There are some buildings that come to encapsulate a city’s spirit. They become synonymous with the culture, identity and history of the space they inhabit. If one thinks of Liverpool, an image of the Liver building is almost invariably conjured in the mind. Newcastle’s maritime history is proudly on display in the very bricks and motor of the Baltic Flour Mill.
It is hard to think of a more striking urban image than the Park Hill Flats that tower above Sheffield’s train station. An instantly recognisable monument of 1960’s Brutalism, the flats represent an idealism in design that sought to provide working people with a good standard of living that had never been seen on that scale in the city before. The dream of streets in the sky with self-contained communities, with all their required services close at hand, guided the project that replaced the post-war slums. Of course we now know that history is not always kind to the idealists, and the breakdown of social cohesion that occurred during the turbulent 1980’s set the tone for the flats new imagine as a symbol of poverty and social isolation.
As one walks from the city to the train station today, you are met by a visual juxtaposition between the harsh and dilapidated old portion of the building, the vibrancy of the newly renovated element of the project, and the significant amount of scaffolding that indicates further works are well under way. The re-birth of this grade II listed building is especially relevant to the wider development context of Sheffield. The city is massively constrained due to its proximity with the Peak District National Park, Rotherham and the fact that large areas of the Authority’s jurisdiction designated as green belt. This means new development has got less and less space to inhabit. The regeneration of the Park Hill Flats offers a prime example of how the re-use of other characterful buildings in the city can be used to deliver bold architectural statements that meet the needs of today whilst paying homage to Sheffield’s rich heritage.
Rory Bradford, Planner, Planning & Design Practice Ltd