Piazza Fountain, including associated viewing platforms

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1463126
Date first listed:
09-Aug-2019
Statutory Address:
Beetham Plaza, Drury Lane, Liverpool, L2 0XJ

Map

Ordnance survey map of Piazza Fountain, including associated viewing platforms
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Location

Statutory Address:
Beetham Plaza, Drury Lane, Liverpool, L2 0XJ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District:
Liverpool (Metropolitan Authority)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SJ3411090290

Summary

Kinetic water fountain and viewing platforms, designed in 1962-1965 and erected in 1966-1967, by Richard Huws.

Reasons for Designation

Piazza Fountain, including its associated viewing platforms, designed in 1962-1965 and erected in 1966-1967, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* it is a rare and important example of a mid-C20 kinetic water sculpture designed by the notable artist-engineer Richard Huws, and is his sole-surviving water sculpture;

* the fountain's impressive large-scale design successfully combines aesthetics with engineering, producing a sculpture that utilises shipbuilding expertise and knowledge to enhance its stability;

* its unique design incorporating hoppers of differing size set at differing heights, and which tip unexpectedly, creates a dramatic visual and acoustic display by replicating the sounds and movements of a stormy and tempestuous sea; a particularly apt symbolism in the international port city of Liverpool;

* the associated viewing platforms are integral to the fountain's design, understanding and appreciation, and play a key aesthetic role in the composition as well as fulfilling functional roles in housing the fountain's pump and ventilation shaft for an underground car park.

Historic interest:

* it typifies the 1950s/1960s policy of enhancing cityscapes through the incorporation of artwork in the public realm;

* the design developed and improved upon a Festival of Britain prototype produced by Huws, which was displayed outside Basil Spence's Sea and Ships Pavilion.

History

In 1962 Merseyside Civic Society commissioned the Welsh sculptor and designer, Richard Huws to design a kinetic water fountain for central Liverpool. The design brief was for a fountain with large quantities of water as the main feature and sculpture as a secondary feature, for a budget of £10,000. An Arts Council grant of £750 was received in 1965, which covered half of the fee to Richard Huws.

Huws had previously designed a fountain for the Festival of Britain in 1951, which had been a great success with critics and the general public, and for Liverpool he improved and refined his 1951 design, solved its mechanical problems, and developed a more sculptural form in which water would be more dominant and also had an acoustic value. He calculated that a fountain height of about 20ft and a spread of 60ft would be required, and he also suggested that stainless steel, although more expensive, would be better than fibreglass or aluminium as the material for the hoppers.

It was originally proposed to erect the fountain in a new pedestrianised precinct at the junction of Bold Street and Hanover Street. The precinct was envisaged by Graeme Shankland, a planning consultant who produced a regeneration masterplan for Liverpool in 1965 known as the Liverpool City Centre Plan, which proposed features such as an inner city motorway and walkways in the sky that would keep pedestrians and traffic away from each other, but was never completed. As a result of long delays with the precinct site (never actually constructed) and another site at the corner of Church Street and Parker Street, Richard Huws himself suggested Williamson Square as a location for the fountain as one that would enhance the fountain 'both visually and aurally'. However, the Williamson Square site did not materialise, and in 1964 a site off Brunswick Street that was being re-developed for commercial office use jointly with Liverpool Corporation was instead selected. The developers, Thames Estates and Investments Ltd, agreed to pay for the erection of the fountain in a public square to be known as Goree Piazza; thus the fountain was later named the Piazza Fountain.

The architects for the Goree Piazza, Gotch & Partners of London, proposed a rectangular receiving pool on a stepped slope up from Drury Lane with a freestanding ventilation shaft for an underground car park. However, Huws believed the pool to be too small and no provision had been made for a water pump, so he designed a larger circular pool with seating walls and two cantilevered viewing platforms; one of which formed part of the pool and housed the water pump, and the other, which was detached and housed the car park's ventilation shaft. Huws also proposed that both the pool and platforms be painted black to emphasise the whiteness of the water.

The Piazza Fountain was built by Cammell Laird shipworkers and a bronze plaque attached to one of the platforms was donated by the firm. The plaque is in the shape of an African shield and commemorates the history of the Goree Piazza (now known as Beetham Plaza) and the former location of two large C18 warehouses, which were named after the island of Goree off the west coast of Africa, a key commercial trading centre and at one time a slave trading post. The pump manufacturers donated the door to the pump house, which was designed by Huws to incorporate a porthole that would enable the pump to be viewed.

Piazza Fountain was officially opened on 2 May 1967 in a ceremony attended by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Herbert Allen, the chairman of Thames Estates and Investments Ltd, DS Nixon, Richard Huws and his youngest daughter Ursula, and several members of the Merseyside Civic Society. The opening and coverage of the fountain was recorded in both the local and national press.

After suffering from continuing vandalism and neglect over the subsequent decades the fountain was restored in 1997-2000 and given a new colour scheme of blue and white when the surrounding office block was converted for mixed use and the piazza re-designed by Brock Carmichael architects and re-named Beetham Plaza. The scheme was awarded the Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust 2000 Award for the Best New or Refurbished Building in Liverpool. The fountain was re-painted again in yellow, blue and dark grey in 2018.

