The world in one city? You better believe it. For our legion of tourists, a walk around the city must be a most disconcerting experience. Home, with its familiar curves and crevices, must seem curiously closer with every corner they turn.
Like all great port cities, we’re a bit of a chameleon, taking inspiration here, lending it there. The result – a city that’s got globalism embedded in every brick, every portland stone pediment and neo-Grecian column.
So, why don’t we take a tour around seven structures that, to us and our visitors, must seem awfully familiar…
Perhaps the most famous of all Liverpool doppelgangers, Shanghai’s waterfront is part homage, part affectionate rip-off (hey, we know the feeling). It’s great to see a corner of China’s most western-leaning cities for ever pointing Merseywards.
The name ‘bund’ comes from an Anglo-Indian word for a settlement along a muddy waterfront, which, by a nice etymological coincidence is also how we arrived at the name ‘Liverpool’ too. No wonder our cities make such snug twins. One of the remaining vestiges of Shanghai’s colonial period, the Bund is the result of a rash of British, French, American, German and Russian architects, employing styles such as Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and Renaissance: you could almost say, in the Three Graces (The Liver Building, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings, they’re all present and correct.
Ello ‘ello ‘ello, what’s going on ‘ere then? Scotland Yard being impersonated by a master of disguise? Or is it the other way around? Liverpool’s White Star Line HQ on James Street – with its distinctive candy stripe facade is strikingly similar to the Old Scotland Yard (now the Norman Shaw Building) in London. Just a Bobby’s beat away from Big Ben, these buildings were designed in 1892 and completed in 1907 – in banded brick and Portland Stone.
The White Star Line’s Head Offices, on James Street were besieged by journalists when the Titanic sunk: office workers shouting the dreadful news out of its balconies. The two buildings were designed by the same architect, Richard Norman Shaw, in 1894: and ours was an improved version of his Scotland Yard work.
We’ve made our opinions known on Mann Island. In truth, it’s growing on us a touch. But to say it’s a work of staggering originality would be pushing it a tad. There are many, many similar buildings jaggedly piercing the skyline of metropolitan boroughs the world over. We could have picked an office block in Washington, or a museum in San Francisco, but we think the Black Diamond in Copenhagen best apes the shiny unscalable peaks of our audacious new waterfront interloper.
The waterfront extension to the Royal Danish Library’s old building on Slotsholmen in Denmark is polished, poised and rather beautiful, and designed a decade before our mini range of Black Alps burst out of the ground of Mann Island.
A bridge too far? We love Wilkinson Eyre’s twisting torso of a bridge, spanning a full 60 metres between the car park and John Lewis at Liverpool ONE. And we’re not the only ones. It was the judges’ favourite in the Civic Trust Awards a couple of years ago. They called it simple and pragmatic. We call it iconic. But then, Wilkinson Eyre, in the best possible Blue Peter tradition, did have one they completed earlier. The shorter span of their ‘Bridge of Aspiration’ connected two buildings belonging to the Royal Ballet. The twists and turns of this link elegantly evoking the time lapse stills of a ballerina in flight (as opposed to ours, which, we guess, evokes a shopper in the January sales, elbowing out the competition).
As with the Liverpool project, the design addresses a series of complex contextual issues, having to link two ends at different levels. Both are achieved with grace and elan. But, if we’re honest, we’d rather have a bridge to John Lewis than a ballet school any day.
Zaha Hadid got into a touch of hot water with over-spends and delays on her controversial Maxxi Museum in Italy, with its curves designed to ‘unwind like a ribbon in space.’ We say it was worth every extra penny (and we hope the cash-strapped Italian Government aren’t forced to close it down). It’s designed to be ‘fashion-proof’ – and we think it’s stunning: especially inside. But the overspends and the controversy, and that all-seeing eye, peering over the city put us in mind of something a little closer to home (and a little less jaw-dropping inside, we fear.) Our own loveable Museum of Liverpool shares at least a few sequences of its DNA with Hadid’s masterwork, designed by Danish architects £XN, and helped to the finish line by Manchester’s AEW.
Many cities have their own version of New York’s famous ‘Flat Iron’ building: a slim wedge of a site where two roads meet, creating a triangular building that tapers elegantly to a point. Ours, Millennium House (formerly Imperial Buildings) isn’t quite as dramatic as uptown Manhattan’s version, but it does look strikingly similar to San Francisco’s more human-scale version, the 1900s office block known as the Flood Building. With its rounded apex, fluted columns and it was one of the few buildings that survived the 1906 earthquake.
Our slightly more modest Millennium house has survived the city being razed to the ground around it too – it’s the only survivor along this stretch of Victoria Stret and Whitechapel – the buildings adjoining it rebuilt to house the city’s Capital of Culture HQ and the smart Lifestyles gym below. The E. & H. Shelmerdine-designed Imperial Buildings stand on a similar triangular site at the junction of Victoria Street and Whitechapel, and features statues of female figures representing Commerce and Industry below the corner dome.
Boomerang-shaped buttresses, check. Vibrant modern stained glass, check. Spiky crown of thorns, yep. Locals lovingly refer to is as a wigwam… oh yes, Brasilia’s Roman Catholic Cathedral shares many similarities with our own strident 60s design. With its lattice of 16 curved supporting beams (exactly the same number as our own Cathedral’s) and its democratic seating in the round, the Cathedral was designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer – a huge fan of reinforced concrete, and a lover of abstract forms and curves. Our Cathedral was his inspiration: with its lantern of glass open to the sky, allowing light to flood in (although Niemeyer went one further, allowing the windows to snake their way between the concrete ribs to the floor – but then the light is better in Brazil). Liverpool’s Fred Gibberd-designed structure was completed three years before Brasilia’s – and was, at the time (possibly even still) one of Liverpool’s most controversial modern buildings, lauded and loathed in equal measure.