The Shape of Things to Come?
What does the future of Liverpool look like? Black, angular and shiny? Stone-built, sturdy and Neo-Classical? Or somewhere in between? Urban designer Michael McDonough has a few ideas...
It’s true: we’ve had a pop at Mann Island – and were surprised it wasn’t nominated for this year’s Carbuncle Cup, to make a matching pair down at the waterfront with the Pier Head Ferry Terminal. But here’s the thing: some accuse us of recoiling from their inarticulate angles because they’re ‘modern’.
Not a bit of it. With their shiny black surfaces, and reflective sheen they look, to us, like a Magnet kitchen from the early 90s. Not modern enough, in our book. Neither fish nor fowl (although, if we’re honest, closer to foul).
Still, we’re all for letting the other side take a shot. Maybe we’ve misunderestimated these arrogant intruders?
Michael McDonough knows a thing or two about the shape of cities to come. His visualisation for a new Derby Square is our main picture, and samples of his other re-imaginings illustrate this feature.
An Architecture graduate from Manchester University – but South Liverpool born and bred – McDonough set up Frontend Freelance, an architecture visualisation company. At least, that’s the day job – by night, things get far more interesting, when McDonough dreams up urban regeneration projects for his online flights of fancy, rendered in all their blue-sky glory on his 21C Liverpool website.
“21C Liverpool Design Journal is the result of collaborative chatter on an online forum for urban design, Skyscraper city. It soon became a vehicle for new ideas for taking the city forward, taking the crazy and the ambitious and producing a hub of visuals to illustrate how the future might look,” McDonough says.
“I grew up in Speke in the 80s and 90s, and the dereliction I passed every day was the inspiration for me to get interested in urban regeneration,” he adds.
His inspiration first saw the light when he entered a regional schools competition to create a concept for transforming a local brown field site. Michael zeroed in the then-derelict former Liverpool Airport and hangars. The design featured a hotel, leisure facility and commercial spaces.
“Funnily enough this is how the site would be eventually developed. My mother is still a little curious about just how similar the end result was,” he says, adding that his project went on to win a regional architecture competition, earning his school £6,000 worth of modelling equipment.
His career choice was, as they say, cemented, and a place at Manchester University followed.
“Manchester was a city I wanted to understand and spend my late teens and early twenties in. Not only because I grew up surrounded by media bias about how amazing Manchester was meant to be and how useless Liverpool apparently was but because culturally and architecturally at this time Manchester simply had more to offer. Its outlook was modern, it was culturally diverse, to me it was the nearest thing to a city with ambition, balls and forward thinking.”
After graduating in 2006, McDonough worked briefly for Falconer Chester Hall Architects – “funnily enough, the firm who carried out the restoration of the former Liverpool Airport buildings”.
“There were those who didn’t want to let go, those who wanted to preserve for preservation sake as much as those who yearned for change,” McDonough recalls.
“21C was an attempt to kick back against a wave of sometimes unnecessary and unconstructive heritage outbursts and argue that this city has always been about embracing change. Of how we couldn’t afford to stand still…”
When the site launched, McDonough started to receive abusive telephone calls, online attacks, and stinging rebukes in the local press; not least when he had the temerity to defend Mann Island on Channel 5…
“The interview was carried out as part of a series by Ptolemy Dean who likes to produce water colour paintings of architecture as a celebration of the best of British landscapes,” McDonough says.
“Ptolemy was a little dismissive of the change in Liverpool and felt the new architecture was ruining the city. His point of view was typical of a period in which a lot of people appeared to want Liverpool preserved in aspic.
Liverpool, says McDonough, has always been a city testing ground for urban design and planning concepts, from the slum clearance of the 1960′s, the ill-fated “Streets in the Sky” project, or the bungalows next to Liverpool one from the Derek Hatton era – a by-product of managed city decline.
It’s a fair point. Even today, with Liverpool One the first such development in the UK, and the proposed Liverpool and Wirral Waters – the city’s never been afraid to embrace change.
“The ideas behind 21C aren’t based on some misguided desire to see skyscrapers everywhere and heritage shunned. It is about thinking big and demanding nothing less than the best we can achieve for Liverpool, surpassing the achievements of the past instead of allowing them to be a millstone around our necks.”
“It’s about stimulating a new sense of purpose for the city and bridge the gaps and cracks in the urban fabric. It would be great to see new architecture and old strike some kind of new balance, Art Deco revisited perhaps, in which Liverpool can be the hub of the skills, both manual and designer needed to create long standing and inspiring new architecture.
Currently, McDonough’s working on a series of visuals for Manchester based Urban Designers DPP Shape, commissioned to produce a masterplan that flows from Leeds to to Bootle, alongside the canal, as part of a strategy to regenerate north Liverpool.
“My brief is simply to create something ‘visually compelling’,” he says.
Visually compelling, SevenStreets suggests, is one thing. Despite our adoration for Toy Story 3, computer generated images have yet to accurately portray that other dimension: quality of life.
“Its a challenge,” McDonough says. “[That] area is Liverpool’s last real headache in terms of urban planning and one that needs to see a sustainable, ambitious and clever re-invention of this badly neglected area of the city. I’ll be locking myself in a windowless room at some point with a tub of teabags and custard creams and will not come out until I crack it.”
Our breaths are baited.