Design contest to ‘breathe new life’ into Liverpool waterfront

A pedestrian bridge, relocation of the International Slavery Museum, repurposing empty dock buildings and addressing underused dry docks between Royal Albert Dock and Pier Head are all proposed in a competition by National Museums Liverpool.

Spanning the area between the Royal Albert Dock and Mann Island, the transformation project will take in key landmarks including the creation of pedestrian links to the Canning Dock while also bringing life to multiple buildings within the area as part of a 10-year masterplan for the transformation of Liverpool’s waterfront.

The timescales and budget for the project have yet to be revealed. The emerging brief for the competition, which will begin formally in March and be run by design consultant Colander Associates, includes:

  • Redevelopment of Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building, formerly the Dock Traffic Office and once Granada TV offices, facing entrance to Royal Albert Dock. To include extension and new entrance to International Slavery Museum currently next door on the third floor of Merseyside Maritime Museum
  • “Breathe new life” into the 18th century now underutilised dry docks once used for fitting out, cleaning and repairing ships, including those used in the transatlantic slave trade, central to Liverpool’s economy at the time. These dry docks are now some of the most historically significant maritime structures in the world
  • New public spaces at Canning Dock, as well as new pedestrian bridges to improve accessibility, “bringing forward innovative and creative solutions that will raise the profile of the area whilst responding to the history of the site and creating one seamless experience linking past with present”
  • Multiple smaller buildings that are not fully used including the Cooperage, Mermaid House, Pilotage building, Piermaster’s House and Great Western Railway Building represent commercial and cultural opportunities for NML as part of its sustainability planning in order to generate more revenue streams

NML was advised on the masterplan by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Planit-IE and Arup.

MICA and Harrison Stringfellow Architects are drawing up feasibility studies for the small buildings element.

Piermasters House Credit National Museums Liverpool

Piermasters House is being considered for social and commercial uses. c.National Museums Liverpool

Laura Pye, director of National Museums Liverpool, said: “The public realm between the Royal Albert Dock and Mann Island represents a huge opportunity for development and this project will be a big step towards enabling the public and our communities to share, enjoy and engage with its incredibly rich heritage.”

Canning Dock Site Survey Credit National Museums Liverpool

Canning Dock is a missing piece in the waterfront’s regeneration. c.National Museums Liverpool

The competition will be supported by £120,000 from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, as part of the Race Equality Programme launched by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram last year. In December, it was announced that the International Slavery Museum would receive £55,000 to take forward the first stage of its pre-development funding – the first step of the Waterfront Transformation Project, which will see NML realise long-held ambitions for the museum.

The Maritime Museum will be evolved as part of the project to support and complement the slavery museum, gaining special exhibition and community spaces and shared facilities to “create a seamless visitor experience between both museums.”

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr Building Credit Dave Jones

Dr Martin Luther King Jnr Building faces the entrance to Royal Albert Dock c.Dave Jones

Dr Richard Benjamin, head of the International Slavery Museum, said: “Liverpool became the epicentre of the transatlantic slave trade, hence the importance of the stories we tell and the work we do at the International Slavery Museum. This exciting and timely transformation project will allow the museum to grow, develop and be central to national and global discourses. These include racial inequality, other legacies of transatlantic slavery, being actively anti-racist, diverse, and inclusive.

“Utilising the iconic Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building is key to this as we can create new spaces that are community-focused, educational, welcoming, and thought-provoking. Social movements and the growing discussion of Britain’s role in the slave trade have changed the urgency for this discourse and involvement.”

A community-led model of working with Liverpool’s Black communities and victims of modern slavery will co-create the content and engagement programme around themes of historic slavery, human rights, social justice, racism, and discrimination.

Merseyside Maritime Museum © Pete Carr

Merseyside Maritime Museum will be linked to the International Slavery Museum next door © Pete Carr

Laura Pye continues: “The slave trade was the backbone of the city’s prosperity, and it is long overdue to weave this history into the public realm. Our aim will be to create a vibrant, active, and public space that has long term flexibility of use and to utilise the surrounding redundant quaysides to complement existing developments and create a solid foundation for the future.

“It’s something for everyone to be involved in from the outset, so we look forward to appointing innovative designers who thrive on collaboration, to work closely with local people to make our plans a reality.”

