Thursday, 18 July 2013

Hurrah for Park Hill Estate

Why? The sprawling 1960s-built estate in Sheffield is one of six British buildings shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize (the winner is announced in September). 

The Grade II Listed estate – the largest listed structure in Europe – which sits high on one of Sheffield's surrounding hills, was nearly demolished in the late 1990s but got saved when English Heritage gave it its listed status.

Images: Urban Splash
Concrete in construction, the vast, brutalist building was designed by Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn and became famous for its "streets in the sky", as well its light and spacious two-storey double-aspect flats. Which helped to get it listed. So rather than being pulled down, it was redeveloped by private developers, Urban Splash, in partnership with Hawkins-Brown and Studio Egret architects. The development is still only in its first phase – and this is what's up for the award.





Park Hill, above, before the redevelopment. The revamp has seen the windows widened, colourful metal panels clad onto the exterior and a swish sales office installed (though residents will remain a mix of social and private).








There are, of course, pluses and minuses around this sort of modernisation – gentrification and its effect on the local community being key. But however that pans out – and the promised mix of social and private tenants, along with a rows of shops within the estate boundaries, bodes well, in theory at least – but it is still, surely, greener and more meaningful to restore rather than demolish and start from scratch. And, for midcentury urban architecture geeks, the best bit is that Park Hill remains a glorious concrete monster, looming over Sheffield.

Contrary to what many might understand by "brutalism", the term (I discovered on a brilliant architectural tour of the Barbican Centre recently) actually means "raw concrete", from the French, rather than "brutal-looking". But it is pretty brutal-looking – and beautiful for it. And if you like this sort of thing, you might also like these amazing photos of Preston Bus Garage, as well as artist Claire Scully's beautiful work, left, which throws nature and urban architecture together.

Rachel Cooke's piece in the Observer, a couple of years ago, about the redevelopment of Park Hill is also a good read.

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