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Echo Arena

Phil Griffin takes a look at the MEN Arena’s new rival in Liverpool

Published on March 10th 2010.

Echo Arena

Arenas have been a city thing since Christians were fed to lions. Civic junkets, political rallies, popular sport, religious acclamation, music, theatre and mass entertainment, separately or all at once, as in the Echo Arena, Kings Parade Liverpool last Saturday night. A modern arena is a city must-have and they come in a variety of sizes and guises. Thrusting European and world cities refresh their arenas on a regular basis. By and large, national arenas get up everyone’s nose apart from the denizens of the cities in which they are sited. As a rule, you will like your Arena for what it brings you, from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to Liverpool royalty, Ringo Starr.

A modern arena is a part time building and a full time structure. It’s there, even when it isn’t doing business. Nomads drift in and out with things to flog: ideal homes, ski holidays, pretend wrestling and computer games.

The MEN Arena in Manchester is phenomenally successful. It ran a very close second to Madison Square Garden in world revenues in 2007. It’s an 18,000 seater, stretching to 20,500 for centre stage events. It can handle a twenty truck Kylie-sized get out overnight and be flooded, frozen and ready for ice-hockey action the following afternoon. It was part of Manchester’s failed bid for the 2000 Olympics and it opened for business in 1995. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a pretty building. The brand new 10,000 capacity Echo Arena is a strikingly pretty, nearly drop down gorgeous building on Kings Dock. It opened on Saturday night with Liverpool The Musical, a live and multi-media spectacular that (hoped to) set the pace for Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture

A modern arena is a part time building and a full time structure. It’s there, even when it isn’t doing business. It is an occasional market. Nomads drift in and out with things to flog: ideal homes, ski holidays, careers in the Army, the Jesus Army, CDs, DVDs, T-shirts, TV programmes, pretend wrestling and computer games. And very occasionally, as on Saturday night, an entire city. For large numbers of people in the BBC Culture Show audience this boiled down to alarmingly out of tune choruses of All Together Now by the Farm augmented by Pete Wylie and the entire cast of Brookside. The audience in the Echo Arena appeared to enjoy it. Some might suggest that something a little more, shall we say contemporary, might have been on offer. Something a little more in line with the all-new groovy building.

Echo Arena and its clamshell counterweight conference complex is a big curvy thing with surfaces of glass, etched and otherwise, plus steel and aluminium. The spine or hinge is a raised public galleria enclosed in glass and ETFE (which is a translucent polymer much used at the Eden Centre in Cornwall). It’s also the only axis route that breaks through this enormous building to the waterfront.

If there is one, this is the problem with the site. If the waterfront is important to Liverpool, is it not perverse to throw such a large structure in front of it? Unattractive as it undeniably is, MEN Arena, tucked in to its sloping site, has surprisingly little negative impact even though it is built over a very public railway station. Not only has it proved itself a major factor in Manchester’s revival, it has done so at remarkably little visual cost. Until you fly over it. Liverpool has put a lot of its £146m cost on the outside of the Echo Arena. In many ways, I admire that. This is a part time building and a full time structure that is highly visible whether in use or not. When landscape and neighbour buildings are complete, I expect the whole thing will be more of a piece. Right now it is certainly more creditable than the neighbouring Customs and Excise and Casino developments, which are awful.

Two times Stirling Prize-winning architects Wilkinson Eyre are not going to produce a dud. Event operators tell me the Arena is flawed, that the one truck at a time get-in and get-out arrangements are woeful, that bizarrely, star dressing rooms have lockers and communal showers (sweet). Catering provision needs a total re-think. Conference facilities, the auditorium and the cleverly revolving drum halls are still struggling to meet their completion deadline. I haven’t been allowed to see them yet.

But walking inside the building, on any level that overlooks Kings Parade and the water looks fabulous. There is no such sheltered view of the Mersey anywhere on the river. For this panorama alone Echo Arena is a mighty welcome asset. The complex will be tweaked and modified over time. Relatively, I’d guess it will make a more positive impact for Liverpool than Foster & Partners Armadillo (SCC) did for Glasgow. Like another big waterside shed, Libeskind’s Imperial War Museum North in Trafford, it is a self-promoting and undeniable form, with a pared down utilitarian interior. I suspect the city council and the operators may wish it were 10,000 seats bigger.

This article was first posted on 16/1/2008 and has been re-edited for the new Manchester Confidential

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Scott NeilMarch 11th 2010.

for the sake of our gig-going mickey friends, i hope the acoustics are better here than at the Nynex.

AgricolaMarch 17th 2010.

Er....it's been the MEN Arena for more than a decade not the Nynex

Scott NeilMarch 17th 2010.

oh i know, i just prefer the word ;-)

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