Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool (1967) Architects: Frederick Gibberd & Partners. Henk Snoek, RIBA Library Photographs Collection
The provision of a cathedral for Liverpool's substantial Roman Catholic population that would rival in magnificence Giles Gilbert Scott's Anglican Cathedral had a long and chequered development.
In 1856 work began on E W Pugin's design in St Domingo Road, Everton, but little progress was made and it was only with the acquisition of a new site on Brownlow Hill that the present cathedral finally began to take shape.
In 1932 Edwin Lutyens, who had been entrusted with the commission, exhibited his scheme at the Royal Academy and subsequently produced a massive model (now in Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery) that breathtakingly revealed the audacious ambition of his vision. Work began in 1933 but only the crypt was completed and the project was eventually abandoned, principally on cost grounds.
In 1959 a new competition for the cathedral was announced with the important proviso that Lutyens’s crypt be incorporated into the design. It was also stipulated that the cathedral should reflect the latest developments in liturgical reform. These looked to dispense with traditional distinctions such as that between nave and sanctuary and to promote worship as a collective experience with increased lay participation.
The competition was won by Frederick Gibberd (1908-1984) who had prepared the master plan for Harlow New Town in 1946 prior to being appointed its architect and whose previous work had included London Airport (1955).
Gibberd's Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, completed in 1967 and dubbed "Paddy's wigwam" by locals, had a circular plan that allowed the altar to be positioned centrally and incorporated 13 chapels. Amongst the art works were stained glass by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens and a crucifix by Elisabeth Frink.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool (1967) Architects: Frederick Gibberd and Partners. Henk Snoek, RIBA Library Photographs Collection
These and the dramatic exterior, with its concrete flying buttresses, conical roof and glazed lantern tower topped by a "crown of thorns" were evocatively captured in a series of contemporary photographs taken by Henk Snoek (1915-1980).
Hailed by the Architects' Journal in 1979 as "one of the high priests of architectural photography", Snoek was born in Holland and studied photography, typography and commercial design at the Hague School of Art between 1933 and 1937.
As can be seen in his Liverpool images, the Bauhaus principles on which the school was run informed his own photography as did his admiration for the abstract compositions of the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. In 1958, after a brief sojourn in Ireland, Snoek settled in London, where he spent the next two decades establishing himself as one of Britain's leading architectural photographers.
His career received a major boost when he was commissioned by Basil Spence to photograph Coventry Cathedral and 46 of his pictures were subsequently published in Out of the Ashes: A Progress Through Coventry Cathedral (1963). It was the success of these photographs taken, on a 5x4" camera, that probably caused Gibberd to commission a similar set of Liverpool.
These are typically characterised by a strong sense of drama, simple forceful lines and high contrasts – the latter effect often enhanced by use of a red filter.
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