Re-imagining the City of Sheffield

by Prue Chiles

This e-article is intended to be read as an illustrated story, referring to further ideas and reading, forming a picture of a place and how it may be re-imagined as a stronger, clearer version of itself.

This article explores the identity and image of Sheffield and suggests that it is important to have a strong narrative or story for the future of the city as an inspiration and guide for all parties engaged with regeneration, particularly, as described here, community-led regeneration. The narrative can be changed and adapted by communities and used in developing physical plans for the future of their neighbourhoods. Starting with the scale of the whole city, the paper will go on to discuss how this could relate to a local neighbourhood scale and then finally on the scale of individual buildings.1

Part One: The Setting and the narrative

Sheffield’s physical attributes and what is special about them

Like most cities one of Sheffield’s great strengths is its people. However, if ever there is a city whose identity is formed by its physical presence it is Sheffield: a small town in the 16th century that became a cradle for the industrial revolution – and all due to its topography – its hills, valleys and rivers. Today both its industrial legacy and its image as a dense city centre with “villages” surrounding it on seven hills is in danger of being lost in a quagmire of thoughtless new development. Ten storey “city living” apartment blocks around the edge of the city centre are flattening out the raised mound the city centre is built on and offering little to building future mixed neighbourhoods.

On a map the distinct elements of the rivers, the valleys, the public green space and parks of Sheffield build up to show the dramatic setting of the city.

Fig 1 Five linked (animated) overlays of the map that build towards the image of Sheffield
A. The tiny city centre, clearly marked within the contours of the hills, the de-lineated flat Don valley and the city boundary in blue and the peak district boundary in yellow
B. 6 rivers and the mill ponds created over the past 400 years
C. Woodland inside the city boundary
D. Public green space, mainly the parks established during the Victorian period, the river valleys
E. Productive agricultural land within the city boundary

Fig 1 Five linked (animated) overlays of the map that build towards the image of Sheffield.

Sheffield is a city you can view from the hills of the Peak District, complete and relatively comprehensible. The city centre is a small raised mound. From here, on the South West side of the city, at first glance it looks green and prosperous. This is the wealthiest of Sheffield both historically and in the present day.

One can read the most prominent buildings on the skyline – giants of post-war international modernism, both housing and civic institutions – the University Arts Tower and the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Then one sees the older Victorian civic institutions – the City Hall with Vulcan still presiding over the tallest of the city’s spires and the older Cathedral; a building indicative of nature of the city – compact with many small additions. Beyond this, the industrial basin of the Don Valley still looms vast and flat at the base of the city centre.

Fig 2 View over the city towards Park Hill & the Don Valley:

Park Hill, icon of post-war utopian visions for a new world and for a new Sheffield is perceived by its inhabitants2 as being in the centre of the city…in fact it stands on the side of a wooded hill. Between it and the city centre are the woods, the tram, the railway and the bus station, before the land rises sharply to the city centre. The rise is so sharp it feels like an acropolis looking up at a small, dense and tall centre of the city. This is particularly evident from the Parkway – where all the Victorian civic institutions are visible.

Fig 3 View from Park Hill towards the city centre:

Fig 4 View of the city centre acropolis:

So Sheffield is a city that you can keep in your mind; it’s whole shape. There is a context within which to imagine. Mention Sheffield to someone who lives in London or Paris, however, and the image will most probably be one of a rather poor, grimy, post-industrial city; somewhere in the middle of England in a non-descript landscape. Of course in some ways they are accurate – what is not true about the mass externalised image of Sheffield is the whole landscape of the city and the topography. Interestingly mention New York3 and the opposite image pops into most people’s heads – dense, high, rich, the built legacy is over-riding – the Empire State building, Statue of Liberty, Times Square. However, the same inaccurate image of the city is true; we know New York is on a series of islands, but do we imagine that it actually has one quarter of its area dedicated to city parks – a 9000 acre salt marsh right next to Kennedy airport, a centuries old forest in the Bronx and in total a natural environment that is more diverse than in any city in the United States.

Similarly, the parks are another of Sheffield’s underrated attributes – a marvellous Victorian legacy that forms a patchwork of green over the whole city.

A context for change – the political setting:

Inevitably it is difficult to talk now days about the urban environment without reference to the vulnerability of our cities and their built fabric. It bears to remind us that cities are politically inscribed organisms, heavily laden with political symbols. Sheffield is no different.

