Breathing new life into the first redbrick university to create a new destination for Liverpool.
Designed by the eminent architect Alfred Waterhouse in 1892, the Victoria Building was the first in the University of Liverpool’s estate. Its highly detailed, decorative style gave rise to the term ‘redbrick university’, but when the university had outgrown its confines and moved many of its functions elsewhere, the grand old building became underused and undervalued.
Led by Professor Kelvin Everest, the University wanted to bring the building back to life to house their collections and provide space for the Educational Opportunities Department, whose purpose is to encourage and support those who traditionally would not have considered going to university. They wanted the space to be opened up to the people of Liverpool and create a new visitor attraction to coincide with the city’s status as the European Capital of Culture in 2008.
Our challenge was to take this magnificent but tired building, unsuitable for modern teaching function, and transform it into a new gallery and museum, providing full public access for the first time. It had no disabled access or lifts to upper floors, but being Grade II listed, we needed to work with the Victorian Society to bring the building into the 21st century.
The starting point for our refurbishment was to make the most of Waterhouse’s stunning interiors as the backdrop for the new facilities. Through careful refurbishment, they are now visible to the wider public for the first time in the building’s history.
The Tate Hall, the original university library with lofty ceilings and timber beams on the second floor, is now home to the university’s collection of historic artefacts, whilst art is also exhibited on the first floor. The Leggate Theatre, a semi-circular lecture hall, has been restored and improved to host meetings, public lectures and music events. New offices for the Educational Opportunities Department are on the ground floor, providing an important resource to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to study.
We made series of sensitive interventions to make the building more accessible. Firstly, we relocated the main entrance away from the busy and polluted Brownlow Hill into the heart of the campus. From here, visitors can pass into the new reception space, shop and café with level access across the ground floor. A glazed passenger lift also provides access to upper floors for the first time.
Externally, there was very little we needed to do to the building. The only ailing element was the impressive clock tower, which vies for attention with Liverpool’s two famous cathedrals on the city’s skyline. This was fully restored – establishing the Victoria Building as a Liverpool landmark once more.