Diversity and Inclusion

Mairi Johnson of National Museums Liverpool writes about the importance of making it real at Liverpool waterfront....

At first glance, National Museums Liverpool’s waterfront competition looks like a typical placemaking project. In some ways it is - the purpose is to reimagine the Canning Dock quaysides at the centre of Liverpool’s historic docks into a destination that people come to see because of the quality of its contemporary design, as well as its history.

But, the project is different because of the site’s connection with the slave trade and our determination as a client that black communities are engaged and represented in the design process and that the eventual result is especially welcoming and resonant to them. Therefore we have been challenging ourselves at every stage and asking as a client, ‘what can we do differently?’ on the grounds that, if you do what is always done, you’ll get the same result.

Defining the challenge

Our first move was in setting the scope for the competition. We are looking for a multidisciplinary team of people, not a design. Our brief says, ‘the winning team will not only need to generate wonderful design ideas that deliver beautiful, functional and cost-effective solutions but it will need to do so through a process that is inclusive, collaborative and open to ideas from others who have different but equally relevant experiences and expertise.’ It’s not about design by committee, it’s about different perspectives and opinions and providing a space where these opinions can be shared and presented.

We want to encourage people from a diverse range of backgrounds to join a team and enter the competition. We could not prescribe the make-up of the teams but we have said that, ‘NML will expect the winning design-led team to comprise diverse and complementary consultants, with a desire and an ability to collectively co-create and deliver a confident, forward-looking proposal for this project that reaches out to those who have traditionally been underrepresented in architecture and design.’

  • Looking across Canning Half Tide Dock towards the Pier Head from Hartley Quay © Alison Gidman


We have set up a twitter hashtag, #NMLwaterfront, for the competition so that people who want to join a team but do not have connections with the architecture and landscape design communities can make contact with companies who could bring some of the skills but not the full breadth of outlooks desired.

  • Liverpool’s waterfront © Visit Liverpool

The judging process

The jury will not only contain eminent designers but people representing Liverpool’s black communities, artists, the cultural sector and the city region. Their heritage will span the globe.

The competition is in two stages. The first stage is open to everyone and we have tried to make the submission requirements quite light so that they are not daunting. Five teams will be shortlisted for the second stage where the submissions will be more onerous. The submissions for the second stage will be confirmed in due course but we are mindful that the work that is produced can be easily shared with the public and that it is meaningful to people outside of the design professions.

Because collaboration will be such an important part of the process, we’re intending to hold a charette with the five shortlisted teams as they develop their submissions to experience how they work together and with us.

The five final entries will be evaluated by two panels, a Technical Panel and a Community Panel, who will make recommendations to the overall jury. These two panels are a further opportunity to draw a range of people into the process.

I’m very curious to see if these interventions do make a difference to the design that is ultimately produced. Whatever happens I’m confident that the huge potential of the Canning Dock to add to the enjoyment of the historic waterfront, to tell stories and to contribute to the commercial life of the city will be realised.

To find out more about the competition please visit the competition webpage.