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Tale from the river bank

Phil Griffin sizes up the new Kings Dock arena against the MEN

Published on January 21st 2008.


Tale from the river bank

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 new Kings Dock Echo Arena last Saturday night.

A modern arena is a part time building and a full time structure. It’s there, even when it isn’t doing business.

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.

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 20-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. Liverpool's brand new 10,600 capacity arena is a strikingly pretty, nearly-drop-down-gorgeous building on the waterfront.

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.

The Kings Dock Arena and its clamshell, counterweight, conference complex, next door, 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 its 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 & 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, for instance that the one-truck-at-a-time get-in and get-out arrangements are woeful. 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, the Kings Dock 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 wish it were 10,000 seats bigger.

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34 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

JESSJanuary 21st 2008.

I cant really see why people make an immediate comparison to that place in manchester, lets wait and enjoy the things to come in our new LIVERPOOL arena

MartinJanuary 21st 2008.

I live in Liverpool… Hence why I’m commenting, I am not however, a scouser, but I have lived all over the world in various cities. Liverpool does try hard to achieve what Manchester has. Manchester is another city that tries to be something it is not, but that’s a different argument, I will simply say though Manchester is also a **** city, just not as **** as Liverpool. The only reason Liverpool got the capital of culture is because it so desperately needs regeneration. As far as I can see Liverpool’s culture today consists of drinking, stealing, badly sung karaoke songs, awful 80's nightclubs and extremely annoying accents. I personally feel that oxford should have won the capital of culture and would have been a fairer representation of what England has to offer...

Stanley StreetJanuary 21st 2008.

As Mr. Griffin says, our waterfront does seem a daft place to put it, our waterfront is after all our trademark. Æsthetically too it seems odd to put such an inward-looking building into a place with such open views. Putting it on the edge of a river also presents certain logistical difficulties, i.e., the crowds cannot disperse in all directions after an event and there are no trains. At least it’s not a football stadium, thank goodness!

Big-Hearted Arthur.January 21st 2008.

Rusty Spike wrote:- "Mr Finnegan was paid about £65,000 a year. So presumably, if we are all playing fair here, Mr Brown will pick up the same pay packet, if not more - although naturally pro-rata for the six months of the contract."Surely not? Hardly 'fair'! It ought also be pro-rata for a part-time job! If he's working less than thirty hours a week on Council business he's part-time and therefore he should have his pay reduced accordingly.Not that I want him to go without and starve to death – We wouldn’t want Jon Brown’s body lying a-mouldering in the grave now, would we playmates?Aye thangyow!

jessJanuary 21st 2008.

let me guess where you live ?very easy to have a DIG at Liverpoollets not forget which city won the capital of culture

angela@gencologistics.comJanuary 21st 2008.

Lovely building - looks lovely from the river and would add that the ladies toilet facilities are great - even better than O2

AnonymousJanuary 21st 2008.

I think the arena is fantastic, and no blight on the waterfront. It is brilliant that 10,000 can get a spectacular view when inside, Apart from the Lowry, I can't think of another structure with such a great water view. Great view into the Welsh mountains, (I know you can't see them at night at the mo, just wait for the summer)

NALGO HaroldJanuary 21st 2008.

The £230,000 pay-off (according to today's Daily Post) to Jason Harborow) is rather a vicious kick in the teeth for proper Council employees who wouldn't dare go on holiday to Spain whilst taking seven weeks of "sick leave". Not that they could afford it on their salaries, not being part of the Liverpool Culture Company.

Graham BandageJanuary 21st 2008.

I'm with Martin on this one (you stick with me, Mart, I'll protect you. Well, I'll hold your coat while you give 'em what for). I like Oxford and quite agree that it gives a fairer representation of what England has to offer, what with the class divide and crushing poverty and that. And the handbrake turns on the Blackbird Leys estate frankly leave the Nogzy lads and Strand crew in the shade.I'm a bit disappointed with your comments about badly-sung karaoke songs, though. You seem to be suggesting they're a bad thing. I'll have you know the Number One Project gig at the arena last week went down an absolute storm.

that's mr bollocks to youJanuary 21st 2008.

Let's leave little Martin and his ignorant jibes alone and concentrate on getting some decent bands on at the Arena instead of some of the s**** that seems to have booked there for the forseeable future

V. I. Lenin AirportJanuary 21st 2008.

I can see from his anti-Liverpool sentiments and pro-Southern bias that ‘Martin’ is more than likely a highly-paid member of staff at the so-called ‘Liverpool Culture Company. No doubt appointed by Storey & co because they were so easily impressed with his couldn't-care-less manner, arrogant swagger and his loud and hideous estuarine accent. So why don’t you resign, chum, and save the Liverpool Council Tax-payers £42,000 per annum?