It has had a highly politicised history and is still suffering due to political acts in the past. There are still potent symbols of political decisions evident everywhere in the built fabric of the city – The decline of the Steel industry, Meadowhall – that nearly destroyed the city centre in the 1990’s; The National Union of Miners headquarters building that was never occupied, Park Hill, the utopian scheme that became a symbol of the failure of post-war mass-housing and the emptiness of the Don Valley with its infrastructure waiting for the large new industry that never came.

Today, due to global communications we know far more about world-wide planning issues but perhaps understand less about local ones than in previous centuries. There is a plethora of writing, scholarship and information on urban issues right now and we, as interested commentators and practitioners in our cities, have to decide on the right mechanisms for change. We need to believe in the possibilities for positive change and generate an impetus to improve existing frameworks. Central to all that is the need to find and pursue the identity and then project the right image for the city; one that is specific to Sheffield and displays its uniqueness and difference.

Flawed Masterplans and Utopian visions:

Throughout history utopias have sought to address problems experienced at a particular time. But they are not just part of deep history; they have persisted in various forms throughout the 20th century. However, history both far and near teaches us that the days of empire building and grand narratives for cultures and countries are at best deeply problematic and even dangerous.

Such visions have been riddled with contradictions and have failed society too many times to be taken seriously. They remain as a critique of society and a mirror with which to look at ourselves.

The City of Sheffield has had its share of utopian visions at different scales: already mentioned Park Hill which is now controversially proposing a radical overhaul. At a larger scale – city centre planning utopias such as Abercrombie’s radical plan for the city centre in 1924 and an 18th century “new town”; the brain child of the duke of Devonshire at the time and of which only one house was built in the area that is now the Cultural quarter of the city. Lastly, smaller highly politicised and anarchic utopias have had their part in Sheffield’s development. Edward Carpenter for example, the writer and “explorer of ways of simplifying life”, who started an openly homosexual utopian community in the repressed climate of the turn of the 20th Century. It began as an eight-acre smallholding on the outskirts of North Sheffield at Millthorpe.4 The project continued for fourteen years and inspired Ruskin’s later experimental project for a utopian community farm nearby. It responded to the “idea” of Sheffield as a craft based productive city surrounded by an equally productive landscape.

Perhaps this last example is one of the most poignant as this idea of Sheffield still exists and is relevant to the way that communities perceive themselves on the edge of Sheffield and to the notion of Sheffield as a place of production.

So the big ideas, the visions or the narratives of a city are vital to test more specific ideas, to give a specific direction, to include the past and to build a future. In most cities today the closest thing to a vision for a city is usually the marketing strategy; how the city is packaged to attract investment. This is often a fairly empty gesture in terms of the physical environment.

Sheffield has seen an enormous building boom in the last five years. In particular the initiative started in 1995 with the “Re-making the Heart of the City”5 to create a “new” vibrant city achieved through a knowledge-based development is a popular European objective. This was the first attempt at any kind of masterplan since the 1970’s when master-planning became deeply unfashionable. The City’s aim now, according to Sheffield First6 is to attract high technology and e-technology companies to Sheffield, in addition to retaining the talent emerging from the two large universities. Creating wealth in the city is dependent on a number of factors: one must be to radically increase the small moneyed professional and “middle-class” population in order to provide a better economic base for the city. So we need to ask the question – what would it take to attract those new citizens to come and live here? Another, perhaps the biggest factor affecting the future wealth of the city, is the necessity to create more successful and richer established neighbourhoods in the suburbs around Sheffield. Many of the existing suburbs are remote, both physically and psychologically from the city centre, mainly due to lack of employment and deprivation. How do we create cities of diversity for the new millennium – “places of cultural rigour and physical beauty that are also sustainable in environmental and economic terms.”7

It is difficult not to admire the processes that have to lead to the enormous building programme in the city centre; a city centre bought to its knees is now looking vibrant and cared for. It is, necessarily an economically driven success. However, that does not stop us pointing out missed opportunities and other ways of working, that could create a more powerful and appropriate identity for the whole city, better quality buildings and a more sustainable environment.

The importance of creativity

Today the starting point for the renewal of a city has to come from new creative processes that allow an over-arching vision on one hand and an interest and involvement in the minutest detail of personal experience and need on the other. This is a combination of visionary strategic thinking and community led regeneration.

