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.

Upper Duke Street 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”.

Liverpool WaterfrontIn 2007, Liverpool’s regeneration was gathering pace and the city was reacting in its usually strident way about what, exactly, we were turning ourselves into.

“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.

Vauxhall RoadLiverpool, 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.

A new Waterfront?“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.

7 Responses to “The Shape of Things to Come?”

  1. Wayne Colquhoun

    I wrote the Channel 5 Programme, for Ptolemy Dean and the only reason we had Micheal on was so we could put our views forward with an alternative argument of which Micheal is always ready to give for free publicity.
    He may be prepared to overstate his own importance a little now and then.

    I dont think you should read too much into this as you only have to look at the damage that has been done of recent years on Mann Island to realise they are beyond defence.
    But here is Gavin Stamps view on Mann Island.

    “They should not be built. Not only is this a World Heritage Site, but there needs to be a break between the great 20th century group of the Pier Head’s Three Graces and the 19th-century group of the Albert Dock.
    “It was fine as it was before with low-level buildings between the landmark groups, acting as a buffer zone so that neither of those groups are overwhelmed.
    “It’s nothing to do with the World Heritage Site holding back development. This is just a very bad idea visually, as it does not respect the character of the place.
    “I don’t understand why new office and apartment blocks have to be built in Liverpool, when the city has so many fine old buildings and newer properties lying empty.
    “This last building boom in Liverpool has been a disaster. At best there’s a lot of mediocrity, and there’s got to be a higher quality of architecture.”

    Now who would you trust.

  2. Wayne Colquhoun

    The Irony is that the programme was entitled Britains Vanishing Views.

    What Ptolemy said was
    “It is not about living in the past its about celebrating and appreciating the past and I don’t think it’s a very big ask to say that if you add to a World Heritage Site you should do so in a way that doesn’t detract from its quality”.
    Going on he says

    “You get the sense of the sky and how massive these buildings are, the fact that this view is being taken away is a tragedy. Already the new museum has blocked a vital piece of the sky. The gaps are like the silence in a conversation that is the architectural composition. Its like sitting in a opera and a mobile phone goes off and suddenly the pause is broken and the silence is shattered”.
    “It is a fantastic skyline he waxed It needs to be cherished and preserved”

    Interestingly The new museum was nominated for the Carbuncle Cup award
    That was won last year by the Terminal Ferry Carbuncle, son of museum, when One Park Worst on Chavasse Lawn came 4th.
    Now thats Irony for you!

  3. I’m a great admirer of Michael’s work and his enthusiasm for mixing human scale with architectural might. Just look at that Derby Square plan, and the way that greenery and pedestrian spaces – as well as light between the buildings – have been incorporated into it. As opposed to the grim, grey faced buildings which currently occupy the site.

    There is absolutely a time and place for heritage and preservation, but I find it incredibly frustrating when buildings are unfit for purpose but are preserved for being “old”. Liverpool One beautifully integrates old and new; ironically I’d say the failure of One Park West is due to heritage objections demanding it be shrunk and stunting the design.

    As for Mann Island, I’d first remind you that what used to be there were industrial units, a showroom and a car park; that’s not something I wanted to see preserved. The buildings are exciting and are starkly different to the Pier Head buildings, as they should be. Some views have been lost, but others have been gained: I’ve seen many photographers taking photos of the reflections in the black glass, and the view from by BugWorld in the Albert Dock is fascinating – the Three Graces are clearly visible, with the slash of the glass blocks against it. It’s a stimulating presence that I’d like to see more of.

  4. Nick Holloway

    A “childishly gigantic and irregular Liver pile” — that’s how C.H. Reilly, Liverpool uni’s professor of architecture in the 1920s, described the Royal Liver Building.

    So controversy and the waterfront seem to go hand in hand!

  5. Oh Wayne, you do annoy me you obsessive crank, always harping on like an annoying little terrier, filling up every forum and website you can like a virus. I thank Christ you don’t have any real power. Love ’em or hate ’em these things are getting built, and only history will tell us weather you’re right or wrong about ’em. Until such a point, why don’t you GET YOURSELF A LIFE and stop banging on.

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