Stanley StreetJanuary 21st 2008.

Martin said "I personally feel that oxford should have won the capital of culture and would have been a fairer representation of what England has to offer...”Well, Liverpool, European Capital of Culture 2008 is representing 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' in Europe, not “England”.England is already well-represented by unpleasant southerners with silly accents begging in our bus shelters and outside our off-licenses, by shaven-headed, tattooed football hooligans on the rampage, UKIP xenophobes, 'chavs' and the Daily Mail, thank you very much.

V. I. Lenin AirportJanuary 21st 2008.

Ah, if only Crown Prince Harpik could lead his dragoons up Castle Street, storm the Town Hall and assume command of the city! The present shower (along with its lackeys in the Culture Company) could be paraded in tumbrels past jeering crowds and taken to a place of execution at the Pier Head! (or somewhere else if it's still in a mess from Storey's megalomania.) And then to celebrate, Massive Balls for All!

AnonymousJanuary 21st 2008.

I'll do it for £10,000!

Rusty SpikeJanuary 21st 2008.

Hello, playmates – as that jolly old Liverpool comic Arthur Askey would breezily greet his fans - just read in the Daily Post that former Liverpool Echo deputy editor Jon Brown is the new ‘interim’ media spin doctor for Liverpool City Council. Brown replaces Matt Finnegan who departed under a cloud in 2006 following what we shall call ‘a spot of bother’ over email exchanges involving then city boss Sir David Henshaw and then council leader Mike Storey. Mr Brown is also the founder and managing director of the Liverpool based Factory Communications. He set the outfit up 18 months ago with his wife Jane Wolstenholme, one time editor of the Daily Post and imminent chic-lit author. There are eight staff and numerous commercial clients. Apparently Mr Brown, who hails from Barrow in Furness - which is a kind of merry maritime town like Liverpool, although without its wit and flair (the town, of course, not Mr Brown) - will continue to service his clients, if you’ll pardon the term, while also undertaking his council media duties. Hmmmm.No doubt there are loud 'ay-thang yous' (yet another of Big Hearted Arthur’s catch phrases - and for the record Arthur was also a Liverpool council staffer at one point) ringing out in the Brown/Wolstenholme household. Mr Finnegan was paid about £65,000 a year. So presumably, if we are all playing fair here, Mr Brown will pick up the same pay packet, if not more - although naturally pro-rata for the six months of the contract.The council’s chief executive Colin Hilton – who was shifted in as a ‘safe pair of hands’ (ho-ho) after the Henshaw hiatus – explained that Liverpool is going through a critically important period (whatever the hell that means, as that is actually the permanent state of affairs) and it is (quote) “essential to have some expertise on hand to help us manage communications issues during this time”…blah, blah. It seems the council will decide if it needs a full time 'media rottweiler' after they’ve – presumably – assessed the results of Mr Brown’s efforts. Bated breathing everywhere…

Graham BandageJanuary 21st 2008.

You know, I always say, if something's worth saying, it's worth saying twice.

that's mr bollocks to youJanuary 21st 2008.

Let's leave little Martin and his ignorant jibes alone and concentrate on getting some decent bands on at the Arena instead of some of the s**** that seems to have booked there for the forseeable future

A. E. ScousemanJanuary 21st 2008.

Martin blethered "I personally feel that oxford (sic) should have won the capital of culture and would have been a fairer representation of what England has to offer...”_______ How can that be? Those cultural events that take place in Oxford are not even open to the general public of that town, let alone the wider world! The tiny square footage of Oxford that is actually open to the general public is already choc-a-bloc with Japanese and American tourists. What would be the point of attracting more visitors? It costs £20 to park a car, the roads are congested already and even the park-and-ride is expensive. Oxford is nothing but a set of drains and basic services run for the benefit of élitist cliques from the University, cliques from which everyone else is excluded. (Yeah, I know, a bit like the Culture Company...)

Town ClerkJanuary 21st 2008.

Big-Hearted Arthur got me thinking and I arrived at the figure of £16,250, rather a handsome sum for six months of part-time champagne-quaffing, canapé-scoffing and rubbing elbows with the tie-less yoberati! - I'll tell you what, I’ll do it for £15,000!

Lord StreetJanuary 21st 2008.

What what!

Arthur AskeyJanuary 21st 2008.

Aye thang you!

AnonymousJanuary 21st 2008.

And all this on a day when Liverpool has got the new accolade of having the worst managed finances of any council in the country. Is this job primarily to stop the council leader from shooting his mouth off all the time? I think we should be told.

Rusty SpikeJanuary 21st 2008.

