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Is it time to show some love for Liverpool’s ugliest buildings? After all, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Here’s our seven for starters – all with hidden beauty, if you know where to look. What’s yours?

Royal Sun Alliance Building

It looks a bit like a Minecraft version of the Liver Buildings (it’s supposed to: it’s a Brutalist ‘response’ with its twin peaks) and it’s probably the most divisive tower in town. We happen to love the Royal Sun Alliance’s ‘sandcastle’ building. Now called the Capital Building, it’s replete with Minority Report style elevators (no buttons. They just sort of guess where you want to go).

Someone loves it. Downing paid £51 million for it eight years ago, but plans to change the drab brown concrete cladding have yet to materialise.

The building was part of the ‘walkways in the sky’ idea – with access on level one for pedestrians lifted above the car-only streets (hence the reason you have to get two escalators to reach reception). The views from Liverpool Vision’s tenth floor eyrie, though, are really something.

Interesting fact: The building uses water that seeps into the Merseyrail tunnel. The water is pumped out of the tunnel at a near constant 12C. A heat pump using thermal storage uses this water to heat and cool the building, giving minimal energy usage.

Merseyside Police HQ

MP_location_image_1With its tall, narrow windows and castle-like walls, the Merseyside Police HQ sums up, perfectly, 1970’s police thinking. It’s siege mentality made solid, a formidable fortress along the side of the old Liver-pool. The building was ‘designed’ by Liverpool City Corporation architects when, let’s just say, our friendly Police force were a little less touchy feely.

Interesting fact: The John Lewis Q-Park was forced to erect opaque screens when it was pointed out that users (suitably fitted with a pair of Swarovski 10×50 binoculars) could see the police at work/or not.

Royal Hospital

Royal_Liverpool_University_HospitalThe prognosis isn’t good for the Royal. As we type, work is underway on the £350 million new Royal Hospital. The existing building, designed and constructed by Holford Associates between 1963 and 1965, was bedevilled from the start. The poured concrete didn’t set, the design didn’t meet new fire safety laws and had to be hastily redrawn. Eventually, the hospital opened in 1978. And we’ve hated it ever since.

Interesting fact: The hospital’s cluster of buildings are home to the city’s second-largest art collection. Over 2,000 canvases do their best to cheer inmates, sorry, patients up. They’ve got their work cut out.

Princes Dock Car Park

king_edward_tower_liverpool_p020310_2Built by John Foster in 1810-21 to an outline design by John Rennie, Princes Dock was named after the Prince Regent, later George IV. It’s now berthing point for the world’s biggest cruise ships – whose passengers must gaze at this mundane multi-story (actually the recipient of a Park Mark award for safer parking) and wonder: What were UNESCO thinking? This is the World Heritage waterfront? When you hear that the really quite nice King Edward Tower (pic) was refused planning, and this execrable building got the green light, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Interesting fact: During the dock’s construction, Foster ordered more stone than was needed, and diverted it to his family’s company. He resigned when this was discovered.

2847707_10f1eaccQueen Elizabeth Law Courts

Build to resemble the old Liverpool Castle in its later, derelict years, the courts even feature uneven towers, supposed to resemble crumbling turrets. it’s an odd look for what’s supposed to be a solid, dependable crucible of law and order. Still, that was the 80s for you. The architects were appropriately named Farmer and Dark.

Interesting fact: Plans are afoot to relocate the Magistrates’ Courts here – by adding a further two floors above the building’s Derby Square entrance.

Mann Island

Sorry, we had a moment, last summer, when we started to warm to the jagged edges of Mann Island. Then the weather hit it, which it was always wont to do. And Open Eye got flooded out, and the shiny black fascias became foetid with run-off rainwater, splashed with salty Mersey spray, and it suddenly looked less like its self proclaimed ‘Liverpool’s Number One Address’ and more like angry flotsam and jetsam. So, no, we’re back with the Carbuncle Cup’s “wrist-slashingly awful design” opinon. Still, people chose to live here; Steven Gerrard for three (he’s snapped up three apartments in the building.)

Interesting fact: The site actually was an island, until Georges Dock was filled in to provide building land for the Port of Liverpool Building, in 1898.

Unite Grand Central

220px-GrandcentralhallsThis favela in the sky is probably the worst of the glut of city apartment buildings thrown up at the turn of the century. Graceless, soulless, and lacking any merit whatsoever, this grey student castle rises above the recently spruced up Lime Street gateway. After spending £20million on station’s forecourt, our Council approved these halls, home to 1200 bedrooms, one of the largest student properties in the UK.

Interesting fact: Liverpool now has 34 million city centre student flats*

*figures correct at time of going to press. Probably more by the end of the day

  • James Hawkins

    In the 1980s, my father was the manager of the bank in the Royal Insurance Building. A lovely building on the inside, with rooftop gardens, squash courts and a theatre. But access was up several flights of concrete stairs. On his first day in the job, one of his customers had a fatal heart attack just trying to reach the front door.