RICHARD HUWS Richard Huws (1902-1980, born Richard Hughes, but he later reverted the family name to its Welsh spelling) was born and grew up on the island of Anglesey where he learnt various crafts and skills from a young age, including joinery and carpentry. A successful commission from a visiting businessman led to Huws securing an apprenticeship at Cammell Laird shipbuilders in Liverpool, and Huws was subsequently awarded a Cammell Laird scholarship to study naval architecture at Liverpool University in the early 1920s. Whilst a student Huws developed his interests in art and the Welsh Nationalist movement. Huws was a founder member of Plaid Cymru and designed the party's original logo, the 'Triban', although he later left the party.

After graduating from Liverpool in 1925 Huws decided to travel through Europe instead of continuing in engineering, supporting himself by drawing portraits and caricatures of tourists. Whilst travelling Huws met an Austrian student who suggested that he should study art at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) where the artist-teachers had come from the Bauhaus. Huws stayed in Vienna from 1926 to 1930 and studied sculpture before returning to Britain where he became part of the 'Bloomsbury Welsh' group of artists and writers, which included Dylan Thomas and Ceri Richards.

In 1938 a large working model of the human body designed by Huws and entitled 'the Mechanical Man' was exhibited at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition, and in 1951 Huws designed a number of features at the Festival of Britain, including a 'vertical feature' for outside Basil Spence's Sea and Ships Pavilion that was a water sculpture based upon the experiential qualities of fountains, rivers and waves. Although a great success, and one of the most popular attractions at the festival, it did not lead to a proliferation of commissions, and he eventually moved back to Wales and took up a lectureship in design at Liverpool University in 1955 until 1970. Huws considered the 1951 sculpture to be a prototype for his later designs, including his next project, which was the Piazza Fountain.

During his lifetime Huws converted and improved the gardens of his own houses and those of his relatives, and in the 1940s he qualified as an associate of the Institute of Landscape Architects. He is best known for his water sculptures, which also included works at the Tokyo International Trade Fair in 1965, St James Square, Grimsby in 1973, and several un-executed commissions, but he was also involved in ship design and landscape architecture. The Piazza Fountain is his sole-surviving water sculpture.

Details

Kinetic water fountain and viewing platforms, designed in 1962-1965 and erected in 1966-1967, by Richard Huws

MATERIALS: reinforced concrete, bronze and stainless steel.

PLAN: the fountain is located to the centre of the north-east side of Beetham Plaza and is set within a large circular receiving pool/basin, the north-west corner of which incorporates a large spiral-shaped viewing platform. A further detached, spiral-shaped viewing platform exists to the south-west of the pool.

EXTERIOR: the fountain consists of seven bronze vertical poles set upon raised square bases, upon which are mounted (at different heights) 20 stainless-steel pivoting hoppers/cups of varying size. Water is pumped up the poles and enters the hoppers through holes in concealed branch pipes, which additionally serve as bearing shafts/axles, and the hoppers fill with water until they overbalance and tip over, producing a cascade. The number and size of the holes in each hopper is different so that they fill at different rates, which in turn varies the timing of the cascades. The water from the spent cascades mixes with the reserve water in the pool from where the pump draws water out to replenish the pipes and keep the water flowing continuously in a circuit. The emptying times were designed to vary from 15 seconds for one of the smaller hoppers to 90 seconds for one of the largest, in order to achieve a random action across the fountain. The circular receiving pool is constructed of reinforced concrete painted dark grey (it was originally painted black) and is over 9.5 metres in diameter. The pool is lined with blue mosaic tiles that are believed to have been introduced as part of the 1997-2000 restoration as it originally had black tiling.

Forming part of the pool's north-west corner and rising above it is a large reinforced-concrete viewing platform painted in bright yellow and blue (originally painted black). The platform structure has a cylindrical shaft, which houses the fountain's water pump internally, with a wrap-around stair on the north side that leads up to a cantilevered semi-circular platform at the top with a low solid parapet. The stair treads have aluminium coverings and at the top of the platform is a later floodlight affixed to the rear north-west wall and a metal hatch in the floor into the pump room below. On the north side of the platform underneath the stair is a small doorway with a curved steel access door to the pump room incorporating a porthole (now covered over internally) that originally enabled the pump to be viewed. The pump room was not inspected.

Immediately to the south-west of the fountain and receiving pool is a second similarly-styled, detached viewing platform, but instead of housing a pump, the structure's cylindrical shaft is slightly taller and houses a ventilation shaft for a car park underneath the piazza. The stair is on the south side and has the same tread coverings as that to the north-west platform, and the platform at the top also has a later floodlight. On the east side underneath the platform's overhang and affixed to the shaft is a bronze plaque shaped like an African shield donated by Cammell Laird & Company. The plaque commemorates the history of the Goree Piazza (now known as Beetham Plaza) and the former location of two large C18 warehouses, which were named after the island of Goree off the west coast of Africa.

Sources

Books and journals
Cavanagh, T, Public Sculpture of Liverpool, (1997), 46-47
Law, M J, 1938: Modern Britain: Social Change and Visions of the Future, (2017)
Pollard, R, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England. Lancashire: Liverpool and the South-West, (2006), 337
Sharples, J, Pevsner Architectural Guides: Liverpool, (2004), 163
Farley, P, 'Tipping Buckets' in Dee, T, Ground Work: Writings on People and Places, (2018)
Jones, C, Crickmay, C, 'A Tribute to Richard Huws' in Architectural Association quarterly, , Vol. 13, (1982), 22-32
Websites
A History of Richard Huws' Piazza Fountain, Drury Lane, Liverpool, accessed 16 April 2019 from www.merseysidecivicsociety.org/media/79671/lpool_fountain_history.pdf

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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