else and that they are taking into account all views.

And the Winner is...
Will Alsop!
Despite being the least formed and arguably most ugly of all the proposals Alsop has been chosen to design the Fourth Grace for the Liverpool waterfront. Clearly his attempts not to dominate the entire skyline has paid off, as his consideration in combining all the elements successfully in what is a dictionary example of modernism.
It does make a mockery of the public consultation exercise given the emphasis put on it by the developers and council that they chose the building that came last and you really do have to wonder how a concept can be judged on equal merit with three complete designs.
Despite all this though, the Alsop proposal is just the type of building that ambitious cities like Liverpool build although fears of it being a white elephant have ensured that Alsop has made concessions to his critics and promises a further redesign. It will certainly be interesing to see what he comes up with and let's hope Liverpool it is a big success.