RIBA North West Award

Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool | Caruso St John

A project that responds to and builds on the success of a well-loved cultural institution will always be subject to an easily unbalanced assessment. If it is well received, is it just because what was there has been restored and brought back to life and what we applaud, therefore, is the revelation of the old rather than the complementary qualities of the new? And is the role of the new work simply supportive and subordinate and dealing with the building’s deficiencies rather than imposing a new identity?

This Grade II* auditorium building designed by Herbert Rowse and opened in 1939 has undergone a thoughtful, sensitive and welcome restoration. It carefully manages to answer both of these questions and elegantly deals with a third. It is indeed an exemplary restoration in which the detail has all be carefully researched and beautifully crafted. It also resolves the building’s deficiencies in a manner that you feel Rowse would have enthusiastically approved. Though the extension is prosaic, it provides all the necessary additional accommodation in a useful and easily managed new building.

The third question it deals with is what makes it special. It is how a new creative force can contribute to the cultural value of what is there. There is an unusual skill and some wit needed in being able to attach variations set by the theme of the original. A positive ambiguity is achieved in which a joy in the confidence of the new grows from an appreciation of the original ideas rather than a criticism of them. It is both an elaboration and an amplification achieved with subtlety and confidence. You feel that Herbert Rowse would be smiling.

Source: RIBA