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Rapidly diminishing heritage

The Liverpool Landscape blog has now been retired, and all the posts copied to the main Historic Liverpool website. You should be redirected in a few moments, but if not, please click here to view Rapidly diminishing heritage in its new home.

This is a sort of short follow up to the most recent blog post on the Futurist cinema, which was demolished against the wishes of a vocal number of Liverpool’s citizens.

Another planning application raising eyebrows is one put in to demolish parts of the Rapid Hardware building on Renshaw Street. This is a well known landmark for anyone who’s spent any time in the city. It also happens to be where I first bought a lot of archaeological health and safety kit!

Petition

It was brought to my attention by a petition which was set up, as petitions are, to give voice to those who were troubled to see more well-known buildings from being replaced with (probably, allegedly) anonymous and generic boxes, or more student flats.

Funnily enough, Dave Bridson, who set up the petition has commented on Facebook how he did so because he thought it was right, not necessarily because he desperately wanted to see the buildings saved. As it turns out, not many people have signed the petition, especially compared to the Futurist campaign. Dave has since said that he’s happy to have given people a voice, and that the voice has not spoken very loudly against the plans.

Sexy buildings

This highlights some really important points. For a start, Liverpool is not stuck in the past, wishing to preserve every old building for the sake of it (this is what I pointed out in the previous post). Landmark (or, in Richard MacDonald’s apt post) ‘sexy’ buildings will attract support, while more run of the mill buildings will not.

I think it’s true to say that any city would value a building like the Futurist, whereas the Rapid building might not be seen in such envious light. And this shows that those who campaign to save old buildings (especially when it comes from grass roots) do assign more value to the better buildings.

Heritage landscapes

Is this a good thing? It probably is, as it shows some thought goes into requests to stop or slow down development when it puts something historic and valued at risk. However, the other side of the coin is that more ‘standard’ buildings like terraces of houses or small shops are ignored when the likes of the Futurist distract attention. For example, the row of shops on Lime Street surrounding the Futurist was a neat little group which formed a cohesive whole. For sure, they were probably as neglected as the cinema, and as fragile after all this time, but they would be as important to the historic landscape which is Lime Street. In the same way that the Eiffel Tower would be a different thing altogether if surrounded by high rise apartments, it’s the ‘normal’ buildings which give the special ones their elevated status. Perhaps if the Futurist had been kept, it would have been swamped by the new development anyway.

With that in mind, looking at the loss of all or part of the Rapid building might not seem like a great problem. It’s not a ‘sexy’ building, but it is familiar. It’s part of the landscape and the streetscape, and it affects how the street itself feels – the light, the air, the walking experience. The question of whether to ‘save’ the building (and/or object to whatever replaces it) doesn’t need to hang on whether the building is architecturally or historically important, nor whether it’s simply ‘loved’. It should consider whether replacing the building (or part of it) with something else improves the street.

It’s hard to see that element when we’re looking at one building, and a campaign or petition is probably not the best way to save (or encourage good decisions about) an entire streetscape. Whether there is any way we can generate the kind of awareness which would suit the preservation and improvement of streetscapes, instead of solely headline demolitions, is perhaps something that we should start to consider. There are plenty of groups who already think along those lines, such as English Heritage and the various civic societies, but it’s time that kind of thinking permeated into the more general consciousness.

This post is not really a comment on whether the Rapid building should or shouldn’t be saved, but really a reaction to how we regard the ‘everyday’ buildings as well as the landmarks.

3 Comments
  1. Jane Blackie #

    The Futurist was part of a harmonising GROUP of buildings, very close to the famous St George’s Hall, which deserves to be shown off in sympathetic surroundings.

    I can’t believe how blindly destructive Liverpool Council is. And exactly how “Eco” is all this demolition and waste ? Restructure interiors, if you must, but preserve the frontage and the height of the original roof-lines in important streets.

    August 23, 2016
  2. Jane Blackie #

    The latest threat to heritage is the unlisted “Forty Pits”, 280 Allerton Road. Of course there’s a vigorous campaign, its history & past occupants well documented, but, as with the atrocious demolition of Holly Lodge 2 weeks ago, vigorous campaigns count for nothing against the might & force of developers like Redrow (who also destroyed Holly Lodge). It seems as if sinister Redrow are crawling round Liverpool suburbs looking for
    unlisted but architecturally important buildings to demolish, — opposed by thousands
    but given the go-ahead by the Council.
    What will be the next victim ?

    September 15, 2016
    • Hi Jane,

      You’re right, there’s a huge number of increasingly worried people who see cherished parts of their historic landscape being removed.

      I believe there could be better architecture which improves the landscape, but I wonder whether the profit motive takes precedence. Redrow are not known for their architectural mastery (in fact quite the opposite).

      Perhaps old unlisted buildings provide easy ways for a developer to find land further into a city, whereas other buildings are in the way of development, or the site is far out of town.

      I hope Liverpool doesn’t continue on this line for too long, as these buildings are not replaceable.

      Martin

      September 16, 2016

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