Chris Addison If you held a Mancunian upside down until he thought of something nice to say about Liverpool, what might he come up with? Well, here’s one we dangled earlier
I have, you’ll be pleased to know, always been a huge fan of buildings. Love them: doors, windows, walls, all that stuff. I have several architectural monographs on my bookshelves that I wasn’t even tipsy when I bought; I have attended exhibitions on Jørn Utzon’s original interior design for the Sydney Opera House without winning a bet in the process; I even choose to live in a building. But for the life of me, I never used to be able to see the greatness of Liverpool’s architecture.
I confess that this is in large part because I am by upbringing and inclination a Mancunian. We are a people who have never quite understood why the M62, a perfectly good way of getting out of Liverpool, has lanes allowing people to go the other way – it seems an expensive waste of tarmac.
And to be fair, even to the most impartial judge there is much that could be seen as being wrong with the city. It has a filthily awkward road system of such byzantine complexity that even as I type there are people driving round it who’d originally set out for an evening with Tommy Trinder at the Liverpool Playhouse. They’ve had two goes at a cathedral and still not got it right, managing to make one look like the kind of solid and uninviting cake that gets produced by a remedial home economics class, and the other the nozzle they’re going to try squeezing the icing through. In the astonishingly misguided Radio City Tower they’ve created the world’s first truly egalitarian eyesore – a potato-print approximation of Seattle’s Space Needle that rises so far above the skyline that absolutely everybody gets to have it spoil their view.
But these are dark days, my friends. There are people out there who want to kill us and some of them, it pains me to say, seem quite handy at it. We ought to put away long-held but childish prejudices (which is obviously a shame – long-held but childish prejudices are fun) and pull together. Perhaps it’s time for me to reassess Liverpool in a more mature manner. Very well then.
They’ve had two goes at a cathedral and still not got it right, managing to make one look like the kind of solid and uninviting cake that gets produced by a remedial home economics class
Liverpool is – and I can’t quite believe I’m writing this – a city of truly great historical significance. In the first part of the 19th century, 40% of the world’s trade passed through its port. It may come as a surprise that there was such a market for Beatles memorabilia back then, but there we go. Many of its buildings represent the city’s proud maritime and mercantile past and in 2004 the waterfront was listed by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, although that was because that’s where Richard and Judy used to broadcast from.
In their heyday, Britain’s great imperial cities favoured the architectural sub-genre of Ruddy Great Buildings in much the same way and for many of the same psychological reasons that merchant bankers talk loudly in pubs, and in the Three Graces, Liverpool has some impressive examples of this phenomenon. The Liver Building being the best known, largely because it is adorned by the Liver Birds – two of the most famously awkward-to-clean statues in the world.
But it isn’t all past glories. After a long period in the doldrums, much has been improved about the city in recent years. Perhaps this is best exemplified by the airport. A little while back, when it was still just little old Speke Airport, it resembled the kind of structure in which you might expect to find Alec Guinness sweating out his punishment at the hands of Japanese soldiers. Perched on the edge of a council estate, the rings of tatty barbed wire surrounding it gave the impression that security concerns there were less to do with terrorism and more to do with the possibility of local scallies breaking in at night and driving the planes into a hedge. It possessed, in my wide experience of airports, the only terminal equipped with a duty free pound shop. Now, as so many things these days, inappropriately named after John Lennon, it looks, I think we can all agree, all right.
It’s hard to say as a Mancunian, obviously, but when you put it all together – old and new, the Walker Art Gallery, the grand old town hall, the rather super brand new award-winning Unity Building, all that jazz, Liverpool’s architecture is (forgive me, father) quite … Well, you know. It’s … It’s really rather splendid. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.
Chris Addison is a writer, actor and stand-up comedian