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The Laz Word....From Larry Neild

Hate the Royal Liverpool Hospital? Actually it's art...

Published on October 6th 2008.


The Laz Word....From Larry Neild

I'VE always had a soft spot for the unloved Royal Liverpool Hospital, that monster concrete silo in Prescot Street that acts as a magnet for the sick.

Most people gaze at the scale of the towering structure and think of it as the ugliest building in Liverpool. In a few years it will all come tumbling down.

One man who thinks the Royal deserves better than being euthanised by demolition-doctors is Roger Stephenson, chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects North West. He a partner in Manchester architects Stephenson Bell, but, as a student at Liverpool School of Architecture in the 60s and 70s, he watched the Royal rising from the ground.

So what is so remarkable about a hospital that took over 11 years to build because there were so many strikes by the construction workers?

Its design and form are a tribute to one of the greatest ever architects, a man known as the Godfather of modernism, a prophet of 20th century architecture, Le Corbusier.

There are examples of work by Corbusier across the world, and hundreds of examples by designers inspired by the Swiss born genius.

The Royal is but one of the many Corbusier-inspired buildings in Liverpool. An even better example, no longer standing, was Steers House in Canning Place. It was demolished to make way for Liverpool One. Allerton Library, the University of Liverpool sports centre and the university’s veterinary centre in Crown Street are all Corbusian.

I was intrigued at Roger Stephenson’s defence of the Royal when we met at a preview of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Cathedral crypt in Brownlow Hill.

Le Corbusier – the Art of Architecture runs until January 18 and is one of the cultural highlights of 08. The RIBA Trust and the Netherlands Architecture Institute have collaborated on what is an amazing event by the Vitra Design Museum. It’s worth visiting just to view the incredible dungeon-like crypt of the cathedral. It’s the first time the crypt, designed in 1930 by Sir Edwin Lutyens, has been open to the public.

Exactly half a century ago Liverpool hosted a show to celebrate Corbusier and the new event is the first major UK exhibition of his work for 20 years.

Corbusier’s work has inspired the likes of Norman Foster, David Chipperfield, Oscar Niemeyer and Frank Gehry. He never designed a building in the UK, but in 1953 RIBA awarded him a coveted Royal Gold Medal.

On show is a model of Corbusier’s Utopian masterplan for Paris which he created in 1925. It’s the work's first ever display in the UK.

His Parisien dream – critics would say nightmare – would have replaced an entire Right Bank district of the French capital with rows of identical towers set between freeways.

Corbusier’s approach was adopted by designers of many public housing schemes across the world. Some think Runcorn’s infamous Legoland Southgate estate was Corbusian, though when I once interviewed its architect, the late James Stirling, he said Southgate was inspired by the city of Bath. Indeed Stirling was to denounce Corbusier for his catastrophic ideas of urban design in cities.

The trouble was many of Corbusier’s ideas on urban designed were nicked by local authorities who used the form of repetitiveness and starkness as a way of developing low-cost, budget council housing. Borrowing some, but not all of Corbusier’s humanist idealogy, was a disaster.

Corbusier was more than an architect. He was an artist and a furniture designer, and he was able to use his multi-skills in a disciplined way to create what he considered to be the contemporary environment.

Architect Roger Stephenson has re-invented the once unloved Piccadilly Plaza in Manchester, keeping the structure and giving it a new face. That, he says, is what should happen to the Royal Liverpool.

“It is very Corbusier in style and form, with so much concrete. It should not be knocked down,” he says. Stephenson thinks whatever replaces the Royal will not be as good.

I somehow can’t see a multi-name petition being started demanding “Save the Royal”.

If it survived for a few more years it could become a listed building, spared because it is a fine example of a structure inspired by a man you loved or loathed, but could never ignore.

Le Corbusier’s real name was Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, born October 6 1887, died August 27, 1965. He famously described the house as a machine for living in.

The exhibition is opened Mondays to Fridays from 11am till 6pm. Tickets (well worth it) are £6, £4 for concessions.

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

Tori BlareOctober 6th 2008.

How come we keep getting told this is the Laz word from Larry, yet he comes back every week?

AnonymousOctober 6th 2008.

There will be no money left anyway, so it's all just piffle council talk.

Manesty S. LaneOctober 6th 2008.

Kitkat - what about the annual beer festivals in there, and other events. I went to a cracking wedding and reception in there too!

BabsTheBuilderOctober 6th 2008.

Architects in the 1970s were forced to adapt Corby's style because they could save shedloads of dosh for their clients. Look at the stark cheap buildings that were chucked up all over the show in the 70s. It was obvious then they were slums of the future. I can't think of many people shedding tears for the RLUH, which resembles a stark soviet style bureau. Anyway M. Corbusier gives us food for thought and we have to wonder whether some of the stuff going up in Liverpool today will stand the test of time. I rather doubt it.

DigOctober 6th 2008.

Breakfast? Didn't even make it to dinner. Le Cainsboozer exhibition is an interesting concept. I shall bring it up next time I'm in there. Cains Finest is art in a glass, fortunately not on the same scale as Wellhard Wigans display. How the hell did a dog from Eastenders sculpt those tiny efforts? Move over Gin and Lassie we have a winner. Also how did he get in The Hard Days Night Hotel? I thought animals aren't allowed. Maybe he shaved his face and put a cap on to masquerade as a Kenny chav.

professor chucklebuttyOctober 6th 2008.

Speaking of love Dig and he who would valiant be 'gainst all fried rashers, how was breakfast? or are you forbidden to spake of such things?Do the Dusanji brothers own the Royal as well? I will try and get to le Cainsboozer exhibition this week. I love a good concrete slab. I'll send you some of Mr Cs Victoria sponge.

DigOctober 6th 2008.

Le Corbusier or not the majority of the Royal is ugly and an even worse colour. Big boring plain brown walls. Lets close our eyes and hope Banksy sorts it out. Talking of Banksy where's his Love Rat door these days?

KitkatOctober 6th 2008.

I would like Larry to know that this is not the first time the crypt has been open to the public. I went to school near the cathedral and we used to go to mass there before the cathedral proper was finished.

Stanley StreetOctober 6th 2008.

it isn't so much that the Royal needs to be saved because it is beautiful; it needs to be saved because the projected replacement is to be a Private Finance Intitiative fiddle that will land the NHS and the taxpayer with huge debts for decades. More public money going to the private sector plutocrat (who has caused the economic crisis in case you'd forgotten) and less into the treatment of the sick

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