Waterfront Transformation Project: Blockbuster team announced as winning team for Canning Dock competition press release

National Museums Liverpool (NML) has announced a collaboration between architects Asif Khan Studio, Sir David Adjaye OBE, Mariam Kamara and artist Theaster Gates as the winning team of the Waterfront Transformation Project: Canning Dock competition

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Shortlisted from an extremely impressive entry of six teams that included Arup, BIG, DSDHA, OMMX and Shedkm, the winning team also includes Plan A Consultants, Prior + Partners, The Place Bureau, Hara Design Institute, AKTII, ARUP and Donald Insall Associates. Together they will now take forward the transformation of the Canning Dock Project – a public space that has an incredibly unique history, embedded with a rich and powerful heritage linked to the very roots of Liverpool’s port.

This landmark project will transform the area between the Royal Albert Dock and Mann Island, as well as revitalising all our waterfront facilities, as part of National Museums Liverpool’s (NML) 10-year masterplan of reimagining Liverpool’s waterfront. The starting point and highlight of this transformation will be the redevelopment of the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building which will be at the very heart of the reinvigorated International Slavery Museum, which recently received £9.9m funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. A dramatic new front door will lead to spaces to explore and investigate the transatlantic slave trade and legacies.

The Canning Dock competition, managed by Colander Associates, is supported by £120,000 of funding from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (LCRCA), as part of their Race Equality Programme. 

Councillor Mike Wharton, Liverpool City Region Portfolio Holder for Culture, Tourism and the Visitor Economy, said:

“We are committed to tackling racial inequality and facing up to the shameful legacy of our region’s role in the slave trade. Our International Slavery Museum is the only museum of its kind in the country and a vitally important institution, not just locally but nationally and internationally too, in educating people on the sins of the past.  This exciting project will both redevelop the Dr Martin Luther King Jr Building and transform the entire waterfront, attracting even more people to visit and learn about the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy.

“Last year we launched a Race Equality Programme to help tackle the systemic injustice and inequality that many Black, Asian and people from other ethnic minorities still face. As part of that, it is important that we’re able to help support the International Slavery Museum to evolve and grow. Understanding and learning from our history is an integral part of building the brighter, fairer and more socially just future we all want – and our local museums are central to that.” 

Taking in key landmarks, including the creation of pedestrian links to the Canning Dock, and bringing life to multiple buildings within the area, the brief for the project drew on the complexities of the site. A primary focus of the transformation is to respond to the waterfront’s unique history – looking at ways to bring the history of the transatlantic slave trade more into the public realm through compelling yet sensitive designs - and ensuring Liverpool’s Black communities are engaged and represented throughout.

The collaboration between Khan, Adjaye, Kamara and Gates was the unanimous choice for the judging panel, which included local representatives as well as industry experts. Chaired by Paul Monaghan, Liverpool City Region, Design Champion and Founder of AHMM, the panellists were hugely inspired by the high quality of all the entries and the passion and expertise of the winning team, which exemplified the best of amalgamating history, design, and innovation. Creating a unique destination that links storytelling, heritage, community, connectivity and commercial activity, the jurors were impressed by their ambitions defining the change that will establish the waterfront as a place for all, and intriguing new visitor journeys.

Mairi Johnson, Director of Major Projects comments:

“Congratulations to the winning team! We had six fantastic teams apply for the competition and we knew it would be a difficult choice for the jurors to decide. We’re thrilled and hugely impressed and inspired by their innovating, sensitive and powerful thinking in delivering this transformation.

The waterfront transformation is a huge opportunity for National Museums Liverpool to now work with the team and Liverpool’s communities to reimagine the full potential of Canning Dock. We’re very much looking forward to the collaboration process and the result.”

Drawing upon their collective knowledge, the blockbuster design team - which includes both international and nationally recognised organisations and individuals - will work with NML, stakeholders, communities, the public and wider design team to ensure that the vision for the new waterfront is explored and delivered with a collaborative, open and accountable approach. From building benches to bridges, the team will synthesise opportunities and constraints, and begin to develop scenarios that test ideas and approaches. Consultations and workshops will be facilitated by their community programming group which includes 20 Stories High, Writing on the Wall and Squash Liverpool and through this method, the team will determine the best way to successfully animate the visitor experience on the waterfront.

Asif Khan MBE said:

“History is like the ocean, with all its depths and treachery. Looking out from the shore, those waters feel like they belong to us, and yet the sea looks so different from where you stand in the world. History can wash things away one day and brings them back like ghost ships the next. Reconciling with history is how we grow as individuals, as communities, and – we believe – is what makes life and cities beautiful.

For National Museums Liverpool we have formed a different kind of design team – not simply to deliver a project, but to steward a significantly meaningful one into being. This new piece of history will welcome voices from across Liverpool and globally from the places and people connected with Canning Dock.”

