Liverpool welcomes RIBA North to its already impressive skyline

In 1715 the eminent British Author, Daniel Defoe, said: “Liverpool(e) is one of the wonders of Britain. What it may grow to in time I know not.” It is in this spirit that The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) will open a new national architecture centre, RIBA North, on 17th June on the Liverpool Waterfront, designed by Matt Brook of Broadway Malyan – who also designed Mann Island. Here, FC&A looks at RIBA’s latest centre.



his location is one of the UK’s top tourist destinations, with RIBA North becoming a key part of this cultural offering along with the Tate, the Museum of Liverpool and the Open Eye Gallery. RIBA North will be a place for everyone to discover more about architecture with offerings such as exhibitions, talks and tours as well as a cafe and shop.

The freestanding building functions as a striking piece of signage sculpture, its colour and form delivering a dramatic counterpoint to Mann Island’s black aesthetics. Inside, the double-height entrance lobby sets the scene with carefully framed views of the stairwell, cafe and mezzanine level.

Taken as a whole, the 1100m² two-tier design (ground floor –150m²; upper level – 950m²) sits within Mann Island’s central podium block. A giant, red corian wall (6 x 15 x 0.45m), accented with shadow gap detailing and recessed lighting, articulates the project’s volumetric spine, organising the double-height entrance atrium and adjoining mezzanine level, the voluminous stairwell that provides the main transition between the two levels and the ground floor cafe and reception area.

The impact of architecture

For RIBA’s President, Jane Duncan, the building will enable “many more people to explore and understand the enormous impact that architecture and design have on all our lives”. It’s a project that has the enthusiastic backing of Liverpool City Council too. Mayor Joe Anderson has welcomed the new “tools and innovations” the centre will bring, as well as the “opportunities to work with other cities across the Northern Powerhouse”.

At the heart of RIBA North is the City Gallery (160m²), a space for visitors to learn more about Liverpool’s past, present and future, as well as the processes involved in urban development and the evolution of the built environment. It consists of an outstanding museum-standard gallery and a smaller space, which will be used for lectures and debates. The City Gallery will accommodate a wide range of public activities, with visitors enjoying good views of Mann Island. The main presentation area also includes the Digital City Model, an interactive 3D model which tells a variety of stories about Liverpool and the surrounding area. It is also an extraordinary professional tool which can be used by developers, architects and planners to host public consultations, anticipate the impact of future development and encourage the best design approaches.


Alongside the permanent display, RIBA North will host a bold programme of temporary exhibitions and offer the opportunity to view the historic ‘RIBA Collections’, the nation’s richest resource of architecture drawings, photographs and prints, dating from the late 15th century to the present day. The opening exhibition, ‘Liverpool(e): Mover, Shaker, Architectural Risk-Taker’, celebrates Liverpool’s long, often maverick, history of architectural ambition, its willingness to take risks and consider audacious schemes – a trait which has ultimately resulted in the dramatic and celebrated skyline we see today.

Project at a glance

1110m² two-tier design sitting within Mann Island’s central podium block

A key part of Liverpool’s cultural offering along with the Tate, Museum of Liverpool and Open Eye Gallery

At the heart of RIBA North is the City Gallery, a space for visitors to learn more about Liverpool’s past, present and future

RIBA North will host a bold programme of temporary exhibitions and historic RIBA Collections

The opening exhibition celebrates Liverpool’s maverick history of architectural ambition and risk-taker heritage

The centre’s store, curated by Artist and Designer Katie Patrick, will showcase makers and craftspeople from the North of the UK

A programme of public and professional activity will run throughout the year, bringing together everyone with an interest in architecture.

A £67,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) enabled 30 drawings, models and watercolours from the RIBA Collections, many of which have never been on display before, to be restored to feature in the opening exhibition. They include extraordinary unbuilt proposals including a design for the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral by Sir Charles Archibald Nicholson from 1901/1902. He proposed a hexagonal space with pairs of unusual radiating transepts, like the petals of a flower. It would have been roofed with a dome, and the transepts would have had huge windows, flooding the space with light. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott won the contest but Nicholson was able to reuse his idea for the chapel of Clifton College in Bristol.

Then there’s Stirrat Johnson Marshall who envisioned a bridge over St James’s Cemetery with thrilling views for an exercise at Liverpool School of Architecture. He envisaged a ponderous Gothic viaduct with a dizzying height.

Another vast-scaled idea on display is by Graeme Shankland who reinvented Liverpool’s skyline. On a 2m-wide panorama, visitors can get a glimpse of what the planning consultant imagined for an urban renewal after two thirds of the city’s buildings were declared to be obsolete during the 1960s.

At the same time, Sir Denys Lasdun wanted to introduce his new Brutalist style to Liverpool. The Architect, who is well known for the National Theatre in London, designed a new Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral with a distinctive roof of a shallow cone, folded into deep furrows and ridges probably intended to be made of concrete and glass. His entry was rejected and instead Frederick Gibberd got to leave his mark in the city.

Visitors can watch a newly-commissioned film which reflects on the buildings which were realised and considers how the city may evolve if it embraces its historic architectural ambition. The film also includes interviews with Joseph Sharples (Author of the Liverpool Pevsner City Guide), Michael Wilford (Stirling Wilford Architects), Natalia Maximova (Sheppard Robson) and Ian Richie (Ian Richie Architects).

Another highlight for architecture and design enthusiasts is the centre’s new retail destination, curated by Artist and Designer Katie Patrick, which will display innovative designs from artists, makers and craftspeople from the North of the UK. Designers such as Ceramist Sam Andrew, Wooden & Wool by Alex Deyol, Experimenter Joe Hartley and Craftsman Corin Mellor will help RIBA to promote creativity. The curated section features a diverse range of world-class, regionally-produced products and fashion accessories on sale with prices ranging from £15 to £300. As well as Sue Pryke’s pewter bowls, 100% wool blankets from Heather Shields and card cases designed by Ruth Pullan, the shop will sell stationery, books and merchandise. RIBA North will run a year-round programme of both public and professional activity, bringing together everyone with an interest in architecture to promote and share knowledge about the benefits of good design. Architectural city tours, workshops for young people and children as well as a cafe are only a fraction of what the region will gain from Liverpool’s new design centre, RIBA North.

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