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Competition: International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

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National Museums Liverpool (NML) has launched a competition for a ‘collaborative and co-produced’ transformation of its International Slavery Museum and the neighbouring Maritime Museum (Deadline: 7 February)

The competition will select a ‘creative, innovative, diverse [and] highly skilled’ team for an estimated £1.75 million contract to revamp the two museums which both occupy a Grade I-listed former warehouse known as the Hartley Pavilion on Liverpool’s historic waterfront.

The project will improve exhibition spaces and circulation across the two museums while also creating a new community space and entrance to the International Slavery Museum inside the neighbouring Grade I-listed Martin Luther King Jr Building which will be connected to the Hartley Pavilion with a first-floor pedestrian bridge.

International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum, Liverpool

International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum, Liverpool

Credit:Stephen Guy

Proposals to transform the sensitive site – which played a key role in the growth of the British Empire – will be co-produced through a ‘democratic, diverse, bold and truly representative’ process led by the winning team in consultation with members of Black communities and people whose lives have been affected by slavery.

According to the brief: ‘Our vision is to create a holistic and evolving blend of experiences and spaces to challenge and inspire visitors. The new offer will incorporate beautiful social, event and education spaces as well as temporary and permanent exhibition galleries interpreted through a radical, innovative, brave and cohesive design.

‘We intend this project to be the catalyst for change in our approach to the interpretation of our collections, setting the foundation for the integration of Black heritage across NML. In the spirit of our project, we encourage diversity within the appointed design team to bring an authentic and inclusive perspective to the creative process.’

NML was created in the mid-1980s and is responsible for a number of venues across the city, including several museums focusing on maritime history and the transatlantic slave trade clustered close to the iconic Three Graces and Albert Dock. 3XN and AEW Architects completed the £68 million Museum of Liverpool on Mann Island for NML in 2011.

The International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum competition follows the recent appointment of Asif Khan Architects and David Adjaye as winners of a high-profile contest for a ‘transformational’ rethink of nearby Canning Dock which in the past fitted out, cleaned, and repaired ships used in the transatlantic slave trade, central to Liverpool’s economy at the time.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building

Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building

Credit:David Dixon

The latest competition also comes two years after Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios won an NML competition to masterplan the regeneration of Liverpool’s waterfront district. In summer 2021, MICA was appointed to deliver a series of feasibility studies as the next stage in NML’s wider plan to maximise the use of the 18th-century dockland and create a visitor destination that connects the waterfront with the city and the River Mersey.

Last week, Tate Liverpool launched a competition for a ‘major reimagining’ of its landmark James Stirling-designed gallery at Royal Albert Dock located a short distance from the International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum.

Applicants for the most recent NML commission must have had a minimum turnover of at least £2.25 million for three of the past five years. The project will focus on the Hartley Pavilion and neighbouring Martin Luther King Jr Building which were both built by the civil engineer Jesse Hartley in 1846 as part of the wider Albert Dock complex.

Bids will be evaluated 40 per cent on design excellence, 20 per cent on company experience, 25 per cent on community engagement, and 15 per cent on project delivery experience.

Q&A with NML

The organiser of the two-stage competitive tender discusses its ambitions

Why are you holding a two-stage competitive tender to rethink the International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum? 

There has never been a greater public demand or a more pertinent need to understand the heritage of the transatlantic slave trade and discuss its legacies. This project, funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, seeks to transform the spaces of two of Liverpool’s most significant waterfront buildings and change how we connect people with their heritage. This new development will also mark the beginning of how visitors understand the history of Liverpool’s waterfront through the lens of the transatlantic slave trade.

Our ambition is for International Slavery Museum to become the world’s leading museum in understanding and exploring the impact and legacies of both historic transatlantic and modern-day slavery. This project will provide it with much greater prominence and presence within its historic surroundings. Alongside this, the reinterpretation of existing galleries will create a new vision for Maritime Museum, while the refurbishment of the Hartley Pavilion will create beautiful commercial and visitor spaces that will make excellent use of its interior and link them more effectively with its exterior. To achieve our ambition, we are reconfiguring the Maritime Museum and expanding International Slavery Museum into the adjacent Dr Martin Luther King Jr building, one of the most iconic and prominent buildings in the historic docklands.

This is a complex and an ambitious project, both in terms of our goals and in the community-led way we want to deliver them. Our consultants will need to match that ambition and be creative in helping make it a reality.

Liverpool Waterfront

Liverpool Waterfront

What is your vision for future International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum, and what would you like to see in submissions to the competition?

Our community-driven vision for the project is clear: develop the Dr Martin Luther King Jr building to create a new entrance to International Slavery Museum and new galleries and community-led spaces, to build a link from Dr Martin Luther King Jr building to Hartley Pavilion and reorder the International Slavery Museum and Maritime Museum galleries in the existing museum into a coherent and seamless experience for the visitors.

The project will be shaped by our communities and stakeholders; local, national, and international. We are developing a co-production model that means that we will develop meaningful connections with communities and give them voice in all aspects of the project. For the project team and its consultants, this means creating effective partnerships and a structure that ensures that the goals, outcomes, and direction set with our communities are delivered, while the practical needs of programme, budget and deliverables for the project are met.

Liverpool Waterfront

Liverpool Waterfront

What role do you see this competition playing in the development of new local, international and underrepresented architectural and design talents, and helping to address the underrepresentation and engagement of many communities in our interpretation of the built environment?

We expect that the appointed consultants will help us to define these new ways of working with our communities through a co-production process. The form that takes is something we see starting to take shape with the discussions (at the negotiation stage) that we have built into this procurement process. There will be an opportunity for the shortlisted companies to meet key stakeholders from our communities and to hear from them what is important in the project and how we need to approach it.

Beyond developing this project model, we also are keen to see how we can ensure that those communities traditionally under-represented in heritage projects can be given other opportunities to contribute. How can we put in place a process that facilitates those opportunities? For example, what might involvement for working class students or new graduates from under-represented communities look like? How can we give a fair chance of contracts to local companies, within the design development and delivery process of delivering the project?

The vision and talent for our architectural consultants may be national or even international, but the solution we deliver together should be local and community-led.

A team featuring Asif Khan Architects and David Adjaye won an NML placemaking competition for a ‘transformational’ rethink of the city’s Canning Dock in September 2021

A team featuring Asif Khan Architects and David Adjaye won an NML placemaking competition for a ‘transformational’ rethink of the city’s Canning Dock in September 2021

How do you see NML projects evolving in the future and what competitions will you hold next?

We will develop an NML-model for co-production out of this project and we are working with the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries at the University of Leicester to deliver it. This will then form the basis of how NML approaches similar projects in future and will inform how we co-produce projects with our communities and stakeholders. The model will also be shared through other national and international networks with our partner heritage and research organisations.

We expect a number of other tenders to be issued, both for the International Slavery Museum-Maritime Museum project, and also as part of the wider Waterfront Transformation project and this approach will inform all of them.

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