Liverpool’s new Royal Liver Building 360 experience offers breathtaking views of the famous port city that has enjoyed a rebirth in recent years driven in large part by tourism and culture. Visitors can now enjoy a multimedia show inside the building’s giant timepiece.
According to the creators of Royal Liver Building 360 (RLB360), the Liverpool landmark is one of the most iconic pieces of British architecture outside of the capital.
That’s why when Heritage Great Britain was approached by the building’s new owner to create an experience inside the heart of the imposing 98-tall (322ft) waterfront structure, chief executive Allan Leech jumped at the chance.
“We were honoured to be invited to open up this icon to the public,” says Leech. “We were asked to do some kind of museum or interpretation of the building. I said, ‘You’re not getting a museum. You’re getting a world-class attraction in a world-famous, Grade I-listed building’. With that comes quite a responsibility.”
A world-class attraction in a World Heritage city
Along with the Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building, the Royal Liver Building is one of the so-called ‘Three Graces’ that overlook the River Mersey by the city’s Pier Head. Together they contribute to Liverpool’s UNESCO World Heritage status as a ‘Mercantile Maritime City’.
The Liver (pronounced “Ly-ver”) Building takes its name from Royal Liver Assurance, for whom it was completed in 1911. For the first 50 years of its life, it was the tallest building in the UK.
Each tower is crowned by a statue of a mythical Liver bird, symbols of the city that are enriched in folklore. Bella, who sits on top of the clock tower, looks out to sea to ensure boats arrive safely into port. Meanwhile, Bertie keeps his watchful eye on the city, protecting the people of Liverpool – or ‘Scousers’ as they are often known.
The clock tower now forms the centrepiece of RLB360. Here, towards the climax of their tour, guests are treated to an immersive projection mapping show courtesy of Holovis.
The Royal Liver Building – now under new management
Previously tours of the Royal Liver Building were available only an ad-hoc basis to by prior appointment. However, it has never been fully exploited as a tourist attraction.
RLB360 was created after the building was purchased in 2017 by the property company Corestate, in partnership with Farhad Moshiri. The Monaco-based businessman took a major stake in Liverpool-based Everton Football Club one year earlier. Together Corestate and Moshiri paid £48 million ($62m/€55m) for the building and those iconic Liver bird statues.
Heritage Great Britain, which has its headquarters in Liverpool, was subsequently named as operator of the new visitor experience. The tour was officially opened on April 2 by singer Gerry Marsden, famous for his 1965 hit Ferry Cross The Mersey.
Looking back at Liverpool and out beyond the Mersey
Guests start their journey on the lower ground floor in a visitor centre and gift shop designed by Paragon Creative. Each group is appointed its own tour guide for the trip to the upper floors.
“Our guides were chosen first and foremost for their personality and enthusiasm,” says Leech. “That was more important than their knowledge or experience. We want this to be an entertaining rather than educational experience.”
Nevertheless, in a city known for its hospitality and sense of belonging, those guides are sure to have some stories to tell. Visitors are whisked by express lift to the 10th floor, which links the two towers.
“This is where you get your first views of the city and a sense of the scale and size of where we are,” says Leech. “The views are magnificent – of the city, the Mersey and all the way out to the Irish Sea. On a sunny day, you can see [North Wales National Park] Snowdonia.”
Time for the highlight of the tour
Once they reach the clock tower on the 14th floor, visitors find themselves stood behind some of the largest ornate clock faces in the UK. Larger even than those on the tower that houses Big Ben. The minute hand alone on each of the Liver Building’s three clock faces is 14ft (4.3m) long.
The mechanisms of one of the clocks can be seen on the tour and there are plans to uncover the other two. Whilst it must once have been magical to see natural beams of light pierce through the clock faces into the tower, they have in fact been covered at the back for some time.
This, however, meant only minor modifications were necessary to give Holovis the canvas it needed to create the audiovisual experience that immerses visitors in key moments from Liverpool history. The Midlands-based experience designer is no stranger to projection mapping projects. However, it has never done anything quite like this before.
The facades of both the Liver Building and Cunard Building have been used previously for one-off projection mapping spectaculars. Yet according to Joe Graziano, EMEA director of sales at Christie, which supplied the projectors for RLB360, it’s rare to see mapping done internally on this scale. “The good thing about doing it indoors is, you’re not restricted by external light sources,” he says.
Taking projection mapping indoors
“Projection mapping by its nature celebrates the architecture of a building,” says Holovis creative director Peter Cliff, who became fond of Liverpool while studying at university during the city’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008. “At RLB360, we have recreated what the Liver Building would have looked like when you could actually see the clock faces inside the tower. And then we use the Liver bird as a conduit to take you through the rich history of this wonderful city.”
Due to lift capacity, tour groups are limited to a maximum of 14 people. As such, each audience member gets a great view of the 270-degree media content that unfolds before them on three walls of the tower.
Getting the technical equipment required up to the 14th floor by lift and spiral staircase was a challenge, says Cliff. “And the fact that it’s a Grade I listed building meant that everything had to be mounted very unobtrusively.”
