I am originally from Liverpool and have worked with Buildings at Risk in the City since 2006. Before that I worked in Shrewsbury as Conservation Officer after graduating with an MA in architectural history from the Courtauld Institute in London in 2000. My wife Leti is Spanish and we have three children; Peter, Santiago and Sofía and we live in Formby.
2: You are currently working on the former Andrew Carnegie Library. Can you please tell us more about this project and the work you are doing there?
The former Andrew Carnegie Library is a grade II building at risk. It is one of the finest suburban public libraries in England and the most expensive of the series of Shelmerdine libraries constructed by the Liverpool Corporation at the end of the Victorian era. This one is actually Edwardian, built in 1904-5. The library fell into disuse in 2006 and suffered lead theft and vandalism soon afterwards. Serious water ingress caused widespread dry rot infestation which is now being tackled by the first phase of urgent repairs. I am project managing these Conservation works funded by the Council in support of Lister Steps’ Stage 2 HLF bid. The works have already made a tremendous difference to the condition of the building and should serve to keep the building in a sound and stable condition in the period prior to full restoration works commencing.
3: What are your concerns for the building?
Security; once the phase one works are completed, i.e. preventing further vandalism and theft, and retaining as much of the primary building fabric as possible. It is hoped the conversion of the building by Lister Steps will complement the historic significance of the former library and exploit its full potential as well as securing a sustainable use for the future that is also highly beneficial to the local community.
4: Can you tell us more about the emergency holding works that are taking place thanks to a £100’000 investment from Liverpool City Council?
We are currently targeting the worst affected areas of the building by removing all rot affected timber and plaster, replacing floors and elements of the structure where these have failed and ensuring that the roof is made fully water-tight to allow the building to dry out. Embedded vegetation will also be removed from the building. The works will be completed early in the New Year.
5: What do you find special, unique or interesting about the former Andrew Carnegie Library?
The building is beautifully situated in its own landscaped grounds with a matching boundary wall of brick, stone and iron railings that is separately listed, also grade II. The style of the building is described as English Renaissance, of which the architect Thomas Shelmerdine was a true exponent – one of the very best. He built all of the buildings which formerly lined Lister Drive, including the large secondary school and frontage to the old power station which generated power for Liverpool’s tram system (the first in the United Kingdom) both now demolished. Shelmerdine’s former public baths happily do survive and are sustained as a quite remarkable pet store.
As for the building itself, one could say a lot – it is an excellently thought out piece of architecture and interior design. For instance, the octagonal corner turret marks the entrance to the building. It is a distinguished feature that sets it apart as a little palace of learning where everyone is welcome. It is indeed a very friendly building with the interior laid out in a generous manner that is also logical. The material finishes add considerable warmth with much solid oak panelling, decorative architraves and plasterwork that is pleasing to the eye, green glazed brick and faience block that is clean and also practical – It’s highly fire-resistant, a good thing with all those books around! There is even a sense of palatial splendour in the use of polished stone and inlaid marble to the floor of the entrance lobby and enclosed corridor. The whole is rich and designed to make the act of reading books, of study and of learning something to enjoy and to love doing not just once, but again and again. I think that is great and is what I like most about this building. All the various users were accommodated in their respective reading rooms or lending library including one specifically for ‘Boys & Girls’. This resonates very nicely with the proposed new use for the building.
6: Finally, what are your thoughts on Lister Steps plans to regenerate the building and reuse it as a community hub?
Brilliant idea and can’t wait to see and help make it happen!