Ian Ritchie Architects

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Critique of Liverpool 1 (for Architecture Today)

Originally ­ published in issue AT200 of Architecture Today, August 2009.
© Ian Ritchie 2009

There was vitality in the city when I came here to study in 1965. I had sensed this place through my ears, although being more `Stones than Beatles’ it was impossible not to be affected by its energy. Through the sandstone canyon to step into Liverpool’s Lime Street Station for the first time; and thinking what a brilliant space of smoke dirtied glass and metal, of wrought and cast iron arches ­ the end of the line, yes, but the beginning of my line of architecture? I experienced a frisson at the thought of studying architecture in this city as mad about footballs as it was about guitars. I lived in Liverpool 8. Over the next three years the charge that accompanied entering the city never waned even though it rained in Liverpool almost twice as much as the rest of the UK, and the average temperature was decidedly cool. Would one expect arcades and covered streets?

At the end of the 20th Century, the UK retail revolution shifted towards masterplanned urban integrated schemes. The traditional model of the shopping centre as an interior focused, hermetically sealed box was no longer ­ despite the occasional and belated American inspired scheme! The retail schemes developed or renewed over the past decade have nearly all abandoned the air conditioned mall.

Designers have always had more noble standards of appreciating their creations, but in practice the question of functionality, as in doing the job set out for it, of originality of design, of cultural sensitivity or of environmental impact are in this society predicated on the ultimate determining factors – does it in a direct or indirect manner generate financial wealth and/or serve to perpetuate the political and economic status quo? The point is that design is, for the most part in our consumer society, a useful tool to enhance `sales’, and the quantative and qualitative criteria for judging design can be summed up as: does it attract the consumer? Given this context, are architects who design retail-led mixed developments, whether collaborating or being selfish, able to go beyond this to provide a lasting urban legacy?

Liverpool One is a strange name, seeming to appropriate an entire district and historic origins of the city in one gulp. It covers seventeen hectares and covers `the pool’ that became the world’s first commercial dock.

Liverpool One promotes itself as a retail-led urban regeneration. It has, according to the promotional material, more than 500,000 visits a week. This is impressive and the architectural containers, the spaces between them and the content in them must be resonating with the consumers.