Design contest to ‘breathe new life’ into Liverpool waterfront

28 January 2021

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A pedestrian bridge, relocation of the International Slavery Museum, repurposing empty dock buildings and addressing underused dry docks between Royal Albert Dock and Pier Head are all proposed in a competition by National Museums Liverpool.

Spanning the area between the Royal Albert Dock and Mann Island, the transformation project will take in key landmarks including the creation of pedestrian links to the Canning Dock while also bringing life to multiple buildings within the area as part of a 10-year masterplan for the transformation of Liverpool’s waterfront.

The timescales and budget for the project have yet to be revealed. The emerging brief for the competition, which will begin formally in March and be run by design consultant Colander Associates, includes:

  • Redevelopment of Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building, formerly the Dock Traffic Office and once Granada TV offices, facing entrance to Royal Albert Dock. To include extension and new entrance to International Slavery Museum currently next door on the third floor of Merseyside Maritime Museum
  • “Breathe new life” into the 18th century now underutilised dry docks once used for fitting out, cleaning and repairing ships, including those used in the transatlantic slave trade, central to Liverpool’s economy at the time. These dry docks are now some of the most historically significant maritime structures in the world
  • New public spaces at Canning Dock, as well as new pedestrian bridges to improve accessibility, “bringing forward innovative and creative solutions that will raise the profile of the area whilst responding to the history of the site and creating one seamless experience linking past with present”
  • Multiple smaller buildings that are not fully used including the Cooperage, Mermaid House, Pilotage building, Piermaster’s House and Great Western Railway Building represent commercial and cultural opportunities for NML as part of its sustainability planning in order to generate more revenue streams

NML was advised on the masterplan by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Planit-IE and Arup.

MICA and Harrison Stringfellow Architects are drawing up feasibility studies for the small buildings element.

Piermasters House credit National Museums Liverpool 768x512 1

Piermasters House is being considered for social and commercial uses. c.National Museums Liverpool

Laura Pye, director of National Museums Liverpool, said: “The public realm between the Royal Albert Dock and Mann Island represents a huge opportunity for development and this project will be a big step towards enabling the public and our communities to share, enjoy and engage with its incredibly rich heritage.”

Canning Dock Site Survey credit National Museums Liverpool 768x512 1

Canning Dock is a missing piece in the waterfront’s regeneration. c.National Museums Liverpool

The competition will be supported by £120,000 from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, as part of the Race Equality Programme launched by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram last year. In December, it was announced that the International Slavery Museum would receive £55,000 to take forward the first stage of its pre-development funding – the first step of the Waterfront Transformation Project, which will see NML realise long-held ambitions for the museum.

The Maritime Museum will be evolved as part of the project to support and complement the slavery museum, gaining special exhibition and community spaces and shared facilities to “create a seamless visitor experience between both museums.”

Merseyside Maritime Museum © Pete Carr 768x512 1

Merseyside Maritime Museum will be linked to the International Slavery Museum next door © Pete Carr

Dr Richard Benjamin, head of the International Slavery Museum, said: “Liverpool became the epicentre of the transatlantic slave trade, hence the importance of the stories we tell and the work we do at the International Slavery Museum. This exciting and timely transformation project will allow the museum to grow, develop and be central to national and global discourses. These include racial inequality, other legacies of transatlantic slavery, being actively anti-racist, diverse, and inclusive.

“Utilising the iconic Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building is key to this as we can create new spaces that are community-focused, educational, welcoming, and thought-provoking. Social movements and the growing discussion of Britain’s role in the slave trade have changed the urgency for this discourse and involvement.”

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr building credit Dave Jones 768x512 1

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr Building faces the entrance to Royal Albert Dock c.Dave Jones

A community-led model of working with Liverpool’s Black communities and victims of modern slavery will co-create the content and engagement programme around themes of historic slavery, human rights, social justice, racism, and discrimination.

Laura Pye continues: “The slave trade was the backbone of the city’s prosperity, and it is long overdue to weave this history into the public realm. Our aim will be to create a vibrant, active, and public space that has long term flexibility of use and to utilise the surrounding redundant quaysides to complement existing developments and create a solid foundation for the future.

“It’s something for everyone to be involved in from the outset, so we look forward to appointing innovative designers who thrive on collaboration, to work closely with local people to make our plans a reality.”

Canning Dock Credit Gareth Jones 768x524 1

A new bridge is planned across Canning Dock linking to Mann Island. c.Gareth Jones

Source:, 28/01/2021

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Lewis Finn

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