Creativity in all its forms is imperative to the successful development of a city.8 It is the many forms of creativity and how these can be harnessed today that can allow us “to go beyond inherited assumptions and ways of working”

We need to go against the grain of conventional wisdom and narrow commercial imperatives and find new ways of working – new forms of research encouraging experimental demonstration projects and pilot schemes or demonstration projects – that may go wrong. We need to describe things in a different way to allow for more resources that are difficult to quantify like the vibrancy of a place. We need to find new ways communicating that are more open – all the ways we want to operate in a democratic people orientated process.

A vision for re-imagining the city

If the current expectation of developing Sheffield into a high technology city is placed against another trend for a healthier, more natural mode of living and a more responsible attitude to the planet, we have an interesting set of relationships that is almost unique. This indeed could also be a powerful selling point for the city. This relationship between Nature and Technology is particularly apposite to Sheffield whose great strength and raison d’être historically is based on its natural topographies combined with the city being pivotal in the first wave of advanced technology (18th century) driving the industrial revolution.

Sheffield needs to capitalise on the factors that make it a unique location to dwell. The narrative/story needs to explore a real sense of a distinct geographical place involving engagement with topographical, meteorological, seasonal and diurnal cycles combined with local cultural, historical and social difference.

All of these factors point towards Sheffield becoming a ‘sustainable” city – a green city that leads the way internationally with its contemporary and technological approach to being green. The following categories listed all build to form a visionary narrative of the Sheffield.

1. The Topography – making the topography more important

At city level it is the topography, the hills, the valleys, the rivers, the trees and linear urban parks and the clustering of the built form. Sheffield has a small dense city centre, rising like an “acropolis”. Views of the surrounding hills are available to anyone above the second floor making it an ideal city to live in; ‘you can see the rain coming round the corner from Bakewell’ – resident in Norfolk Park.

In addition to the fact that the wonderful views in Sheffield need to be exploited, two main issues arise here; Firstly, the city centre could be higher and denser, more city like.

Fig 5 View from Norfolk Park with a poster showing an enhanced landscape for Sheffield

Secondly, the hills need to be more identifiable from the city centre, something that gives them a specific image. For example, Shirecliffe that perches on the edge of the high escarpment above Owlerton stadium could have some built or landscape element that immediately makes it recognisable, something positive for both the city centre and Shirecliffe’s identity. Also, both the landscapes and the built form should differ as to whether it is on a hill top, a slope or a valley.

2. A city of flowing water – A different attitude to the rivers and the water

In the eighteenth century water gave meaning to the city of Sheffield through the physical power it supplied to the burgeoning steel industry. In the future, it is more appropriate for the water cycle within the city to exert a different kind of meaning but one that is equally as important.

We need to re-define the role of water, not only as an amenity for leisure pursuits, but also as something more fundamental to the urban landscape, as a workplace or part of the living (home) environment. A different set of values could be developed based on an ecological viewpoint and this in turn could be incorporated into the design of our urban landscapes. It could symbolise a more sustainable interaction between natural processes and human technology, whilst also providing meaning, enrichment and delight. Most of the city still turns its back to the rivers. We also need to see whether the rivers could become more productive.

3. The linear parks – Park City

Fig 6 Map of Sheffield showing linear parks with water running through them. Also visible are the other urban parks as an integral part of the green web.

Sheffield’s greatest Victorian legacy – the linear parks are a consequence of power, of the rivers and the mill races flowing into the industrial centre. They are now an ecological and pleasurable way to reach the countryside as well as providing green corridors coming right into the centre of the city creating a rich and diverse flora and fauna; everyone knows the story of deer in the city centre. If all the linear corridors were considered for improvement and connection with other systems within the city, Sheffield could become a truly green city.

4. Improving Transport Systems – a totally connected eco-transport system connecting the centre and the suburbs. neighbourhoods

We already have a tram, symbolic of new transport systems, any new schemes for the city centre should go even further if the city centre is to rid itself of the terrible pollution caused by the buses (outside the markets, for example) and the cars. A truly innovative transport system in the city centre would be a first in Britain. The size of Sheffield would allow this to be achievable

5. Using the trees – a natural industry

Fig 7 Using the timber in Sheffield – a proposal for a timber mill constructed from timber thinnings

Sheffield is one of the most treed cities in the country. From an elevated position in Sheffield you can barely see urban form in amongst the trees. Could productive industries using timbers thinnings be a viable industry in Sheffield?

