Historic Churches 2020

6 BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON HISTORIC CHURCHES 27 TH ANNUAL EDITION LIVERPOOL METROPOLITAN and the Conservation of Postwar Places of Worship Rebecca Burrows N O CENTURY has left us a more varied set of conservation challenges than the 20th century. A vast array of new styles, alternative technologies and materials, plus diverse intellectual and creative forces have left behind a tremendous architectural legacy, of which some of our best examples are churches and cathedrals. Agreeing the most appropriate way of caring for our postwar places of worship is a continuous intellectual and practical debate for professionals, PCCs and chapters alike, with consensus often hard to reach. These buildings can be of international significance and the decisions we make now are likely to have wide-reaching consequences in the future. Taking an informed approach to change through what we call ‘conservation management planning’ can be the best way to identify a sustainable way forward, tackle a particular problem or plan for the future. The approach builds on an understanding of what makes your church special in order to recommend tools, methods and actions that will sustain its ‘significance’ in the longterm. In this article, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral will provide a case study which explores some of the problems inherent with postwar places of worship and how conservation management planning can provide a useful framework to manage change. The lessons learned from this example will be of interest to all those responsible for the care of churches, ancient and modern alike. GIBBERD’S DESIGN Liverpool’s Catholic cathedral, or to give it its full name, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd in 1960 and its construction was completed in 1967. Now listed at Grade II*, it is one of the most significant postwar buildings in the world and utterly unique in the UK. The building has long been an iconic structure on the skyline of Liverpool and is balanced against the contrasting gothic of Giles Gilbert Scott’s Anglican cathedral. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral is a building of international importance. It re-established Gibberd as something of a radical, whose early prominence as a pioneering modernist had been somewhat eclipsed by his later specialism in town planning. Expressive of the optimism in technology that typified British architecture in the decades following the devastation of the second world war, the building remains an impressive and divisive one. (A CNN poll in 2012 found it to be in the top ten ugliest buildings in the world.) The structure represents a total synthesis of architecture, design and art, with the components designed as separate pieces of a larger whole. Sixteen immense concrete ribs make up the primary structure and are expressed both inside and out as they rise through the podium to the lantern. Like Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral, which was completed five years previously, Liverpool was handed down to us as a great vessel of postwar art and design. Both are colourful boxes of the primary artistic talents of the period. But where Coventry Cathedral wears its modernism politely and in places only skin deep, Gibberd’s cathedral proudly flaunts the bare bones of its modernity, although it was criticised at the time by the New Brutalists for not being honest enough. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King by Frederick Gibberd and its interior below (Photo: Purcell) (Photos: above, Greg Harding Photography; all others: Purcell)