Beyoncé’s Library and Paddy’s Wigwam

Liverpool is proving to be an alluring destination for friends and family, so I’m pleased to say I’ve had a good number of visitors in the short time I’ve been here.  Sometimes they have specific things they want to see but usually they leave it up to me to give my newcomer’s tour.  This always takes in the city’s Central Library and the Metropolitan Cathedral, both of which are works of architectural art.  The response from my visitors is always the same as my own when I first walked into them – that of dumbstruck amazement, quickly followed by the words “colourful” and “joyful”.  

As the doors to the main 19th century Library building swish open, one is met with a vast, light-filled, oval central atrium extending several floors up to a roof terrace.  This spectacular design is the result of a makeover, only completed five years ago.  I love the quote from Frank Cottrell Boyce, which brilliantly sums up the transformation: “It’s like going to meet your Gran and finding she’s turned into Beyoncé”.  At a time when libraries all over the country are under threat, or have already closed, it is heart-warming to see such investment and vision of what a library can be.  On the first floor is the original 19th century Picton Reading Room, which was modelled on the British Museum’s.  This is also light-filled via an exquisite domed ceiling and there are wrought-iron spiral staircases around the room providing access to two more floors. It is the most inspiring and beautiful library I have ever been in.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral copy

Light from one of the stained glass windows floods the circular benches in the Metropolitan Cathedral (Click on image to enlarge)

Finding the Metropolitan Cathedral is not difficult but I did lose my bearings the other day and the man I asked for directions needed me to be specific given that, in the words of the late Pete McGovern’s song, Liverpool has a “Cathedral to spare” – one either end of the aptly-named Hope Street.  “Do you mean the wigwam?”  I did indeed; for this is the nickname locals have given the circular Cathedral with its external crown – Paddy’s Wigwam to give it the full, refreshingly irreverent title. It is adorned with the most extraordinary contemporary art, inside and out.  I was going to say ‘religious’ contemporary art but some of the works, especially the towering coloured glass columns outside the Cathedral, would easily transfer to a secular setting. They are by the late German artist, Raphael Seitz, who was recognised internationally as a master of colour and light.  So far I’ve only witnessed them come alive under the effect of Winter’s setting sun, so I’m looking forward to seeing them in the changing seasons.  Inside, the Cathedral manages to maintain a contemplative minimalism whilst also being embellished with a plethora of contemporary artefacts.  There’s so much art to talk about that I want to write more in the future – taking in the Anglican Cathedral’s collection at the same time; Tracey Emin’s neon installation, For You, being the latest piece.