Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral – pinnacle or carbuncle?

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Metropolitan Cathedral of Liverpool

Designed in 1967 by Frederick Gibberd, architect and to be found in Hope Street,  in the north east of Liverpool for some one of the most stunning pieces of modernist architecture and for others a post-war jerry built monstrosity.  For some  Paddy’s Wigwam, for others the Mersey Funnel, the grace and enormous scale of this religious building can scarcely be denied. The luxurious cinema-like interior, originally made to house 3,000 celebrants of Mass,  must be seen to be believed.  It reminds me of another post-war Catholic Cathdral in Le Havre, France;  religion for everyone in elegant, powerful surroundings.

and, with thanks to Wikipedia

Gibberd’s design

The present Cathedral was designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd (1908–84). Construction began in October 1962 and less than five years later, on the Feast of Pentecost 14 May 1967, the completed cathedral was consecrated.[6] Soon after its opening, it began to exhibit architectural flaws. This led to the cathedral authorities suing Frederick Gibberd for £1.3 million on five counts, the two most serious being leaks in the aluminium roof and defects in the mosaic tiles, which had begun to come away from the concrete ribs.[14]

Architecture

The competition to design the Cathedral was held in 1959. The requirement was first, for a congregation of 3,000 (which was later reduced to 2,000) to be able to see the altar, in order that they could be more involved in the celebration of the Mass, and second, for the Lutyens crypt to be incorporated in the structure. Gibberd achieved these requirements by designing a circular building with the altar at its centre, and by transforming the roof of the crypt into an elevated platform, with the cathedral standing at one end of it.[15]

The cathedral at dusk

The cathedral at night

Exterior

The Cathedral is built in concrete with a Portland stone cladding and a lead covering to the roof.[16] Its plan is circular, having a diameter of 195 feet (59 m), with 13 chapels around its perimeter.[17] The shape of the Cathedral is conical, and it is surmounted by a tower in the shape of a truncated cone.[16] The building is supported by 16 boomerang-shaped concrete trusses which are held together by two ring beams, one at the bends of the trusses and the other at their tops. Flying buttresses are attached to the trusses, giving the cathedral its tent-like appearance. Rising from the upper ring beam is a lantern tower, containing windows of stained glass, and at its peak is a crown of pinnacles.

The entrance is at the top of a wide flight of steps leading up from Hope Street. Above the entrance is a large wedge-shaped structure. This acts as a bell tower, the four bells being mounted in rectangular orifices towards the top of the tower. Below these is a geometric relief sculpture, designed by William Mitchell, which includes three crosses. To the sides of the entrance doors are more reliefs in fibreglass by Mitchell, which represent the symbols of the Evangelists. The steps which lead up to the cathedral were only completed in 2003, when a building which obstructed the steps path was acquired and demolished by developers.

The cathedral from Mount Pleasant at night

Interior

The focus of the interior is the altar which faces the main entrance. It is made of white marble from Skopje, Macedonia, and is 10 feet (3 m) long. The floor is also of marble in grey and white designed by David Atkins. The benches, concentric with the interior, were designed by Frank Knight. Above is the tower with large areas of stained glass designed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in three colours, yellow, blue and red, representing the Trinity. The glass is 1 inch (3 cm) thick, the pieces of glass being bonded with epoxy resin, in concrete frames. Around the perimeter is a series of chapels.

The nave and sanctuary of the Cathedral

On the altar the candlesticks are by R. Y. Goodden and the bronze crucifix is by Elisabeth Frink.

Structural problems

The Cathedral had been built quickly and economically, and this led to problems with the fabric of the building, including leaks.  This is in common with many modernist buildings, for example the Skelmersdale new town leaking flats which in 2011 continue to cause problems for their owners. A programme of repairs was carried out during the 1990s. The building had been faced with mosaic tiles, but these were impossible to repair and were replaced with glass-reinforced plastic, which gave it a thicker appearance. The aluminium in the lantern was replaced by stainless steel, and the slate paving of the platform was replaced with concrete flags.

Liverpool Catholic Cathedral Liverpool Catholic Cathedral Building Metropolitan Cathedral of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Liverpool
photos © adrian welch oct 2007

More prosaically, the four bell towers surrounding the building are nicknamed after the four Beatles – although I don’t know which is which.

Metropolitan Cathedral of Liverpool
photo © webbaviation

Paddy's Wigwam
Paddys Wigwam photo© adrian welch oct 2007

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