“I found myself in a dirty, sooty city. It was night, and winter, and dark, and raining. I was in Liverpool.” Not my words but those of Carl Jung, describing his 1927 dream. Although he never visited the city, Jung also wrote, more famously (and generously): “Liverpool is the pool of life, it makes to live”. Writing as an ‘outsider’– albeit one who has spent more than half his life here – Liverpool does have a way of getting under your skin, into your psyche, as it clearly had with Jung. It’s a place of glorious potential, perhaps never quite fulfilled, that appeals to us architects and our constant desire to improve.
When shedkm was born in the city during the summer of 1997, the country was changing and there was a growing optimism that Liverpool could shake off the decline of the previous decades and re-establish itself as a world city. We were a small collective of staff and graduates from Liverpool’s two schools of architecture. At that time most graduates in architecture were forced to leave the city to find work – shedkm was about providing a design-focussed place to stay and practice. Early projects – in the Ropewalks, Collegiate and Matchworks – were about regeneration, helping rejuvenate the city’s incredibly rich built heritage and bringing new life and purpose to neglected quarters. This was ‘retrofit’ before the term was coined, born more out of economic necessity than sustainability aspirations. At that time we moved locations frequently, recreating our studio from scratch each time, thereby playing our small part in the physical regeneration of the city, beyond our projects. At that time shedkm was very fluid, in turn fragmenting and coalescing depending on project demands and individual ambitions, but the direction of travel was always forward.
With successful local projects under our belts, we looked further afield – to Manchester, Salford, Birmingham, Bradford – but running everything from our Liverpool base. We travelled a great deal, the M6 and West Coast Mainline becoming our mobile studios. We had grown to a potent practice of 28, spawning new practices along the way, helping to create a stronger network of like-minded designers based in the city. The great crash of 2008, bizarrely the same year as Liverpool’s ‘European City of Culture’ triumph, changed everything – we suddenly lost 75% of our projects – and to recover had to reinvent ourselves. We did this by going all out to win major projects in Brighton and Croydon, setting up a London studio and becoming a truly national practice. Our commitment to Liverpool, however, didn’t change.
“Liverpool is the pool of life, it makes to live.”Carl Jung
After the multiple crises of the last few years, Liverpool – now a ‘City Region’ – again feels on the cusp of something better. We’re delighted to play our part with a diverse mix of local projects. We have returned to our regenerative roots with The Littlewoods Project, a major film and media campus emerging from a much-loved but neglected city icon, applied our expertise in residential design and neighbourhood (re)creation to new social housing in the Knowledge Quarter, and demonstrated our continued commitment to innovation with eye-catching modular housing at Wirral Waters. We have also built our first place of worship, The Lighthouse Church, and have helped the city authorities think strategically about the long-term regeneration possibilities of key districts in a joined-up way with our Strategic Regeneration Frameworks adopted for both Liverpool’s innovative Ten Streets and the Commercial Business District. We have similarly helped some of the city’s key partners review the potential of degenerated sites and new opportunities created by changes in the city’s infrastructure and road networks. shedkm are also active in providing thought leadership about Liverpool’s future via the City Region, Liverpool and LJMU Universities, support for the RIBA North West’s base here and the emergence of BCO Liverpool.
shedkm has also evolved – into an Employee Ownership Trust – which will help secure its long-term future, and as a B Corp (the first architects in Liverpool to achieve the accreditation), strengthening our local links and deepening our commitment to ethical practice.
From our current studio waterfront activity, framed by the grand mercantile buildings, can be glimpsed. It is a reminder of why Liverpool is here at all, an outward-looking, restless city, heavily influenced by the world beyond.
Written by Ian Killick, shedkm Liverpool Director