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Phoenix rising

Liverpool - Next year's European Capital of Culture, Liverpool, is a hive of construction activity. Andrew Mylius reports from a city in the throes of rebirth.

'Liverpool's worldfamous Pier Head, centrepiece of the city's World Heritage Site, is to be closed to the public for more than 15 months, ' the Liverpool Daily Post shrieked in an article a fortnight ago. 'So much work is to be carried out, ofcials have decided to turn it into a huge building site until the spring of 2008.' Liverpool is to be European Capital of Culture next year and thousands of visitors are expected to ock to the city.

The local press is reporting, in increasingly scandalised tones, that they will be greeted by forests of tower cranes - there are 36 visible on the skyline at present.

With £3bn worth of regeneration work going full tilt, and not due for completion until 2010, the city council is just waking up to the fact that it has a major expectations management exercise to undertake over the next 10 months.

'There have been 40 years of decline. You don't turn that around overnight, ' says council leader Warren Bradley. 'If you came here eight years ago [before the regeneration work started] you would have thought Liverpool was awful. It's a lot better now, but there's a lot left to do.

'During our year as City of Culture I want people to see that there's been a lot of improvement, but there's still a lot to happen.' Bradley says that the visible transformation of Liverpool from a washed-up, post-industrial port to a new business hub favoured by professional services rms is important in attracting more investment.

'There is a level of activity and optimism in Liverpool that we haven't seen for decades.

Delivering these projects is raising condence that business can work in Liverpool.' The city's fortunes are being turned around at amazing speed. Urban regeneration agency Liverpool Vision was founded in 1999 and drew up an economic masterplan for the city. 'The intent was to grow the city centre economy, creating employment. That would lead to a trickle-down effect and initiate regeneration in areas bordering the city centre, ' says Liverpool Vision chairman, former ICE president and scouser Sir Joe Dwyer.

Dwyer was the man charged by the government with kicking the whole thing off (NCE 20 July 2000).

Tuning in to the nation's passion for shopping, the catalyst for regeneration would be retail. The council staged a competition to redevelop a tract of derelict park and shabby buildings severing the Pier Head, home to the worldfamed Three Graces buildings, from the rest of the city centre.

With no intended irony, the area took its name from its principal thoroughfare, Paradise Street.

Liverpool Vision and the council also set out to chase tourism, with plans for an auditorium and conference centre, and a fleet of swish new hotels.

'But we had to change the perception of Liverpool before changing the reality, ' Dwyer says. Liverpool City Council announced in 2000 it would be celebrating the 800th anniversary of its Royal Charter - this year - as well as bidding to become European Capital of Culture. 'We made a big play of our cultural heritage - Liverpool has more galleries and museums than any city outside London, a legacy of the wealth generated by the cotton and slave trades.

The city has magnicent architecture, ' Dwyer says.

'That changed a lot of perceptions about Liverpool very rapidly, illustrated by the fact that every major developer in the country participated in the retail competition.' Developer Grosvenor won with a bid that involved bringing in up-market retailers and constructing conspicuously modern shops. These will stand in marked contrast to the brick and sandstone of 19th century Liverpool, but will be organised on a street layout that mimics and continues the pattern of neighbouring quarters.

'Liverpool used to be in the top 10 shopping destinations in the UK. It now ranks 17th, ' Dwyer laments. But with the aid of Grosvenor's £900M, 28,300m 2 retail space and a further 7,100m 2 being built by other developers who have invested, the square meterage of Liverpool's shops will be doubled.

The UFO-like arena/conference centre, funded by the council, is being built at Kings Waterfront, a rundown area of the docks south of the Pier Head. It is hoped it will draw people through the Paradise Street area and boost activity in the neighbouring Albert Dock, where the Tate Gallery is housed.

Dwyer observes that land values have more than doubled in Liverpool, reecting the growth of interest in the city. 'As soon as people realised that Liverpool was on the up, it was amazing how professional services rms moved into the city, believing they were going to benet from the activity. All the principal consulting engineers have moved here and there are lawyers in their thousands.' Bradley notes that the business community's condence has been boosted by changes at the council, famed less than a decade ago for its militancy. 'The city council used to have an agenda and that put off investors. We're now being far more inclusive. We're willing to discuss the way forward for the city rather than laying down the law. People are getting the message that we are open, and coming to the table. We have an open-door policy.'

Bradley will be at Mipim, the property trade fair in Cannes, France, next month to tout for more investment. He has been inspired, he says, by trips to New York and Philadelphia in the US. 'I've travelled widely to see the best examples of how port cities are being regenerated.' All over the city, concrete lift cores are sprouting as new office towers, hotels and residential high-rise projects take shape.

Next week the council will consider a masterplan by major landowner Peel Holdings for redevelopment of the abandoned North Docks. Peel also has plans for a large tract of Birkenhead on the opposite bank of the Mersey.

Dwyer describes outlines for the proposed schemes, facing each other across the water, as 'Shanghai and Dubai'. He and Bradley are excited.

The council is thinking small as well as big, though. It is investing £23M in education and training to improve the skills of the local workforce, particularly in depressed north Liverpool.

A new academy school is to be built there.

In the order of 10,000 new homes are to be built over the next decade to replace dilapidated stock and help repopulate the city - the target is 25,000 people living there.

And Bradley has launched a scheme called 'Living Streets' to ght out-of-town supermarkets.

'There used to be 20 district economic centres in Liverpool, each with its own bakers, butchers, greengrocers. . .

