Canning Dock transformation receives green light

National Museums Liverpool’s Waterfront Transformation Project has reached a significant new milestone, with Planning Permission granted to transform Canning Quaysides and Dry Docks into a space for education, contemplation and recreation.

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The £15m redevelopment of Canning Quaysides and Dry Docks, which is supported by a £10m contribution from The Government’s £4.8bn round one ‘Levelling Up’ fund, will see the south dry dock, built in 1765, become accessible to the public. A new stop wall will be built behind the existing timber gates and a staircase and lift will enable visitors to descend into the historic site for the first time. Plans also feature a twin-lever footbridge from the Royal Albert Dock across to the Canning quayside. The wider public realm will be enhanced with level pathways, an open-air events space, and significant improvements to the interpretation of items around the site.

Construction work on the designs, which are being led by architects, Asif Khan Studio, and internationally renowned artist, Theaster Gates, are due to start in autumn 2024.

Canning Dock’s history is rooted in Liverpool’s deep involvement in transatlantic slavery. The graving dock was used to clean and repair ships, including those that were destined to traffic enslaved people across the Atlantic to work. Millions of people died during this crossing, many on board Liverpool-built ships, and on the plantations across the Americas. The transformation will bring this history to the public realm and create a space for contemplation of its significance.

Asif Khan Studio has been working closely with community partners 20 Stories High, Squash, Writing on the Wall and Liverpool Black History Research Group to ensure Liverpool’s communities are engaged and represented in the development of the design and narrative.

Liz Stewart, Head of Museum of Liverpool, which overlooks the Canning Dock area said:

This is such a transformational project: a once in a lifetime opportunity. Working with local community arts organisations, we have a unique chance to really enhance people’s experience of this space. As well as creating an overall cohesive visitor experience, we’re determined to truly represent the profound historic significance of the site.

The dry docks and quaysides have such a powerful heritage narrative, and throughout the process of co-production, we’ve ensured the feedback and ideas coming directly from our communities, is integrated into the designs.

The pedestrian bridge linking the Royal Albert Dock with Canning quayside will create a better journey for visitors, and enhance connectivity between International Slavery Museum, Maritime Museum, Museum of Liverpool, and the wider waterfront.

The south dry dock has been collaboratively reimagined by Khan and Gates. This multi-use space will be a ‘destination’ site that will draw upon voices from across Liverpool and its historic global footprint.

Architect, Asif Khan said: 

I want to express my gratitude to everyone who has worked so hard to help reach this milestone in the project. This is a giant step toward welcoming people to experience the transformative power of this site and its stories.

Artist, Theaster Gates said: 

It heartens me that a city is willing to grapple with its complex history and make space for the unfortunate truth of violence against other people. Even better, Liverpool is making space for celebration, community, and new histories. I’m excited to be a part of this work.


This project is supported by a £10m contribution from The Government’s £4.8bn round one ‘Levelling Up’ fund which was secured through a bid spearheaded by Liverpool City Council, in collaboration with Tate Liverpool. The £10m is split across Canning Quaysides and Dry Dock (£7m), and Museum of Liverpool’s reconfiguration (now complete) and the refurbishment of National Museums Liverpool’s historic dockside buildings (£3m).

In addition, the pre-development phase of the project has been supported by £120,000 from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, as part of the Race Equality Programme launched by Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham in 2021.  

National Museums Liverpool continues to work with partners who share their vision for the site and the positive impacts it will have for the people of the Liverpool City Region and beyond, to secure the extra funds required to fully realise its ambitions for the site.

Asif Khan Studio  

Asif Khan MBE leads a London-based architecture studio designing buildings, landscapes, exhibitions, and installations internationally. Khan’s practice explores how material and social innovations can fundamentally alter the way we experience and shape our environment. Current projects include the Canning Dock waterfront transformation, the New London Museum and the Barbican Arts Centre renewal. Asif Khan received an MBE for services to architecture in 2017 and serves as Deputy Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Design Museum, London.  

Theaster Gates  

Theaster Gates (b. 1973) is an artist and social innovator who lives and works in Chicago. Over the past decade, Gates has translated the intricacies of Blackness through space theory and land development, sculpture, and performance. Through the expansiveness of his approach as a thinker, maker, and builder, he extends the role of the artist as an agent of change. His performance practice and visual work find roots in Black knowledge, objects, history, and archives.

Gates has exhibited and performed at The LUMA Foundation, Arles, France (2023; The New Museum, New York, (2022); The Aichi Triennial, Tokoname (2022); The Serpentine Pavilion, London (2022); The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK (2021); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2013 and 2021); Tate Liverpool, UK (2020); Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2019); Palais de Tokyo Paris, France (2019); Sprengel Museum Hannover, Germany (2018); Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2018); National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA (2017); Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2016); Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy (2016); Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria (2016); Punta della Dogana, Venice, Italy (2013); and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012).

In 2010, Gates created the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation that supports artists and strengthens communities through free arts programming and innovative cultural amenities in the Grand Crossing neighborhood of the South Side of Chicago.

Gates is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees including the Isamu Noguchi Award (2023); National Buildings Museum Vincent Scully Prize (2023); Frederick Kiesler Prize for Architecture and the Arts (2022); an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Institute of British Architects (2021); the World Economic Forum Crystal Award (2020); J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development (2018); Nasher Sculpture Prize (2018); Sprengel Museum Kurt Schwitters Prize (2017); and Artes Mundi 6 Prize (2015).

In April 2018, Gates was appointed as the inaugural Distinguished Visiting Artist and Director of Artist Initiatives at the Lunder Institute for American Art, Colby College, Waterville Maine. He was the Visiting Artist in Residence at the American Academy in Rome (2020); and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2021. Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and serves as the Special Advisor to the President for Arts Initiatives.



Waterfront Transformation Project

Spanning the area between the Royal Albert Dock and Mann Island, the Waterfront Transformation Project involves key landmarks such as International Slavery Museum (ISM) and Maritime Museum (MM), Canning Quaysides and Dry Docks, as well as multiple smaller dockside buildings.  

Completed in January 2024 the project also included reconfiguration work at Museum of Liverpool (MoL), which provided a new temporary exhibition gallery, enhanced commercial spaces and other works that have improved the operation of the building for both visitors and staff.

Central to the project is the £58m redevelopment of Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building (MLK), expanding ISM into this space and giving it its own front door. The National Lottery Heritage Fund Horizon Award awarded £9.9m to help realise these ambitions, which also extend into the Maritime Museum. In March 2024 it was also announced the project would receive £10m from The Government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Additionally, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority gave £185,000 of pre-development funding as part of their work to tackle racial divides in the city and this has also helped take forward the first stop of the Waterfront Transformation Project.

National Museums Liverpool

National Museums Liverpool (NML) comprises seven venues, including some of the most visited museums in England outside of London. Our collections are among the most important and varied in Europe and contain everything from Impressionist paintings and rare beetles to a lifejacket from the Titanic. We attracted more than 2.5 million visitors in 2023. 

Our venues are Museum of Liverpool, World Museum, Walker Art Gallery, Maritime Museum, International Slavery Museum, Sudley House and Lady Lever Art Gallery. National Museums Liverpool is regulated by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).