AVDanzer provided the project management suite for Urban Splash’s Park Hill development in Sheffield. Our modular building included toilet facilities and a staff canteen. Urban Splash wanted plenty of light in the building so we put in large windows all round and roof lights.
In keeping with Park Hill’s contemporary feel the interior had a monochrome finish with all skirting, architrave and trims in MDF painted white and white walls contrasted with the black marble-effect vinyl flooring. Urban Splash completed the look with black ash furniture. The exterior was painted the company’s corporate blue and the building was finished with a wooden decking surround.
Following the war it was decided that a radical scheme needed to be introduced to deal with rehousing the Park Hill community. To that end architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith began work in 1945 designing the Park Hill Flats. Inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation and the Smithsons’ unbuilt schemes, most notably for Golden Lane in London, the deck access scheme was viewed as revolutionary at the time. The style is known as brutalism. Construction is of an exposed concrete frame with yellow, orange and red brick curtain walling. However, as a result of weathering and soot-staining from passing trains, few people realise this and assume the building to be constructed entirely from concrete.
Unlike many of the system built blocks of this particular era, Park Hill always remained structurally sound, and controversially was Grade II* listed in 1998 making it the largest listed building in Europe. Sheffield City Council hoped this would attract investment to renovate the building, and it came from Urban Splash who have a track record in investment in historic icons and properties.
The Brutalist style of Sheffield’s Park Hill estate has divided opinion in the city for decades. The 1960s concrete block has been hailed as the most ambitious inner-city development of its time and a visionary piece of modernist architecture. But by the 1980s it was being condemned as an eyesore, having become dilapidated and notorious for drugs and crime.
English Heritage surprised Park Hill’s critics by giving the entire complex Grade II-listed status in 1997, making it Europe’s largest listed building and preventing it from being demolished.
The decision was hailed by those who regarded it as a building of architectural importance, and the structure is now being given a £134m makeover by developer Urban Splash.
Taking on the contract in 2008, the firm accepted Park Hill had flaws, but said it was “better than a lot of the mediocrity that is defining our cities in their renaissance race”. It added: “Besides, getting rid of it is not a sustainable solution, not when it can be saved, repaired and made good again.”
Phase one of the project is complete and has now been shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, the Royal Institute of British Architects’ highest accolade. The architects have kept the structure of the building in place and the wide, long walkways dubbed “streets in the sky” remain, but the external brickwork has been replaced with bright aluminium.
Judges said the reinvented building “stands as a beacon for imaginative regeneration, quality mass housing and the bold reuse of a listed building”. In true Park Hill style, reaction to the announcement has been mixed.