A look at Liverpool’s new RIBA North centre

The northern centre for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in Liverpool was opened in June 2017. It offers a place to discover what architecture is and how it affects our lives.

The waterfront centre

RIBA North is situated on Liverpool’s Mersey waterfront. It holds exhibitions, discussions and tours and has a cafe and shop. It is the first museum-quality RIBA space outside of London and was made possible with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

Various spaces within the building are available for private hire.

RIBA champions excellence in architecture and its members include leading architects and architectural firms. Each year, the RIBA gives a number of local, national and international awards to individuals and companies that have created outstanding architectural designs.

RIBA North does not charge visitors for entrance to its main areas and exhibitions.

Liverpool: Mover, Shaker, Architectural Risk-Taker

From June 2017 to September 9th, 2017, the exhibition Liverpool: Mover, Shaker, Architectural Risk-Taker is held at RIBA North. This looks at Liverpool’s rich architectural heritage. The maverick architects behind many Liverpool buildings have not been afraid to think outside of the box, which has contributed to the dramatic Liverpool skyline.

Over 30 drawings, plans and models illustrate Liverpool’s architecture. Not all buildings in the exhibition were actually built, with plans for the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral by Sir Charles Nicholson and the Catholic cathedral designed in 1959 by Sir Denys Lasdun never leaving the drawing board. Perhaps they were too radical even for Liverpool!


A specially commissioned documentary film is showing as part of the exhibition. This looks at how Liverpool’s architecture developed and envisions how it could change in the future.

To complement the exhibition, RIBA North has organised a series of guided tours in Liverpool for visitors to view and learn about Liverpool’s buildings.

The RIBA North design

The Impressive RIBA North building was designed by Matt Brook of London-based Broadway Malyan. It is built on Mann Island, a mixed use development that overlooks the River Mersey.

Access to the centre is via a glazed covered winter garden. The main building consists of two low-lying blocks, set at right angles facing the river. There are two tiers to the building. The exhibitions and event spaces have glazed roofs that allow natural light to illuminate the spaces.

A dramatic red Corian spine wall links the winter garden with the double height entrance lobby and adjoining mezzanine floor. The wall uses shadow gap detailing and recessed lighting. The section of the red wall located in the winter garden looks like a red totem with the words ‘RIBA North’ embossed on it to provide the impression of signage sculpture.

The red wall provides contrast to the black aesthetic of Mann Island and the two trapezoidal blocks that form the main structure of the centre.

When visitors arrive at the entrance lobby, they can see three structures: a stairway to the left, the cafe shop ahead, and the mezzanine level with its simple glass balustrade.

Upstairs is the centre gallery of 150 square metres. There is also a smaller gallery of 80 square meters that is suitable for meetings of up to 80 people. The exhibition and meeting areas contain large plasma screens for audiovisual and video presentations that are recessed into the walls. The walls of these spaces are bounded by a continuous shadow gap and recessed lighting. The granite flooring is designed to emphasise the imposing height of the galleries.

The floor covering for the RIBA North rooms is 20mm granite, while the granite used for the stairs and landings is a thicker 40mm version. The granite is designed to create a sense of permanency. It also contains stainless steel nosing detail to complement the granite texture.

High-specification lighting provides illumination that enhances the texture of all the building’s surfaces.

All the metal fittings, including the door handles, were designed for the project by subcontractors and specially forged to make them a unique feature of the project.

The south facing side of the building houses open plan offices that have full height glazing that looks over views of Canning Dock. On the west-facing side are a conference suite and meeting rooms.

Digital Liverpool

Inside the main gallery is an interactive digital 3D model of the city. As well as telling the story of Liverpool’s architecture, the digital Liverpool model can be used by developers, planners and architects to visualise the impact that proposed buildings will have on Liverpool. It is designed to encourage architects to create buildings that complement the other buildings surrounding them.

The shop and cafe

The shop inside RIBA North has been designed by stylist Katie Patrick to showcase the best products from Northern designers. These range from home items and fashion accessories, to office products. Featured are ceramics by Sam Andrew and Joe Hartley, textiles by Heather Shields and leather bags designed by Ruth Pullain.

The cafe accessed from the entrance lobby offers snacks, cakes and drinks. It has already gained positive reviews on TripAdvisor for its ambience, friendly staff and food.

Support for the project

The Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, expressed his praise and support for the RIBA North project by saying:

“We’re proud of our heritage in the city, which is why we have focussed on bringing so much of it back to life, and I have high hopes that the RIBA’s presence in the city will increase opportunities to work with other cities across the Northern Powerhouse. They will bring new tools and innovations, like the RIBA North digital city model to improve planning and engage with communities and industry about developing our cities in a way that we will be proud of in the future.”

Jane Duncan, RIBA president, said that RIBA North will strengthen and build upon what the organisation can offer to the North.

RIBA North has not been open long, but is attracting a large number of visitors that appreciate the contribution that good architectural design makes within the city of Liverpool.

Posted by Mark
August 15, 2017

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