'It's a cowpat': the verdict on Alsop's vision of a Liverpool landmark

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The prizewinning architect Will Alsop, whose bold designs have transformed some of the world's unlikeliest cities into cultural attractions, has run into trenchant opposition in Liverpool about his most radical creation to date.

The prizewinning architect Will Alsop, whose bold designs have transformed some of the world's unlikeliest cities into cultural attractions, has run into trenchant opposition in Liverpool about his most radical creation to date.

Mr Alsop's creation, The Cloud, a 10-storey irregular globe decorated with messages about 800 years of Liverpool history, was chosen ahead of creations by Norman Foster and Richard Rogers as the building which would become the city's "Fourth Grace", joining the Edwardian Cunard, Liver and Port of Liverpool buildings on the city's famous riverfront.

It was a bold choice which ran against public opinions expressed at a mass consultation exercise but was intended to mark Liverpool's renaissance after years of economic decline. The Cloud's supporters made comparisons with the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Sydney Opera House and even the Eiffel Tower.

But 18 months later, locals in a city famous for its radical spirit remain steadfastly divided on the issue. Letters are running three to one against The Cloud in Liverpool's local newspapers, where readers have described it as a deflated balloon, a cowpat, wart, eyesore, monstrosity and an abomination.

The opposition had been "dispiriting" said David Fleming, director of Liverpool's nationals museums and galleries.

At a public event in Liverpool last week, Mr Alsop said that opposition to the plans may yet kill them off. "If you want to shoot yourselves in the foot and stop this building, you're going the right way about it," he said. "I'm free to walk away. But I happen to believe in the building and that it will help Liverpool.

"If I did leave, though, the project would continue because there is sufficient momentum for it to happen with or without me."

Mr Alsop told The Independent yesterday that he feared the sceptics' vociferous campaign might influence Liverpool's planning committee, which will begin considering whether to grant planning approval in the next month. "Big ideas can be a shock because in places like Liverpool there has not been much fresh architecture and nobody has invested in these places for years," he said.

The struggle for hearts and minds also coincides with a debate in architectural circles about the value of iconic buildings, sparked by a speech by Graham Morrison, an architect and member of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment's design review panel. Mr Morrison said buildings like The Cloud were "often ... just ordinary buildings distorted into unnecessarily complicated shapes". He added: "As competition increases, each image has to be more extraordinary and shocking in order to eclipse the last." The Cloud was a "blob dressed up as art".

Mr Alsop said he considered Mr Morrison's views to be a reflection of his own limitations. "[His practice] has created some beautiful small projects but they repeat themselves. [Their work is] bland; it's tedious," he said.

Mr Fleming said suspicions about The Cloud were born of the monstrosities created in the 1960s, Liverpool's last period of architectural adventure. "It's a shame that a place that has a tradition of being radical should be so conservative," he said.

Mr Alsop, who gave Gateshead its winking-eye bridge, Peckham its surprising new library and radical designs to Toronto and Marseilles, can take comfort from historical precedents. The Liver Building was almost not built amid public concern - voiced in the city's newspaper - about what it might do to the waterfront. Once built, it was a described as a masterpiece and a representation of "the great Edwardian imperial optimism" by Nikolaus Pevsner, the master observer of English buildings. Two weeks ago it was named part of a world heritage site.


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