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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, July 20, 2004
    Clouded judgement
    Seems a long time since Will Alsop celebrated his company's successful bid for Liverpool's Fourth Grace, saying,

    "In choosing us Liverpool Vision have demonstrated real commitment towards the creation of a 21st century water front for Liverpool that will indeed make the world stand up and take note. As an icon our building will always stretch the imagination and challenge preconceptions, but we are certain that the 4th Grace will become the pride of Liverpool. We look forward to working with the people of Liverpool, Merseyside and the North West to realise our vision and create a truly spectacular water front for the City - one that will bring jobs, tourists, investment, culture and most of all joy to the City. Speaking personally, for me this is one of the most important projects I have ever worked on and I am totally confident that our scheme for the 4th Grace will contribute to a renaissance of Liverpool."

    Today the city dropped the project; it had become too costly. Seems we'll never see The Cloud on our World Heritage riverfront. Pity. I liked its ambition. And its shape.

    Also today, I bought the new Pevsner Architectural Guide to Liverpool, which, flicking through, is a great book, colourful, informative, utilising ten walks around the city's docks and inner districts. It is written in the authoriative, serious and provocative style of Nikolaus Pevsner's original observations on the city (in South Lancashire: Pevsner Buildings of England Series).

    In a comprehensive survey of Liverpool's architecture from the thirteenth century onwards Alsop's Cloud proposal is summarised in a typically terse Pevsner phrase: "It is intended to house flats, offices and a new museum of local history, but the scheme seems to be driven by the desire for a new landmark, rather than by practical need."

    Which is pithy, but carries truth. And after watching the Millennium Dome debacle from afar, perhaps it is good reason and not lack of ambition which Liverpool's leaders are showing in dropping the project now. I do hope, though, whatever else may come along to replace it displays similar ambition to Alsop's Cloud.

    As the new Pevsner says, with critical economy, "Redevelopment in the second half of the C20 added little of value, so that late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings still predominate." That gothic pile on St James's Mount is celebrating its centenary this week. An exceptional building, marvellous in conception and still truly awesome today. But ... what's new?