“Now that the boss man of the effortlessly inept Factory Communications squad is also the handsomely rewarded Chief Media Pug for Liverpool City Council - interim, of course - one wonders if the outfit will manage to get its banal and permanently under construction website up and running, rather than merely showing a photograph of cranes. Mind you they clearly need no help with copy writing skills as the only blurb to accompany the photo reads: ‘If your organisation requires excellent public relations to communicate your achievements to the audience you want then email Jon Brown or Jane Wolstenholme to discuss how our unique experience working in the media can help.’ The definition of unique is, erm: something incomparable, matchless, peerless, unrivalled and without equal etc. Look to yer laurels, youse guys and gals still flogging the quills at the Daily Post and Liverpool Echo. Oh, and chatting to Big Hearted Arthur he wondered if perchance one of Jon Brown's 'commercial' clients will still include the Echo Arena, which was, of course, partly funded by Liverpool City Council? Ay-thang you"

MartinJanuary 21st 2008.

to quote "I cant really see why people make an immediate comparison to that place in manchester, lets wait and enjoy the things to come in our new LIVERPOOL arena" - its because liverpool lives in the shadow of manchester... it wants to be as good as manchester... that is why it is compared. Give it a couple of years and the glass planes would have been stolen to sort out someone’s house in Kenny ;o)

Paul PaulsJanuary 21st 2008.

Says Martin: "As far as I can see Liverpool’s culture today consists of drinking, stealing, badly sung karaoke songs, awful 80's nightclubs and extremely annoying accents." Well fcuk off back to Manchester then for more of the same!"

Graham BandageJanuary 21st 2008.

Call me Thick Jack Clot if you must (although I would prefer it if you left it as Mr Bandage), but what exactly is the problem with building the arena on the waterfront? With apologies to our benighted hairy-palmed Wirral cousins, to whom I mean no offence, but it's not exactly a cracking view from King's Dock on this side of the water - a chocolate-coloured river . . . and the Wirral, brilliant. And the Wirraliens can still see the cathedral if they crane their necks a bit. And invisible buildings like the MEN Arena do have their disadvantages. First, you have to be careful or you bump into them. Second, it can be very disconcerting when you walk past one to see hundreds of people suspended apparently in mid-air enjoying an Eton Road concert. Third, it is very difficult to get people to visit an invisible building. I speak from experience. I once had a 400ft invisible tower with revolving restaurant at the top - like St John's Beacon, but entirely transparent - in my back garden, but I literally could not get anybody to take advantage of the facilities. In the end I had it demolished due to lack of interest and/or footfall. At least I think it was demolished - who would know? You have to take a lot of this on trust. Anyway, I agree. Let's knock down the Liver Building, while we're at it. I demand an unobstructed view of Birkenhead from Tower Buildings, right now!

'Stinker' MurdochJanuary 21st 2008.

I say Arthur, Instead of sacking overpaid incompetents who are embarrassing the City and draining the coffers, the cash-strapped Council is freely spending money it hasn't got to employ another highly-paid outsider to chuck a threadbare sheet over the cock-ups!Roll on 2009

Lars KrapkokkerJanuary 21st 2008.

Indeed Miss Jess, it is Stavanger in my beautiful Norway! http://www.stavanger2008.no/

JESSJanuary 21st 2008.

I cant really see why people make an immediate comparison to that place in manchester, lets wait and enjoy the things to come in our new LIVERPOOL arena

Graham BandageJanuary 21st 2008.

You leave that nice Mr Harborow alone! He single-handedly got us the MTV Awards, to mention just one thing he did in his entire time as LCC boss, despite his heavy ice-cream-based commitments on the Iberian peninsula. I would happily catalogue the rest of his achievements, but I don't have (A) the time, and (B) any idea what they were.

Piggy Muck-SquareJanuary 21st 2008.

£230,000 eh? Once again the dopes that run Liverpool have handsomely rewarded failure! No wonder Merseyside is nationally a laughing-stock, politically, economically and worst of all, educationally.

A. RatepayerJanuary 21st 2008.

What's 'MTV' when it's at home?Will it attract a lot of drug addicts and prostitutes to our city?

Nice work if you can get itJanuary 21st 2008.

The £65k is soooo two years ago. It'll be more like £80k now probably, so £20k pro rata and then double it for the amount of out-of-hours champagne swilling.

Graham BandageJanuary 21st 2008.

I'm with Martin on this one (you stick with me, Mart, I'll protect you. Well, I'll hold your coat while you give 'em what for). I like Oxford and quite agree that it gives a fairer representation of what England has to offer, what with the class divide and crushing poverty and that. And the handbrake turns on the Blackbird Leys estate frankly leave the Nogzy lads and Strand crew in the shade.I'm a bit disappointed with your comments about badly-sung karaoke songs, though. You seem to be suggesting they're a bad thing. I'll have you know the Number One Project gig at the arena last week went down an absolute storm.

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