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Metroscopes Ropewalks Square

Metroscopes (2003)

When FACT opened in 2003, we invited artist Clive Gillman to work alongside architect Austin-Smith:Lord to develop a number of artworks for the building. The artworks focused on the idea of a ‘self reflexive building’: a building with features that reflect its life and functions back to its inhabitants. One of these public artworks, Metroscopes, is situated on Ropewalks Squarre where FACT connects to Bold Street.

The Metroscopes consist of 5 circular LED dot matrix displays each mounted on individual columns in the square. Each display is 1.2 metres in diameter and is mounted 4 metres above the pavement. The displays show a constantly moving string of text illuminated through bright red LEDs. The Metroscopes represent Liverpool and it’s four twin cities: Odesa (Ukraine), Dublin (Ireland), Shanghai (China) and Köln (Germany).

Liverpool’s twin relationship to these cities is based upon our similarities of culture, architecture and commerce. The relationship between our city and those from around the globe provides a sense of perspective and commonality. This project aims to respond to these relationships by making them manifest in a dynamic way within the Liverpool Ropewalks area.

The public artwork does this by extracting information from the internet about each city. Each Metroscope uses the internet as a barometer for representing current thinking about a particular place. By sampling live information from across the globe, the work represents this thinking through a constantly changing active lighting display in the Bold Street/Wood Street breakthrough.

The text that appears on each display is genereted dynamically by an active ‘web crawler’, a software device which functions like a search engine, constantly searching the internet for a particular piece of information. The web crawler extracts information that matches the terms ‘Liverpool is…’, ‘Shanghai is…’ (and so on for each of the 5 cities). When this statement is found on the web, the complete sentence is captured and sent to the display and the web crawler moves on to the next instance it can locate. Each time a new sentence is found the text is updated on the display. Through this automated technology the display functions like a cultural barometer, capturing and representing opinions and statements of fact about Liverpool and it's twinned cities.

The Metrscopes are live 24 hours a day, representing the constant flow of data and opinion that ebbs and flows throughout the world of the internet, providing a publicly visible outlet in the heart of the city.

In 2023, the Metroscopes were restored in celebration of FACT’s 20th Anniversary. Special thanks to Adrian McEwan (DoES Liverpool) for the technical support in reactivating this public artwork.

With thanks to:


Arthur Jackson, Technographic Displays

Phil Moss, BDP

Cllr Beatrice Frankel

Adrian McEwan, DoES Liverpool