Newsletter - Links - Advertise - Contact Us - Privacy

The huge Paradise Street development should catapult Liverpool back to the top of the retail charts, while staying within the grain of the city. Some of Britain’s best designers are currently at work on the scheme.

11 Mar 2005

by Deborah Mulhearn

In 1971, Liverpool was the third most popular shopping destination in the UK, after London’s West End and Glasgow. Over the next three decades it fell to an ignominious 17th. It has recovered slightly and now occupies 13th place, but the city should enjoy a massive confidence boost over the next few years as the Paradise Project, the UK’s largest retail development, gets underway. Centred around Paradise Street to the west of the retail core and extending across a largely underdeveloped area to the waterfront, this huge and architecturally ambitious development covers 42 acres and will provide over 1.6m sq ft of retail space. It is funded by the Duke of Westminster’s property company Grosvenor, at a cost of £800million.

It’s also a radical departure from the crassly-conceived covered malls that have blessed the UK over the past half century. It’s not a mall at all, but a carefully masterplanned series of new and refurbished buildings. It occupies a clearly defined triangular site, but one which knits into the existing city centre and follows its scale. The masterplan was developed by BDP and identifies six new overlapping districts with the site of Liverpool’s original dock – the first commercial enclosed dock in the world – at its heart. Part of the old dock wall has been excavated and will be referenced in a water feature in a reworking of Chavasse Park, which links the city centre to the Albert Dock.

Within the parameters of the masterplan no less than 30 new buildings have been designed using local, national and internationally renowned architects and design teams including Cesar Pelli, Wilkinson Eyre, CZWG, Austin Smith Lord and Page & Park. ‘Urban design has been on the agenda from the start,’ said Grosvenor director Rod Holmes, ‘and the project promises good creative tension between some of the best designers in the world. We want to create the variety that we expect to see in cities that have grown over the years; so each building will have its own character and the attention to detail not possible if you try and do it as a single development.’

There’s no point dancing around the fact that Liverpool needs more shops with a greater choice and variety of goods, says Holmes, but the intention is not to compete with or dominate the existing city centre but to respect it and enhance what it already has. Rents will be comparable, he said. ‘There’s nothing else like it in the UK and perhaps only Rotterdam in Europe. We have the opportunity to respond to what people want and need, as they have done over the past ten years in Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, and we have seen how those cities have grown in confidence. We may be using the same principles as a Bluewater or a Trafford Centre, but we are doing it in a city building way, working with the urban grain, the waterfront and Liverpool’s architectural heritage to create interesting spaces linked conveniently to the main retail area and adjacent areas,’ he said.

The scope of the Paradise Project is almost that of a miniature city, with new squares, a park overlooked by apartments, a two-tiered street and tree-lined boulevard, two large cornerstone department stores, bus and tram interchange, car parks, two hotels, a cinema and a variety of smaller shops, restaurants and terraced eating places. The largest building is the new John Lewis department store, linked by a pedestrian bridge to a car park, designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects. ‘This project presents the challenge of designing an unpopular building type such as a car park, in a manner that’s not only acceptable but exceptional, and it’s greatly helped by having a client like Grosvenor that will go the extra mile for quality,’ said architect Keith Brownlie.

The first major objective is to create two new car parks and a new bus station at Canning Place. This will allow for the demolition of the existing bus station and the construction of the new departments stores for the anchor tenants: the 240,000 sq ft (22,300 sq m) John Lewis store on Paradise Street and the 185,000 sq ft (17,190 sq m) Debenhams on South John Street.

‘From day one the objective has been to keep the scheme within the grain of the city - not just the existing street pattern but also the scale of the buildings, which builds up as you move across from east to west,’ explained BDP architect Terry Davenport. Davenport, who worked on the Manchester masterplan after the 1996 IRA bomb, has faith in Liverpool’s resurgence. A 13-storey hotel on the dock road is the tallest building planned. ‘There was a massive injection of confidence when the new M and Selfridges were built in Manchester, and Paradise Street will have at least as much if not greater impact. I’m from Liverpool and I trained here, so it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to deliver something of this significance.’

Not all the buildings are retail related. Glasgow-based Page & Park have designed a new home for BBC Radio Merseyside and Friends Meeting House for the Quakers, two existing tenants who had to be relocated from buildings in Paradise Street earmarked for demolition. This occupies a corner site between Hanover Street and College Lane and will face Liverpool’s oldest city centre building, Bluecoat Chambers. Bluecoat, built as a school in 1716, but now an arts centre and much-loved Liverpool institution, is also undergoing redevelopment as part of a separate scheme. ‘The big idea is respect for the Bluecoat,’ said architect David Page. On the Hanover Street side it takes its form and mass from the adjacent late Victorian Abney Buildings, but then it steps down in scale on the Bluecoat side, with a curved glass facade that echoes a large bay window looking onto the Bluecoat’s enclosed garden.

‘It’s quite a complicated building that has to do a number of things, and that’s what makes it so exciting,’ said Park. ‘It is rooted in the city so it’s massive and strong and acts like a protective wing around the Bluecoat. But it also has to add to this intimate, culturally-focussed space within the retail centre. It’s about communication and the arts, and we wanted transparency so people could see into the BBC recording studios and have access to a managed public space on the Bluecoat side for events. It has to feel comfortable. There are the big celebratory buildings and that’s fine, but it’s the street life that makes a city, and this is about drawing people back in.’

The public can track the progress of the Paradise Project at its information centre in a converted shop in Lord Street, where a high-quality model will be updated as construction develops. Around ten thousand people have visited the shop to date, and the staff have not ducked the challenging questions and opinions voiced. A common concern is the lack of green space, admitted Holmes. ‘People are saying, so you are digging up Chavasse Park, and we have to say yes, we are, but we are replacing it with a properly designed park and not just an amorphous blob of green. It’s a big open space with pavilions and sheltered canopies and colonnades that meets a two-tiered street and hides a car park. We are adding to Liverpool’s heritage and creating a special place that could only be in Liverpool. It’s not historicism. It’s not pastiche. It’s 21st century, dramatic urban design and we’ve had tremendous support at all levels.’

Back to March 2005

For more news from the industry visit our News section.
Subscribe to Urban Realm Magazine
Features & Reports
For more information from the industry visit our Features & Reports section.