Pier Head, c1925

Pier Head, 1968

Pier Head, March 2011

I took a stroll down to Pierhead today to reassess the new Ferry terminal. In 2009, the building won the Carbuncle Cup for the worst designed British building of the year. The three judges for the Building Design (BD) magazine said the Merseytravel building was “a shining example of bad architecture and bad planning”. The judges added: “It is such an amazing site, directly in front of the Three Graces, but the architects seem barely to have noticed. It is like letting a bad second-year student build next to St Peter’s. The architect evidently once looked at a Zaha building in a magazine. It is essentially a horrible sectional idea that has been extruded like a stick of rock.”
I must admit, I don’t like the building – but I believe the unwanted award is more to do with not making the most of its situation rather than in the blandness of the architecture. Therein lies the problem. Every 30/40 years, a new plan emerges for a new Pier Head and each one fails for the same reason – the architects seem to be overwhelmed by the setting and rather than build boldly, build timidly. What the site cries out for is a visionary who is not cowered by the Three Graces. Of course, Liverpool has had its architects who could have built monumentally. What would Herbert Rowse have come up with, or Sir Edwin Lutyens? We shall never know but each bad attempt is an opportunity missed. In fact, and I cannot believe I am writing this, the 1960s building is by far the most interesting though hardly appropriate for such a key site.
My guess is that in 20 years we will have another new plan. It’s a pity we have to wait so long.

A Carbuncle at Pier Head

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