Canning Dock Liverpool By Gareth Jones

A new bridge is planned across Canning Dock linking to Mann Island. c.Gareth Jones

Your Comments

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Fine line to be trodden here. Let’s hope they don’t try to glorify past guilt to get tourists in. That would not be tasteful at all.

By Akkad

Not sure what Akkad is talking about. The slavery museum has been in the city for 15 years. Its relocation has been on the cards for a long time. Long before the whole George Floyd business.

By Anonymous

The more I read this article the more confused I get. When did Dr. Martin Luther King Junior live or work in Liverpool? Did Royal Albert build that dock (I mean pay for it, not build it) or did somebody important decide to name it after him, to please him? And who is Royal Albert anyway? Was he a Lancashire lad? Unusual choice of PLACE names, don’t you think?

By James Yates

I don’t think they are glorifying the past slavery connections, but acknowledging it further by linking the MMM to the International Slavery museum(it can be easily missed when walking around the dock).
Before lock down we hosted many visitors for many years from around the globe and they were quite surprised and delighted to know that the Slavery musuem existed. Not many places world wide has one and it our way of atonement for the past. Incidently most of the slave owners in the UK were from around the UK from vicars to spinisters and companies to public figures.David Olusoga presented a truly revealing tv programme of this the other year.

By Man on a bicycle

Yawn yawn


Hi PNW – should the International Slavery Museum now be renamed eg International Enslaved Museum?

Warm wishes – stay safe, well and happy,

By Jake Landay

I think it needs a really good quality piece of leisure use (not some of the tat that is now in the Albert Dock) on the Mann Island side, that in itself will improve footfall and linkages. Revamping the sheds that were there for that use would have worked well but they’ve now knocked them down.

By Oscar

Don’t see the point myself – many other part of the city that need life breathing into them, not here.

It seems a good part of the city already, already have a flashy museum and landscaping, it doesn’t need any more stuff, it could be too much.

By Bob

This is a brilliant idea and will help the National Slavery Museum shine. The museum at the moment seems to be hidden and having it at the forefront of the entrance to the pier head is a brilliant idea. Can’t wait to see it finished. Well done

By David

It`s the part I normally avoid on my morning river walks. There`s so many tourists out and about that it slows down my fast walking pace. This though is now in need of renovation and during lockdown is the perfect time to prepare for the vast numbers of returning tourists we expect. People won`t be in a hurry to book foreign holidays with the risks of further travel restrictions, I think.

By Liverpool romance

The ‘Royal’ Albert Dock was named after Prince Albert who opened it in the 1840s. There will be four bridges incidentally, linking the ‘islands’ separating Mann Island from the Pumphouse.
Liverpool has been striving to tell the sorry story of its role as the epicentre of the slave trade since the 1980s and has done so, much more successfully, than anywhere else in Britain according to David Olusoga. The move to open up the Canning Graving Docks is a real step forward as even though they were rebuilt in the 19th century slave ships were actually moored here and they are some of the oldest surviving docks. This is a very important step in trying to reveal more of the true story. The City is also working with Lawrence Westgaph to provide interpretation panels at streets named after slave traders, as well as at other monuments or buildings. One of the first I think is at the statue of William Gladstone, four times prime minister but the son of a slave trader. There are many buildings built by companies that can trace back their origins to the profits of the slave trade. It is incumbent on all of us who can, to educate ourselves as much as possible on this subject so that we can tell the history honestly. I have a long way to go. There is always more to learn.
As we all know, people name buildings, rightly or wrongly, as we would now see it, in the case of buildings named after people with a role in the slave trade. The International Slavery Museum does, I believe, liaise closely with our local black community. I think it was in consultation with them that the Martin Luther King Building was so named. And that seems to me right and proper. Why should they not decide to name the building to become the entrance to the International Slavery Museum after one of their heroes. I think it’s a great name.

By Roscoe

No zip wire?

By Bungle

The benefits of living on a beautiful waterfront .

By Anonymous

Even more development at the Albert Dock? It is supposed to be a heritage site. As if the waterfront setting wasn’t scarred enough by the featureless apartment blocks and Soviet-bloc style multi-storey car parks. Leave the place alone and just enjoy the view or what’s left of it.

By Dave

Superb development idea. With the added bonus of offering an opportunity for a city to belatedly atone for the sins that enabled it to become what it is today. BLM

By Gehry

I wish they would do something like this on Breck rd

By Gaz Riley

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