An architectural look at the Liver Building

The Royal Liver Building dominates Liverpool’s waterfront skyline. Built in 1911, at the time it was the tallest building in Liverpool, but is now the city’s fourth highest building and, unsurprisingly, has Grade I-listed building status.

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The Royal Liver Assurance company, which built the Liver Building, started in Liverpool as the Lyver Burial Society in 1850 and had various premises in the area for over 60 years.

In 1907, after the society became Royal Liver Assurance, it commissioned a new headquarters. Work started on the Liver Building that same year. It was designed by Walter Aubrey Thomas to accommodate the 6,000 employees who then worked for the Royal Liver Group, and officially opened in 1911.

The structural engineers that constructed the building were L.G. Mouchel & Partners, which pioneered concrete construction. It cost £621,000 to build.

The Liver Building overlooks the River Mersey and the Pier Head and is one of three imposing structures along the waterfront known as the Three Graces. The other two are the Port of Liverpool Building and the Cunard Building.

The iconic building is currently a venue spaces for functions including meetings, weddings and social events. Office space in the building is occupied by many high-profile companies, including ITV and HSBC.

Concrete construction

What made the Liver Building stand out architecturally when it was built was that it was constructed from reinforced concrete. Though use of concrete is common today, the Liver Building was one of the first tall buildings in the world to use the substance. The idea of using reinforced concrete was so innovative, that many critics believed that the Liver Building would be impossible to construct and doomed to failure!

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The building’s construction is similar to the skyscrapers of New York. All the concrete elements, walls, floors, arches, columns and beams provide a frame structure that transfers the weight of the building to the foundations. Hundreds of concrete beams were used in the construction, some of them spanning 15 meters with arches over 18 meters long. The beams carry a load of around 1,420 tonnes, and the columns support weights of up to 1,525 tonnes.

Size

The Liver Building is 90 metres (300 feet) tall and has 13 main floors, all providing magnificent views across the Mersey. Until the building of tower blocks in the 1960s, it was the tallest building in Britain and one of the tallest in Europe.

Near the top of the Liver Building is a pair of clocks that were designed so that passing sailors could easily tell the time. The 7.6-meter (25-foot) clock faces are bigger than Big Ben. They are known as George clocks as they were started at the exact time of King George’s coronation.

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Construction

The Liver Building is symmetrical, with entrances at all four sides. It has two internal light wells. The river facing side has nine bays, whereas there are eleven bays on each of the other sides.

The ground and first floor levels are rusticated, using a form of decorated masonry that is created by cutting the edges of the stone back to a plane surface. The central face portion is textured to create a bold and rich surface.

 

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As well as the basement, there are ten upper floors and six floors in the twin towers. Recently, a mezzanine floor was added above the ground level.

The floors are made from rows of tubular units with arched top spaces. Concrete ribs were laid between the rows and a screed laid on the top. The floors are 210mm thick.

The original building has 19 lift shafts of which 11 are still in use today.

During recent years, there has been an extensive redevelopment program to modernise the interior of the building. The Chester firm Acies designed the refurbishments that include a mezzanine floor and a new west entrance. The modernisation preserved the external architectural features.

Climbing the Liver Building

In 2010, the Liver Building was featured in the BBC television program ‘Climbing Great Buildings’. Dr. Jonathan Foyle, an architectural historian assisted by expert climbers, used rock climbing techniques to climb the Liver Building. This gave viewers a unique insight into the construction of the building both from within and outside the building. Unfortunately, this program is no longer available in the BBC iPlayer archives, but a short extract from it can be viewed on YouTube

The Liver Birds

At the top of each clock tower are the famous Liver Bird statues designed by Carl Bernard Bartels. Both birds face different directions, with one looking out of the River Mersey and the other facing the city. Legend says that one bird is guarding and protecting Liverpool, and the other is keeping an eye on the sailors coming down the Mersey River.

Another legend is that one bird is a male who watches for the pubs to open, and the other is a female looking to sea for handsome sailors. Folklore says that if either of the Liver Birds came alive and flew away, Liverpool would perish.

Each bird is 6 meters high with a wingspan of 7.3 meters. Their beaks hold a piece of seaweed.

The future

The Liver Building is important architecturally because of its pioneering use of reinforced concrete and its impressive size. Built at a time when skyscrapers were rare, it has been an inspiration for many students of architecture for over a century.liverpool-aerial

Just last month, though, it was announced that the Liver Building was to be made available for sale. If you can afford the guide price of in excess of £40m, which is just a tad more than the £621,000 it cost to build it in the early 20th Century, then you can own a piece of Liverpool’s rich historical heritage!

Talking of the potential sale, the first in the building’s 105-year history, Colin Thomasson of the estate agents handling the sales said:

“Our clients have been custodians of this building for over 100 years, and this sale presents an extremely rare opportunity to acquire a unique part of Liverpool’s heritage.”

Posted by Mark
November 17, 2016
Features

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