100 years of pie In the sky collected by one city planner

BACK in the 1990s, in the days of the late Liverpool Daily Post, there was a special category of news story, with a special name, which would take pride of place on Monday morning’s front page. 

A fanciful artist’s impression - inevitably across four columns and twice as deep - would depict a building or a development that had either just been rubber stamped by planners, or, more usually, might be, one day, but probably not.

Breathless copy - assuring us that here was the scheme “set to alter the face of Liverpool forever”, would be greeted by us, the news production staff, with an equally lengthy sigh. And then a shout from the night editor: “Who’s free to sub this Pie In The Sky?”

These development proposals would never make it past the drawing board. But what if they had? 

Mark Craig has worked in Liverpool City Council planning and regeneration roles for decades and has been tracking development activity across the city since 1997 - the good, the bad, the brilliant, the ugly and the downright stupid.

He has amassed an archive of imaginings of architects and developers, going back 100 years, and is about to reveal them in a public lecture.

Liverpool Reimagined - Unbuilt Liverpool, is presented by Merseyside Civic Society on Tuesday, April 25, at the Friends Quaker Meeting House. 

The city already has a distinctive skyline: The Three Graces, the two Cathedrals, the Radio City Tower, waterfront skyscrapers and the Echo Arena.

Cy Paumiers 1990 Vision Of How The Strand Could Have Looked With Shops And Restaurants Overlooking Canning Dock Now Chavasse Park
Cy Paumier's 1990 vision of how The Strand could have looked with shops and restaurants overlooking Canning Dock (now Chavasse Park) Mark Craig archive
Early Sketch Idea For Redevelopment Of Chavasse Park Pre Liverpool One
City of domes: An early sketch idea for the redevelopment of Chavasse Park, pre Liverpool One Mark Craig archive

But it wasn't always going to turn out that way. For starters, envisage Mathew Street demolished to make way for an urban park (discuss); a staggering Lutyens cathedral; a magnificent seven “Graces” lining the waterfront and, just along the way, a Strand filled with elegant shops and cafes, Parisian boulevard style. 

And then, of course, there was Will Alsop's Cloud (main image), for many Liverpool's most lamentable instance of cold feet.

Not all bold vision is to be dismissed as poppycock. One who dreams very big is more likely to get further than the seen-it-all naysayer.

Read: Return of Overhead Railway in bold new vision for city

Craig says: “Throughout the 20th century, Liverpool has had many bright young (and old) architects trying to inspire potential clients with bold and brash new buildings.  If built, the city could now boast Sir Edwin Lutyens’ Metropolitan Cathedral that would have had the world's largest dome, for its time, a series of massive toasters at ‘New World Square’ on Princes Dock, housing hotels and waterfront apartments. And towering glass spires topped with wind turbines at Liverpool Waters. 

“Or the city could have suffered with the entire Cavern Quarter being demolished to make way for a new urban park, and a "Logan's Run - City of Domes”- inspired shopping mall covering Chavasse Park.  The city centre itself could have been surrounded by a motorway ring road just like Birmingham, with pedestrians kept away from speeding traffic by "walkways in the sky".

Ah yes, it’s all coming back.

1947 Town Planning Exhibition Model Pier Head
Royal Town Planning Exhibition of 1947 sees a model of the Pier Head with no fewer than seven 'Graces' Mark Craig archive
New World Square The Toasters At Princes Dock
New World Square - the so-called Toasters at Princes Dock Mark Craig archive

People are invited to contribute to this tantalising game of maybe, too, by digging through their cupboards and shelves and bringing along any historic material to share at the talk.

“You may be surprised as to how interesting it is,” say organisers.

 “Some of the new and proposed buildings in this city might horrify heritage campaigners and UNESCO protecting the World Heritage Site,” Craig added. “But what could have been built may have horrified them even more. 

“Or could some of the once proposed structures have been hot properties winning accolades?  The debate will always go on.”

Liverpool Re-imagined - Unbuilt Liverpool!, Tuesday, April 25, 2017 from 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM, Quaker Meeting House (Large Meeting Room, 1st Floor), 22 School Lane, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 3BT. To attend, click here

Neptunes Early Sketch Design For Queen Square Mid 1990S
Neptune's early sketch design for Queen Square - mid 1990s Mark Craig archive
A central part of Liverpool city centre rebuilt in a Beaux Arts style from the first half of 20th century
Liverpool Postcard
The colossal Lutyens cathedral that never was