  • Ian

    I love the Royal Sun Alliance building, it looks great from the water. Unite Grand Central, however, is rubbish. (Your intro says they all have hidden beauty, I can’t see it in that one…)

  • david_lloyd

    wow! Yeah, was going to mention the Rooftop gardens, but they’re part of the Liverpool Echo building now, and I thought people would have a go at me slagging off the Echo, albeit in a roundabout way, again!

  • goldenblls

    The RSA building certainly is a strange one. It reminds me of the Met Cathedral, function over form.

    The student flats, I despise. They don’t even look finished.

    They just there in a prime city location, pulling tongues at the mighty St Georges Hall, putting two fingers up to the North Western hotel and kicking a bottle at The Adelphi.

  • Stephen Cunningham

    It will be worth watching BBC4 at 9pm on Sunday. Jonathan Meades on 20th century brutalist architecture.

  • ursula

    I work for a Government Dept. now housed in the Capital. We were moved from the Royal Liver building and we were not initially impressed. However I have come to love the Capital. We have the most amazing views from the 9th floor (far better than any in RLB except maybe from the roof ) We have lots of visitors from all over the country and they are stunned when they see the view. If you look at the top two floors (9 & 10) you will see the windows are much bigger, in fact floor to ceiling, that is because these were the original ‘Executive floors’ 9 was actually the executive dining room. I f we ever tire of looking at the river, Wales, New Brighton lighthouse, the Liver building, or the Pier head all in our lunch time of course! we can indeed look at the roof terrace garden. Fantastic

  • Missmalley

    Fun fact about the Royal: At the Grand Opening in ’78, they realised that the lifts weren’t wide enough to get trolly beds or hospital beds in. So it shut again while the lifts were refitted. Then it quietly opened….
    Tape measure anyone??

  • doug

    34million student flats! Really?

  • david_lloyd

    yes, you’re very lucky. The view out towards the mouth of the river is just beautiful. And you’re first to see if there’s a storm coming in!

  • david_lloyd

    oh god…

  • david_lloyd

    oh brilliant. Thanks Stephen.

  • david_lloyd

    No. I tried to find something nice to say for every one. But that and the Police HQ flummoxed me, so I gave up

  • Missmalley

    Thats my mum’s favourite story about the Royal, she was training as a nurse at the time and thought it was hilarious. The lifts were big enough but the doors weren’t. Class 🙂

  • Littoral

    It’s called New Hall Place and it’s a beast! Every King Edward proposal as been blag btw, its owners have no real intention to develop it. And the Prinny Dock multistorey isn’t too bad as multistoreys go.

  • Stoz

    Even knocking three zeros off it, that still sounds a lot!

  • ursula

    I know this could run and run, but how about this one on your next list?
    Continuing the Royal Hospital lifts fiasco, apparently this building was built with cells, which were immediately found to be smaller than the minimum size to satisfy human rights laws and couldn’t be used.

    More student flats?

    http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/hm-revenue-customs-office-queens-3387396

  • david_lloyd

    probably…

  • david_lloyd

    It’s terrible! Made more so by its location. At least, that’s what I think.

  • david_lloyd

    i’m obviously crap at sarcasm!

  • MargyC

    Great feature, good choices of the bad, the ugly and the absolutely hideous although fond of Sandcastle building originally built to house Post and Echo? Used to play on building site as a kid as I lived up the road. The student housing near Lime St is one of the worst buildings anywhere. The kind that sucks the life out of its surroundings and gives nothing back in return. A thoroughly depressing building. Looking forward to Meades on Sunday though. BBC 4 been really good in the last week or so.

  • asenseofplace

    A couple more contributions from New Year from me – http://asenseofplaceblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/dont-get-too-comfortable/ Maybe we’ll all wake up soon and they’ll be gone? Or maybe a few replacements will sneak through ‘Planning’ somehow and it’ll take us all another 30 years to get rid of them? And on and on and so it goes.

  • Carl Conroy

    Getting Sarcasm isn’t your strong point I gather…

  • Guest

    34 MILLION city centre student flats in Liverpool. Hmm not sure about that number

  • JD Moran

    Do they still have the colourful uplighting on the Police HQ building? I think it looks quite stunning on the right evening.

  • Jon Boy

    34 million? Wow! Hah

  • global city

    2, 5 and 6, I agree… pile of mediocre crap…as for the rest, there is nothing wrong with them. Proper urban sale, do the job they were intended to. Any shortcomings in them are as the result of wider planning limitations (bizarre anti-urbanism of the Shankland Plan for the RSA and the fact that the Princes dock has to function as though it is on a suburban business park, rather than address the street.

    I’ve always liked most of the buildings that make up the Royal hospital complex….but they’re all going soon!

  • global city

    They have missed the worst two recent buildings on that list. For me they re the Halifax building on the Strand and Commutation Plaza.

    Two awful buildings that suffer from the curse of ‘in keeping’…as in try to look old fashioned and end up just being horrific.

  • global city

    The garden should be opened….has it been opened?

  • Sophie

    How could you miss the job centre in Fairfield? Looks like a fucking prison

  • novabey

    Good writing – I learned a lot from the specifics , Does anyone know if I might be able to acquire a fillable IRS 1040 – Schedule E document to type on ?