Heavenly stairway tops off Liverpool landmark

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The Independent Online

When Liverpool's new Roman Catholic cathedral was unveiled in all its concrete glory in 1967, the city's archbishop of the time said: "You can loathe it, or you can love it – but you can't ignore it."

When Liverpool's new Roman Catholic cathedral was unveiled in all its concrete glory in 1967, the city's archbishop of the time said: "You can loathe it, or you can love it – but you can't ignore it."

Some 35 years later, Liverpudlians are to have even more reason to gaze upon the edifice which is regarded as one of the ugliest and yet most striking buildings in Britain.

The 2,200-seat church, known locally as Paddy's Wigwam for its glass lantern and concrete buttresses, is finally to be completed with a sweeping staircase costing £2m – more than the original building.

Sir Frederick Gibberd, the architect who won a competition to design the building in 1959, had originally envisaged a set of processional steps leading up to the modernist cross at the grand main entrance.

But budgetary constraints and the presence of a set of buildings used by the health service meant his futuristic vision for the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King could not be completed. Now the Archdiocese of Liverpool has won European Union and Government funding for the project which will involve the demolition of the buildings to make way for the staircase and plaza.

Paul Falconer, the Liverpool architect overseeing the completion of Gibberd's design, said: "It would be fair to say that when the cathedral was opened, it wasn't the most popular building.

"But, like a lot of these brutalist structures, they have gradually earned a place in the affections of those who use them and the cathedral is considered very much an asset for Liverpool.

"Gibberd's masterplan was for a set of steps leading to a main entrance but circumstances at the time meant it never happened. Now we are going to put in those finishing touches."

The Archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Reverend Patrick Kelly, said: "This grant will enhance the cathedral's setting to make it a truly unique experience for all those who come, whether to visit or worship."

The completion of the grade II listed cathedral will bring to a close a torrid 150-year saga, involving three of Britain's most influential architects, to give Liverpool a Catholic cathedral.

When the Catholic diocese was founded in 1850, Augustus Pugin, who co-designed the Houses of Parliament, was commissioned to plan the new building but only the Lady Chapel was ever completed.

Some 80 years later, the site of the present cathedral, which had been occupied by one of Britain's largest workhouses, was bought and the modernist Edwin Lutyens drew up a design that was larger than St Peter's in Rome. The structure never got further than its crypt and work was abandoned during the Second World War. When building restarted in 1950, the projected cost of £27m meant plans again foundered.

Sir Frederick's revolutionary design, which took nearly five years to build at a cost of £1.9m, was chosen for its ability to allow every member of the congregation to see the altar.

But it was also not without its faults. The confection of concrete, glass, aluminium and steel complete with 50ft fibreglass pinnacles on the side of the lantern has been plagued by leaks and corrosion.

Along with the staircase, the £2m grant from EU urban regeneration funds and the North West Development Agency, will finance a new visitor centre and an office building.

The new steps, which will be made in cast concrete to match the rest of the cathedral and face towards Liverpool's Anglican cathedral, should be completed by the year's end.

How long does it take to build a cathedral?

Notre Dame De Paris, France

The construction of Notre Dame began in 1163, during the reign of Louis VII, and was built on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple to the god Jupiter. The cathedral was completed 182 years later in 1345, and has been the site of the coronation of many French monarchs, including Napoleon.

St Paul's Cathedral, London

The present-day St Paul's took only 35 years to build from 1675 to 1710, and was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who explained that "architecture aims at eternity". The original cathedral, built in 604, was ransacked by the Vikings, struck by lightning, and burnt down in the Great Fire of London.

St Peter'S, Vatican City

Built to honour the inaugural Pope, the first stone of the Basilica of St Peter in the Vatican was laid in April 1506 by Pope Julius II. Work continued under Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, Giacomo della Porta, Domenico Fontana and Michelangelo until its completion in 1650.

St Patrick'S, New York

Construction began in 1858 under Archbishop John Hughes and ended in 1879. Work was suspended during the American Civil War. The cathedral was given modern lighting and an amplification system in the late 1980s.