6. Recycling as a productive High Technology Industry

Recycling is important to the city combines both sides of this City-wide theme of nature and technology. With Sheffield Heat and Power already established and other recycling ventures including the traditional scrap metal and tyre recycling near the Wicker arches there is a strong base to make this part of the high technology revolution in the city. Sheffield could pioneer new dis-assembly plants for car recycling and other by-products of our consumer society.

7. Energy sources appropriate to Sheffield’s topography

Fig 8 Wind power in Shirecliffe

Just as the type of development and building should respond to the topography so could the type of energy source – hilltop developments could make use of wind power, whilst the hillsides would make the most of solar gain and the valleys could explore new technologies in small scale hydro-electric power.

A knowledge based, high technology future for Sheffield, therefore, entirely depends on the development of Sheffield’s natural attributes, all of which – with vision – could make Sheffield a unique and highly enviable place to live.

The importance of a theoretical perspective

A vision or narrative placed within a wider theoretical context allows for comparison and testing. Over the past three years while the work described in this paper has been developing, three theoretical perspectives or themes have underpinned the process and our ways of working and exploring in the city.

1. The first theme is nature and technology – a dialectic in modern philosophy. Technology has acquired the power to determine ideas, beliefs and myths to such an extent that all our thinking as well as our activities are now situated within that technological context…However the concept of nature is as important and can lead us to the creative transformation of places and promote the idea of the careful stewardship of resources.

2. The second theme is “the city as landscape” This theme talks of how we construct landscapes in our mind and how we read urban territory as landscape. We are reminded that all landscapes are constructed and how by not accentuating their differences architecture becomes landscape, infrastructure becomes architecture and landscape becomes infrastructure.

3. New forms of practice and the processes of consultation looks at the city from a gendered perspective; looking at news ways of working to develop appropriate strategies for re-imagining a city – In the 21st century there is an essential change in the role of the architect or urban designer in the period of transition. We should be acting as interpreter, initiator and project curator, shifting as such, from an authoritative position of mastery to a “feminine” position of facilitator with sensibilities towards local needs and a manager of her/his environment.9

In the particular turning points of history; the new tasks facing perception are solved, slowly and gradually, by the reconfiguration of practices.10

Part Two: the narrative in practice

The second part of this essay describes projects that have been moulded and shaped by both the wider strategic vision/narrative, the background theoretical ideas and the supporting community- led plans. The author has tried to present a consistency and direction that develops all the ideas into briefs for actual and realised projects.

One key project in North West Sheffield that became a potential re-imagining for the whole city is described first, followed by a Community Vision for Parkwood Springs. A project for a small neighbourhood of green homes on Norfolk Park follows and finally two individual buildings, one completed in 2004 and one nearing completion now show how the ideas can be adapted at city, neighbourhood or building scale.

1. Re-imagining the whole city – The framework document for the regeneration of Southey and Owlerton,

This section describes an ongoing project for the regeneration of Southey and Owlerton, an area with 50,000 inhabitants, a tenth of the population of Sheffield. The framework document completed in 2003 after ratification by the City Council now forms the basis and inspiration for all development in the area.

Southey and Owlerton, comprises six whole neighbourhoods but is, in effect, one enormous housing estate, with run down local centres. Laid out in the 1950’s it has a curious semi-rural/urban feel, effectively garden city planning. The communities are well established with large extended families. Recently a new set of residents; young families with single parents and limited employment prospects have been placed there. Although a familiar scenario, the problem is exacerbated due to the areas remoteness from the city centre. Transport links are poor and the hills exaggerate the remoteness. Many, however, of these neighbourhoods are in beautiful natural settings, surrounded by ancient woodland or with long views to adjacent hills or towards the city centre.

Fig 9 – relief map of Sheffield with the SOAR development area in North Sheffield and Parkwood Springs highlighted. Pictures show the housing landscape of the area.

Faced with the task of this urban transformation the regeneration board, SOAR11 , commissioned consultants to prepare a physical development framework plan for the area. This “top down” conventional report, suggested mass housing demolition and the development of pockets of private developer housing. The report was very contentious and after vociferous objection by local residents the regeneration board rejected it. The proposals were extremely diagrammatic, there was no detail at neighbourhood level, and no visual information other than plan based diagrams. This limited its potential to communicate ideas. It was formal and rational, like the analytical, engineering based infrastructural planning of the 19th and 20th centuries; an archaic process that continues to interpret social problems in quantifiable and physical terms. Finally, local people had not led the process.