Living Streets is about bringing shopping back into the community. We're refurbishing rows of shops in three areas at the moment and I'm talking to Tesco and other retailers about taking them on. If we could identify seven to eight good, sustainable district centres, that would be great for the city.'

North Liverpool Academy

If Liverpool's fortunes have suffered during the past four decades, north Liverpool has been particularly down on its luck.

Ambitions to turn the area around are starting with construction of a new academy school to drive up local children's academic standards. It will also offer adult education out of school hours.

Two failing schools have been closed and the new academy is already up and running in temporary accommodation. One of the UK's leading head teachers was recruited by the North Liverpool Academy Trust board, and the trust is commissioning a building that, it hopes, will help to change people's attitudes to education.

'We want a building that says 'something good is coming to your area', and tells people they are worthy of something new.

They've been at the bottom of the economic and social heap for decades. The building's intended as a catalyst for change in north Liverpool, ' says chairman of the trust Nigel Ward.

Atkins is responsible for architectural, structural and services design, and contractor Wates came in early to advise on construction.

The client wanted an iconic structure that offered a high degree of exibility in the way internal spaces could be congured. This is being delivered by creating a huge box within which smaller classroom boxes and ofce 'pods' are arranged. Classrooms can be opened up, joined or sub-divided as teaching requirements change.

A tubular steel spine running the length of the building will support the school library above a large open atrium space. A green roof with ETFE cushion skylights inset will provide light and, at the same time, insulation. The external walls will be shaded with adjustable brise soleil. This provides a fairly well regulated environment within the external box - there will be no heating or cooling. Though temperatures will rise and fall with the seasons, there will be no need to service the classrooms housed within it.

The project is expected to gain nal planning approval this spring, and start on site immediately after.

Paradise Street

'Liverpool is very diverse architecturally. When we entered the competition for redevelopment of the Paradise Street area in 2000, the brief required us to reflect that, ' says Bill Allen, technical director of developer Grosvenor. 'We've got 20 different architects working on the project, ' he says, 'but just one structural system.' Grosvenor's bid to turn 1.6ha of central Liverpool into one of the UK's premier shopping destinations is a ne balance between upmarket aesthetics and strict budgetary economy.

'The common structural base helps save on cost and improves quality, ' says Dave Ryan, project manager for contractor Laing O'Rourke. Waterman is the structural engineer.

Laing O'Rourke was brought in early to advise on buildability and to manage design. Design managers have become project managers as the scheme has advanced. 'The main decision was to use precast concrete as much as possible, ' says Allen.

'When we were procuring we made a decision to economise on steel - the Chinese have obliterated the ability to get steel at an economic price.' Precast columns at 10.2m centres and prestressed beams are overlaid with Omnia planks, topped with insitu concrete. Columns and beams come ready with re protection.

In its bid to keep labour levels to a minimum, Laing O'Rourke is using prefabricated twin wall units 'on a scale that is second to none', Allen adds. 'The conventional way of building walls would be blockwork or insitu concrete. Labour levels would have been far higher - double. We would not have been able to meet our programme with the quality levels we are aspiring to.' Laing O'Rourke started on site in November 2004 and is now two-thirds of the way through construction. Underpinning Grosvenor's scheme is a four-storey subterranean car park with 2,000 spaces, and an infrastructure 'spine', including signicantly increased water, electricity, telecommunications and sewerage services, which alone cost £10M.

The underground structure is founded on bored piles toed into sandstone. 'Geotechnically there's no story - conditions were ideal, ' says Ryan. The precast system rises directly from a cast insitu concrete ground slab. Flexibility in the system has allowed for some big changes in the project's scope, with 6,500m 2 more retail space added when construction was already under way.

Arena Liverpool has galleries and museums galore - it was the world's first true international port and is steeped in industrial and trading history.

What Liverpool lacked, and what is essential to its transformation is a major exhibition hall and performance arena, says Liverpool Vision chairman Sir Joe Dwyer. By January 2008, though, contractor Bovis Lend Lease will have completed construction of a combined exhibition hall, arena and conference centre. Construction started in October 2005. Liverpool's 10,000-seat arena is large enough to attract major sports and musical events, says Bovis Lend Lease project director Peter Roberts, but small enough to fill regularly, making it cost efficient.

'Manchester's arena is 20,000 capacity. Its owners struggle to fill it more than twice a year.' The convention centre, sitting above the 3,800m 2 exhibition hall, will have 1,350 seats. Two revolving drums at one end of the conference hall will each house 250 additional seats. These can either form part of the large space or fibe rotated and closed off, creating separate conference rooms.

Wilkinson Eyre is the architect with Buro Happold responsible for structural design and Faber Maunsell for building services. Under its cladding the structure is one of two distinct halves.

The arena is principally a precast and insitu concrete structure, while the exhibition hall and conference centre are in steel, to deliver large, clear spans, offering a high degree of exibility in how the spaces are used. The largest span is 90m.

Roberts says that despite its futuristic looking skin, effort has been put into making the bones of the building simple and conventional. The only structural challenges have been conguring and getting concrete into dense rebar matrices, and the fabrication of heavy steel junctions.

PC Harrington is concrete subcontractor and Watsons has delivered the steelwork. The complex is founded on CFA piles.

Otherwise, co-ordinating the movements of 22 excavators, cherry pickers, mobile cranes and forklifts has been Roberts' main worry.

'Oh, and the weather has not been kind. We are facing the Irish Sea.

High winds have been disruptive and rain is problematic for glazing.

We're using a hydraulic suction system to handle glass panels, and water prevents us getting a proper grip, ' he says.

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