Danish architectural firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects gave won an invited competition to design the Maritime Knowledge Hub, a 6,400-square-metre facility dedicated to marine engineering research and development, survival training, business incubation, workspace, and events at the heart of the Wirral Waters redevelopment project in the United Kingdom’s Liverpool City Region. The Maritime Knowledge Hub will create a place for innovation, collaboration, learning, training, and business development in the maritime sectors, and will put Liverpool and the UK on the marine and architectural industries’ global stage.

Peel Land and Property, in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University, Mersey Maritime, and Wirral Council, selected Schmidt Hammer Lassen, together with local firm Ellis Williams Architects, to design the £20 million Maritime Knowledge Hub. The firms will work with Parkinson Inc., the master planner for Wirral Waters. The Hub’s centrepiece is the historic Hydraulic Tower modelled after the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy, that now lies largely derelict, having been bombed in World War II. A second, new building, located adjacent to the tower, will comprise new office, incubation, teaching, and cultural space, and will house a tank for a state-of-the-art Offshore Survival Training Centre.

“Designing a complex that is one of the most transformative new developments in the Liverpool region called for a thoughtful architectural design that respects the heritage of the existing building, while looking towards the future,” said Morten Schmidt, Founding Partner of Schmidt Hammer Lassen. “Our design brings the Hydraulic Tower back to life while creating an architectural expression that connects new and old through beautiful courtyards, a unifying façade, and complementary building volumes.”

Drawing history into the future

The main themes that permeate Schmidt Hammer Lassen’s winning design are the integration of green space, the use of raw and recycled materials, and the blending of the existing historic elements with the new high design building.

The 19th century Hydraulic Tower will retain as much of its original character as possible and will house the Maritime Industries Centre’s work and meeting spaces, three pools including a HydroLab, a café and visitors’ portal, and an observatory that will provide views over Wirral Waters and the greater Liverpool area. The new building will accommodate the bulk of the Marine Technology Centre, the Offshore Survival Training Centre, and the Marine Simulation and Training Centre, and will drive research and innovation by bringing education, employers and businesses together.

A wall of reused bricks visually linking past and future will surround the two buildings that make up the Maritime Knowledge Hub, and will provide shelter for staff and visitors against the exposed conditions caused by the River Mersey’s open waters and high winds. The wall will also create intimate outdoor spaces including three pocket gardens and an existing central courtyard that will be reimagined with thoughtful new details. The integration of green spaces will extend to roof terraces that can be used for meetings and events.

The composition of the old Hydraulic Tower is diverse in shape and richly ornamented. The new additions, which will appear as a series of glowing boxes at night, strive to achieve the opposite effect, serving as a subtle, simple contrast to the Liverpool landmark. The interiors of the buildings will feature open ceilings with visible trays and pipes and will consist of raw materials such as steel and concrete, serving the simple, low maintenance needs of offshore buildings.

Schmidt Hammer Lassen’s portfolio of projects in the UK include the University of Bristol Library that will be a landmark project for the university’s revitalization of its Clifton Campus; the University of Aberdeen Library, a timeless, 10-storey rectangular volume on the Aberdeen skyline; and the City of Westminster College London, a 24,000-square-metre flagship campus and winner of the prestigious 2011 RIBA Award.