IT had never entered Frederick's Gibberd's mind that he might one day design a Cathedral. "For one thing," he says, "who builds Cathedrals these days? I bad no ecclesiastical friends or connections and I am a nonconformist." There was one other reason: "When you reach my age everybody says you're old in the tooth, and when I get a job they say `Oh, it's just another case of jobs for the boys.' So I thought it would be fun to pit my brain against other people's."
When he entered his design for the Liverpool competition, Gibberd, who is 58, already had a long list of distinguished buildings to his credit and an international reputation as a town planner: Harlow New Town is his special baby. But he'd never designed a large church although his lengthy entry in Who's Who does include the new monastery for Douai Abbey completed last year.
To begin with it was little more than curiosity that prompted him to send for a copy of the competition rules "I just wondered what sort of building the promoters wanted. It turned out that they were wide open to any suggestions. Then I went to Mass once or twice and I was enormously moved by the experience."
He finally made up his mind to enter the competition just a couple of months before the deadline for the submission of designs. "I got a young team together and we worked and worked. It was rather like being a student all over again. We lived on sandwiches."
Mr. Gibberd says he has become "much more involved" in the new Cathedral than in his other buildings. "First of all, there's nothing to help you design a Cathedral. It's a oneoff article, not like a school or a house. And people expect a Cathedral to be a much greater work of art."
Gibberd is not too happy about some developments in design during this decade. "In my youth," he says, "we fought a battle. It was a battle of rethinking. We decided that Revivalism, which was the vogue then, had nothing to do with architecture.
"We produced buildings that were flat surfaced and people have gone on embellishing the style. Now architecture is beginning once again to get divorced from what building is about. I believe that what matters is you and me: people in other words.
"When people are doing architectural design they tend to launch out into a style. The fashion now is chunky, heavy building I'm not interested in style as such," says Mr. Gibberd.
In retrospect he says he would "think again about one or two things at Liverpool. I would like it to be slightly bigger, then it would have held its own better with the Scott tower. I think, too, I would use better materials for some of the smaller items. More bronze. That gives such a lovely effect. And I would like to see the inside of the Cathedral finished in stone instead of cement rendering.
"If I were doing another Cathedral," Mr. Gibberd reflects, "I'd try to get a more immediate relationship between the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and the Sanctuary."
starter in the church-building stakes has he now learnt all about liturgy? "I haven't learnt as much as I thought I would," he says. "I don't really think the Church knows herself. I asked two years ago where the bishop's throne should go and I haven't got an answer yet. But it's not at all a bad idea that there should be all this experimenting."
Although Gibberd says he never ceases to be surprised that people are willing to pay to have a building designed he can never remember wanting to do anything else. "First of all I thought I'd like to design motor cars. Then my father built a billiards room on to the house and I realised that it wasn't the builder who did the design but another fellow."
He doesn't think the Cathedral is going to get a fair showing at the opening. "It will just he a marvellous pageant. I look forward to the day when all the wires and lights are cleared Out and all the fuss is over. Next autumn I'll go to a service there and feel the building. That's when it will be a Cathedral to me."
Would it be tactless to ask him what he thought of Coventry Cathedral? "Not at all," Frederick Gibberd said. "1 think it is one of the most beautiful buildings ever built. But you cannot compare it with Liverpool. Sir Basil Spence and I received completely different briefs."