From storyboarding and narrative to installation and programming, Holovis delivered the project on a turnkey basis. The only external providers were hardware suppliers Christie (4 x D20WU-HS projectors), Ohm UK (speakers) and Green Hippo (Hippotizer media server).
Immersion for all ages
So why did Heritage Great Britain choose projection mapping as its preferred medium to tell the story inside the clock tower?
“We knew we wanted to deliver the highest quality, immersive experience,” says Leech. “But we also wanted to keep it simple. Projection mapping meant we could create a show without narration that could be understood by all ages and nationalities on the biggest tapestry available.”
Produced by Holovis Media, the show starts as a Liver bird is seen detaching itself from the top of the building and landing on one of the clock’s hands. The weight of the bird sends the clock, and therefore time, backwards. Viewers see how the Liver bird was born out of the melting pot of the early 1900s industrial boom 1900s and watch the building on which they perch rise from the ground. During the Second World War, however, Liverpool was the second most bombed city in Britain. Thankfully the Liver Building remained standing.
Central to the nine-and-a-half-minute film is the way in which culture, sport, music and the port have shaped the city. Around 80 per cent of the images are bespoke CGI. The film finishes with 360-degree drone footage of Liverpool’s famous waterfront, over which a firework display has been added.
No-nonsense ticketing and hidden surprises
Holovis also worked with Heritage Great Britain on an app that can be used by guests to accompany their tour. With this, they can discover up to 12 hidden surprises. By pointing their phone at the wall on the 10th floor, for example, they will see a clock come apart and the mechanism inside start whirring away.
The full tour of the Royal Liver Building, including the mapping show, lasts around 70 minutes. Tickets are priced £15.00 ($19.50/€17.50), or £10.00 for children aged seven to 16. Group discounts are available, but otherwise, the price is the same regardless of when guests visit, or whether they pay on-site or online.
“The more complex you make the pricing, the harder you make it for someone to buy a ticket,” says Leech. “We’ve been as transparent as possible. Customers are more sophisticated now, and I think they appreciate that.
Steep stairs lead up to the top. This means that the upper levels of the building are not accessible to those with physical disabilities. Under-sevens also cannot join the tower tour. They can, however, enjoy the visitor centre for free.
RLB360 and the Heritage Great Britain portfolio
Heritage Great Britain is aiming for around 45,000 visitors to the Royal Liver Building 360 experience during the first 12 months. There is potential to increase capacity by hosting ‘twilight’ events in the tower outside the tour’s regular operating hours of 10 am to 6 pm.
“Right now though, the most important thing right now is to deliver a high-quality tour in a safe and effective manner,” says Leech. He predicts it could eventually accommodate north of 60,000 a year.
To gauge capacity, Heritage used its operation at Snowdon Mountain Railway as a model. “The team at Snowdon has a traffic plan of steam engines going up a mountain on a single line with passing loops,” says Leech. There are four lifts at the Liver Building and we have an override on one at a time. The passing loop is at the top of the building as guests visit the clock tower.”
Heritage Great Britain’s other venues around the country include visitor attractions and hotels at John O’ Groats, Land’s End and The Needles on the Isle of Wight. The one attraction that doesn’t share the same ‘landmark’ status is Mattel Play! at Liverpool’s Albert Dock.
“We traditionally do attractions with a historical focus,” says Leech. “Mainly they are outdoors, so as a group we feel the pain when it rains. Mattel Play! gave us an offer for families, whatever the weather. And because it’s on our doorstep we can keep an eye on it.”
Liverpool’s thriving tourism economy
Liverpool is the fourth most visited city in the UK. With its many museums and galleries, football stadia, the Albert Dock, The Beatles Story, Botanic Garden and special events such as the Giants and River of Light, it’s also one of the nation’s most attraction-packed destinations.
“Liverpool knows what it is as a city,” says Leech. “It’s got music. It’s got historical character and it’s got some fantastic attractions. But the number one reason people come to Liverpool is for the waterfront. It is one of the only British cities to boast a true waterfront, which has been the focus for many large-scale events.”
And now, on a daily basis, visitors to the Royal Liver Building 360 can enjoy a unique projection mapping experience. Leech loves it: “The room just comes alive,” he says. Holovis delivered more than we expected. As a company, they are at the top of their game and were an absolute joy to work with.”
But don’t just take his word for it. “I watched the show recently with a couple of guys from [real estate company] CBRE. Both of them were Scousers. When it finished, one of them was in tears because of the portrayal of his own city. If the Scousers like it, we’re on to a winner! We’ve also had a lot of interest from across the North, down to the Midlands and beyond.”
A city with an international reputation
According to UNESCO, Liverpool represents “the supreme example of a commercial port at the time of Britain’s greatest global influence.”
Modern-day Liverpool is a bustling, international city. Visitors from overseas, arriving by all modes of transport, reached 839,000 in 2017. All this provides further fuel to the city’s £358 million ($465m/€415m) tourism economy. And the Royal Liver Building – just moments from the cruise terminal, Museum of Liverpool and Albert Dock – is at the centre of it all.