BLOG: “You may take our status, but you will never take our buildings”
Liverpool’s City Halls manager, Alan Smith, questions the decision to strip Liverpool of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status – after all, the city is brimming with an enviable amount of incredible architecture and heritage.
Liverpool was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2004, the city joined a select group of world sites, recognised for their unique contributions to architecture and culture, including the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge, Venice and the Great Wall of China.
How can it be then that Liverpool was once considered global architectural icon and now isin’t?
When UNESCO bestowed the WHS accolade on Liverpool it stated that Liverpool is “The supreme example of a commercial port of the time of Britain’s greatest global influence.” Nothing has changed. We are still the supreme example.
Liverpool’s Grade I and II listed buildings (with more listed buildings than Bath and second only to London in the UK) compare with anything in the world and UNESCO’s recognition of this fact has been a great testament to UNESCO’s judgement. To now veer away from this decision reflects badly on UNESCO, its judges, the peer group that they compare Liverpool next to, and is in flagrant denial of the outstanding achievement and strides that Liverpool has made since 2004 to continue to preserve, protect, and enhance its architectural and cultural legacies and become a leading city of culture.
Liverpool played a leading role in the development of dock construction across the world, as personified by Jesse Hartley’s Royal Albert Dock complex, and the docks today are an exemplar on how historical buildings can be rescued from decay and destruction to be a beacon of heritage and cultural diversity and success.
The buildings, statues and monuments of Liverpool, with their rich tapestry of stories and legends, authenticity and integrity, record and bear evidence of Liverpool’s central role in world migration, and are often the nodal point when people across the world track their history and return back to the “mother port.”
It is recognised locally that The Three Graces of “The Port of Liverpool Building, The Liver Building and the Cunard Building” are the iconic image that I am sure UNESCO refer and relate to, but how can anyone say the redevelopment of the Pier head with its canal complex and new National Museum’s extension are anything but world class and sensitive to the existing architecture?
The image of The Three Graces were often the last thing emigrants to the new worlds in the 19th century viewed, before sailing away from Liverpool. This has simply not changed. The iconic view exists unchanged and is revered around the world and held in great affection. The other iconic UNESCO venues on the list fully deserve to be lauded and recognised, but they are all subject to decay, regeneration and repair, whilst often being at the mercy of the elements of driving sun and flooding. It Is difficult not to be critical of how other sites have stayed on the list, whilst Liverpool has been removed, when you would be hard pushed to find a more beautiful industrial city than Liverpool. The buildings reflect the ongoing status of Liverpool and the port as being witness to the development of maritime ports across the world in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
The big question remains – how can adding a football stadium at Bramley Moore Dock possibly detract from the rescue and preservation of the dock complex? It will breath new life into the whole of the Dock Road and the Ten Streets project and communities.
Liverpool will continue to preserve its fantastic cultural and commercial legacy that has shaped the city’s historical vistas and townscapes and by doing so will encapsulate a unique spirit in the very fabric of the buildings and its colourful, richly diverse, and often immensely talented people. It is not for no reason that so many world iconic musicians, performers’ actors, and artists herald from the city, and will continue to do so.
We will remain outward-looking and steadfast in our mission to preserve the cultural heritage of Liverpool – with not one – but six areas of historical significance and will continue to preserve the historical legacy through innovation and contemporary interpretation.
Liverpool’s role as a cultural beacon will continue to lead the world and shine bright.
UNESCO may take our status, but you will never take our buildings.