Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Brutalist Sheffield: The Rebirth of Park Hill – Now & Beyond

Brutalist Sheffield: The Rebirth of Park Hill – Now & Beyond

Without doubt; modern Sheffield is lively and vibrant…a great place to both work and live. It has a steely determination about it; a city that has, like the proverbial phoenix, risen from out of the ashes of it’s heavily industrial past to be a beacon of optimism in the North of England.

Having gone to Leeds Uni, married a “Yorkshire lass” and had our first child born in Leeds, we have an affinity for this part of the world, and after experiencing the hope that is the new “Park Hill” first hand I can say that if I had the money to buy a “pied a terre” in the City I wouldn't hesitate to buy an apartment here.

Starting at just £90,000 with options also available to part-buy and rent, to someone that lives on the M4 corridor, they are an absolute bargain. I dare not think what such an apartment would cost in the South East! Indeed if this development was transported south it would no doubt be gobbled up by an army of property investors looking for a better return than money on deposit and a safe haven from the Euro.

You get the feeling that if you moved in here tomorrow you’d once again be living a part of history that the original development also was. You’d also be taking a bit of a gamble; that planning and maintenance lessons really have been learned and that Urban Splash, the developer, can remain solvent to see their vision through. Even with a small boost to the economy and the successful habitation of all the apartments, only a small part of the overall project will have been realised by the end of 2014.

Urban Splash has gone on record as saying: “we want to create a world class landscape, inside and outside its walls”. “The team are working to bring love; life and pride back to this iconic project and make it a genuinely vibrant and sustainable community for the 21st Century.” I personally have no doubt that they, SCC and their partners (Transform South Yorkshire, Homes and Communities Agency, English Heritage and Great Places) believe in what they are doing and are committed to seeing it through.

They have ambitious plans for the landscaping of the development and as in the original intention to bring “a real mix in the ingredients of a proper place for residents and visitors alike: a 'high street' of local services - butchers, newsagents, greengrocers, chippy- a doctor's and dentist's, a new home for the fantastic Grace Owen children's nursery, some great bars, pubs and cafes”. Their intention seems to be able to finally realise the notion of a “village” with a village hall and a village green complete with oak tree, plus new workspace for businesses, artists or students, as well as dedicated secure provision for car parking”.

If (and I genuinely hope…When), they pull this off the first buyers will be sitting pretty in an investment that will have risen in value as the dream unfolds. No doubt the final single bedroom apartment sold will proportionately cost considerably more than the first £90,000 one!

The apartments themselves are described as “spacious one and two bedroom, duplex, dual aspect apartments with floor to ceiling glazing”. The original “box” concept has been maintained while certain inner curtain walls have been removed to give a feeling of greater light and space. The use of the term “spacious” doesn’t really stack up on paper; a typical entry level one bed is just 547 sq ft and a two bed 767 sq ft. However with floor to ceiling glass running the full length of either aspect of the apartment, minimalist detailing, copious wooden flooring, white kitchen fittings and paint the “feeling” certainly has however been achieved.

There are nice touches; such as the inner lobby connecting doors which fold back flush into the walls, and with the doors in such an orientation the apartment “opens up” stretching from one wall of glass in the living area, through the lobby to the wall of glass in the adjacent bedroom. Much use has been made of bare concrete (which was fully plastered over in the original dwellings) which has been so well treated and sealed that it is impossible to rub your hand over any exposed surface and create even the smallest particle of dust.

The inner stairwells are given the steel and glass treatment with copious under stairs storage space. On the issue of storage space there is very little built in and free standing units would eat into the small rooms. That being said if you’re a hoarder; this really isn't a building for you. It demands a lifestyle to complement it. People who themselves are minimalist in all that they do: People who want to live out in the surrounding City, who want to be engaged in the community, not sat at home stuffing more and more needless “stuff” into ever decreasing spaces. It’s an environment for those who wish to be free of consumerism, for those who want to be people again.

One severe criticism of the “Streets in the sky” was that people didn't keep their front doors open as they had done in the terraces while the children played outside and the locals nattered and kept an eye on their community. Consequently crime and antisocial behaviour took a foothold, because the façades of the flats were flat, so that it wasn't possible to look out of the window and see up and down the street. The architects have rectified this elegantly by building an oriole window into the fabric of the façade to the side of the entrance to each apartment. It’s easy from the safety provided by a very substantial external door to peer through it in all directions out and along “the street”.

So Park Hill: I believe that you are a success in the making. However economic times are generally tough and Urban Splash struggle for profit so there are risks. That said; anything worth having is going to take some risk to achieve. My main concern isn't the development itself but the integration with the rest of the City and it’s acceptance as an alternative lifestyle venue as cafes, restaurants and shops open. Here the responsibility must rest with SCC.

There has already been friction with Network Rail, who wanted to close the public rail line crossing from its city entrance side over the rails to the Park Hill side as part of the stations “upgrade”. Luckily there was mass protest and the link looks safe. The tram way infrastructure provides a foot link over the bypass and it’s Goliath of a roundabout across to Park Hill, but there is not yet a Park Hill tram stop. This needs to happen not only as a practical measure but also as a way of clearly demonstrating the Corporation's commitment to its intentions and commercial partners.

I look forward to going back over the next few years and watching the story unfold further.

All images and text copyright Andrew Hill 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment