Have you noticed the city’s love affair with tonal cladding? No? Just us then. Well let us tell you, it’s bloody everywhere. Jenga strips of coloured steel, Tetris-ing their way down the sides of new office blocks, hospitals, hotels and apartments. Have a look – you’ll see how they’ve invaded the skin of the city.

Today, the University of Liverpool opened its new Ronald Ross Building: a £23 million research centre, cementing the city’s world-class health sciences. Handsome enough, pic r, but look at the cladding! Warning – strobe alert. What is going on?

From the graphite and gunmetal blocks – like an old testcard on a black and white telly – on the waterfront’s hotels (we see the new Traveloge’s cladding has already started to fall off, like the Malmaison’s did last year) to the vibrant purple and green at the new St Catherine’s hospital (pic 2), and the stern new Redmond’s Building for JMU (pic 3).

It is, we guess a cheap way to make a featureless building interesting, maybe? But something inside us tells us all these patchwork quilts are going to look very dated, very quickly.

That’s if the cladding stays on.

You don’t get that with stonework, or buildings with genuine architectural detailing. These buildings substitute a bit of slap, a cosmetic make-over, to cover up the fact that there’s nothing going on underneath. But a building’s beauty should be a little more than skin deep, surely?

That’s not to say a bit of lettering doesn’t help. We like the big gold LIBRARY sign, just erected on the backend of Central Library. Not sure about the font. But, hey, it’s better than Comic Sans. And, of course, we’re very excited about the new library, so perhaps we shouldn’t judge it by its cover.


Where did the cladding start? And when will it end (we’ve just spotted a purple and orange specimen, off Smithdown Road) who can tell? Possibly Manchester’s grim Hilton Tower, on Deansgate was the first local example.

To us, they all look more like budget airport hotels, and show a certain lack of inspiration, and creeping sameness to our streetscapes.

Maybe you love them? Whatever, you can’t avoid them these days. At least Mann Island has the decency to be all black. Maybe we’re growing to like that place after all…

  • Richard HJ

    I figure when they all sober up at least with cladding they can swap it for something that resembles good taste. Or brick. x

  • James Davies

    The library looks like a giant plaster

  • Ronnie de Ramper

    The Mann Island buildings look very fine indeed. Alas, they’d look fine almost anywhere but where they are. And where they are creates a disaster to rank alongside any that Liverpool has ever experienced architecturally. If ever a site cried out for buildings in brick or stone – or even glass – it was Mann Island. Too late now.

    Of these new cladded buildings, I think DL has it right. They look cheap because, frankly, they are cheap. They are posh prefabs, quick to assemble by bolting inner cladding to the structural frame, thereafter nailing on the outer cladding. Job done. Wear & tear by weather and usage will soon render them shabby. And yes, I fear they’ll date very quickly too

  • http://twitter.com/philipstratford Philip Stratford

    Totally agree with the comment that these will look dated very quickly. They’re so reminiscent of the modernist architecture of the 1960s, which tried to look futuristic and modern with very similar techniques, whilst hiding a cheap construction beneath. And how quickly those which remained standing looked silly.

    Liverpool of my childhood had many of these buildings, lingering and reinforcing the sense of a city where progress, investment and development had long since disappeared. Just as Liverpool is beginning to prove that its recent renaissance isn’t a blip, they start putting up buildings again which, in no time at all, will undermine the modern and forward-looking image the city has begun to portray.

  • LDH

    You have neglected to mention the primary functions of these buildings
    and any reference to the financial aspects; instead employing a narrow,
    superficial perspective. In particular, the Ronald Ross building is principally
    for scientific research. The university has finite funds and therefore
    purchasing incredibly expensive scientific equipment (mass spec and genome
    sequencing machines can cost £100,000+ each) and employing world-class research
    staff is of paramount importance. The city is not a world-class centre for
    health sciences because of the architectural merits of these specific
    buildings, it is for what occurs inside; the cladding is irrelevant. As a life
    sciences student at the University of Liverpool, I know that my preference
    would be for world-class labs, with the best equipment and best
    research/academic staff, as opposed to sub-standard labs that are aesthetically
    pleasing.

  • Cam

    Why dont they use a form of Brick Cladding? It would look alot nicer than the plain colours.

  • LJ

    I recently cladded my house, but I did it with oak, supplied by http://www.vastern.co.uk/cladding/ ! It looks much nicer than these buildings in Liverpool, even if it is on a smaller scale! I presume that timber cladding can be done on larger buildings? I think more people should invest in timber cladding!