Sir David Adjaye OBE:

“Our collaborative team composed of technical architects, planetary architects and an artist envisions the NML Waterfront Transformation as an opportunity to powerfully reformulate the history of Liverpool through re-invigorating the diverse social, civic and environmental context of the city. Recognising the history of the surrounding waterfront, connecting the region’s cultural infrastructure, and creating a space in which the public realm and public arts can connect, holds the potential to create a distinct, engaging, and empowering identity for the community to grow with and in.”

Mariam Kamara:

“The Canning Dock transformation is a chance to explore the power of architecture as a storytelling tool to bridge the gaps in knowledge that exist about the history of Liverpool as well as this significant site. The NML Waterfront Transformation is an opportunity to pull on the threads that make up the history of the transatlantic slave trade - from Africa, across the Atlantic to the US and back to Liverpool - to bridge gaps, to exhume memories and ultimately bring to the fore an exciting space for the public to explore and engage with the history of Liverpool while firmly facing towards the future.”

Theaster Gates:

“Commemoration and memorial making are some of the most important acts a nation can be involved in - especially commemoration around racial complexity and social ill. Canning Dock represents one of the most important racialised sites in the UK and it gives me tremendous honour to work with this team to realise the complexity of the site. We hope that by using the tools of monument making and memorialising and commemoration, we will be able to do what many have not been able to do, which is to give emotional heft to the truth of slavery in the UK historically and the possibility for a site of re-emotionalising, healing, and processing those complexities. This will not be an easy journey, but we take the task with great humility and seriousness.”

In response to the brief, the winning team will be focusing on the public realm (including a public art strategy), new bridges spanning from the Pump House to Mann Island, transformation of the two dry docks into an educational and cultural experience, and animation of the water.  The team identified in their submission that reconnection and accessible recreational routes will play a critical part in the development.  Recognising the different flows of people drawn from the city including the creative, cultural, knowledge, retail, and commercial quarters have all informed their response at site level. A site that was once used in the 18th century for fitting out, cleaning, and repairing ships, including those used in the transatlantic slave trade, needs to be approached with sensitivity – linking the past with the present. The team presented ideas and creative solutions that will build upon the significance of the area through a thoughtful and engaging response to both the history of the site and its future potential.

This timely transformation is not just for Liverpool, but for the whole of the UK. NML will work collaboratively with the design team to build on strengths, respond to challenges and opportunities and be a catalyst for social improvements and creating space for people and communities. This project allows the space to redefine its identity beyond its core role as NML’s arrival gateway, and something that benefits its many visitors.

The Design Competition was made possible by funding from Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. NML are working to secure funds to realise the project. This includes a bid that was submitted by Liverpool City Council to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund to which the outcome will be announced this Autumn.




Sahar Beyad

PR and Communications Officer

Sahar.Beyad@liverpoolmuseums.org.uk / 07935 009 883

#NMLWaterfront @SlaveryMuseum @NMLMuse


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 3 million visitors in 2019. 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 of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). liverpoolmuseums.org.uk

Colander Associates 

In December 2020, National Museums Liverpool appointed Colander Associates to be the design competition providers. They will work closely with NML to articulate the ambitions for an enlarged and enhanced waterfront visitor destination. The competition will be launched in March 2021 and will be officially advertised on the Government’s e-notification service, Find A Tender. Details of the competition will also be published and promoted through NML’s and Colander’s website and social media channels. A dedicated portal for competitors will be established on the Colander website. www.colander.co.uk   

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 New Museum of London, the public realm for Dubai Expo 2020, and the Tselinny Centre for Contemporary Culture in Almaty. 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.

David Adjaye

Sir David Adjaye OBE is a Ghanaian-British architect who has received international acclaim for his impact on the field. In 2000, he founded Adjaye Associates, which today operates globally, with studios in Accra, London, and New York and projects spanning across the globe. Adjaye’s most well-known project to date, The National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC opened in 2016. In 2017, Adjaye was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by TIME Magazine and was announced the winner of the 2021 RIBA Royal Gold Medal.

Mariam Kamara

Mariam Kamara is a Nigerien architect who founded atelier masōmī in 2014. The firm tackles public, cultural, residential, commercial and urban design projects. Kamara champions collaboration in her work and has won several awards including a gold and silver LafargeHolcim Award for Sustainable Architecture for the Hikma Religious and Secular complex. In 2020, The New York Times named her as one of 15 Creative Women of Our Time. The firm made its debut on the 2021 AD100 list.

Theaster Gates

Theaster Gates is an internationally acclaimed artist and social innovator who lives and works in Chicago. His works engage with space theory, land development, sculpture and performance. 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 on Chicago’s South Side. In 2020, Gates received the Crystal Award for his leadership in creating sustainable communities. He has received the Artes Mundi 6 prize, the Légion d'Honneur in 2017, and was awarded the Nasher Prize for Sculpture 2018. Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and serves as the Senior Advisor for Cultural Innovation and Advisor to the Dean at the Harris School of Public Policy.