The regeneration team had a major re-think and embarked on an experimental process developing six individual neighbourhood strategies with full engagement with the communities and tenants’ associations that would lead ultimately to the framework document for North Sheffield. The process was experimental in the way they used consultants to fill gaps in expertise in the neighbourhood and council team rather than handing it over to consultants.12 These gaps centred on new methods of engagement with local people and developing and communicating the ideas of the different communities. Miranda Plowden describes the role of planning in the framework document. “as one that that opens up new ways of looking at issues and that responds to the personal, the local and the everyday, as well as the strategic and the visionary”.13

Multi-layered narratives ranging from an image of the whole city right down to personal stories of residents in the communities underpinned the whole process. Some ideas were developed by the team after consultation and then presented back in “loose” form to the community for their input again; some were generated directly by the community. All were treated as part of a story about the area that would resonate with the largest number of people, from the policy makers at national level to the community “stakeholders” and residents at local level.

The regeneration board, SOAR and the “professionals” worked together with the community and “stakeholders” to see whether a physical identity from the citywide narrative agenda was appropriate to help develop the social, environmental and economic regeneration plans for Southey and Owlerton.

The working process incorporated new ways of working, talking and mapping all informing specific narratives for the neighbourhood strategies and the regeneration framework for the whole area. The new ways of working meant putting local people at the centre of a partnership with the council, other agencies, professionals and citywide institutions. New ways of talking involved using artists and facilitators to open up the dialogue between local people and professionals. Participatory games and structured events surrounding personal experiences and memories used new types of visual information to test out ideas and help build the narrative from the repertoire of stories. New ways of mapping took as a starting point what local people told us about their neighbourhood from their stories. Information was recorded and mapped and used to further investigate and draw out themes missed out by conventional maps and reports. Favourite walks and special journeys, the particular views that had important family events attached were recorded.

Fig 10 Walkabout exercise in Parson Cross

Each neighbourhood14 chose to consult and develop its strategy in its own particular way, but there were many common features that allow a generic narrative process to be recorded.

Fig 11 Topiary sculptures, part of a narrative for rethinking the gardens and green spaces

Fig 12 Mapping the popular places in Parson Cross

All the neighbourhoods used neighbourhood and guided walks, creative workshops, story telling, visits and feedback sessions in the development of their own strategies. There were some themes that were important to all of the neighbourhoods and there were some that were specific. Issues such as the views, the problems with transport to other parts of the city, lack of community facilities, security, lack of childcare, lack of health provision and healthy food available were common to most neighbourhoods.

Often the overarching themes could be related to the whole city. Ideas moved from neighbourhood level to area level to citywide level and back again and a dynamic “top down bottom up” narrative began to appear.

A dynamic narrative for North Sheffield – big ideas

“Park City”-all the open spaces could be linked to form a green web (Fig. 14)

“See and be Seen “- the topography makes particular ridges and areas very visible these need to be marked to make them visible throughout the city and to each other. (Fig 15)

Although the ideas look primarily concerned with landscape, in each case our concern was to make a connection between the natural and built environments and between communities. Joining the green spaces and key routes to centres of community activity, using built form to make the area visible to the rest of the city, reflect the identity of each particular neighbourhood and using the green web to support local facilities and enterprises. The themes of “nature and technology” were developed in the framework document underpinning the identity for Southey and Owlerton. The report described taking the city’s technological ambitions, the ideals of the garden city movement15 and combining these with the best ideas on sustainable development thinking to create a new kind of neighbourhood that would create a strong image to market the area to local people and to new investors.

“Identity from Landform” – the vegetation patterns are distinctive and linked to the topography, grassy tops, wooded slopes and river valleys can give clues to the types of physical development. (Fig 16)

Although looking at one area we felt that the principles of the work in Southey and Owlerton could be adapted for the base of a narrative for the whole city as well as for other neighbourhoods and even individual buildings.

4 “From City to Country and back again” – by joining up footpaths and trails distinctive routes emerge into the city centre and out to the countryside. (Fig 17)

5 “Green arteries” – these link the key open spaces with community facilities, emphasising the green parkland character of the city.(Fig. 18)

Re-imagining neighbourhoods

Parkwood Springs – the next stage in the development framework for North Sheffield

Shortly after the completion of the framework document for Southey and Owlerton we16 were commissioned to develop a detailed community vision for Parkwood Springs, a largely landscape area partly inside and partly outside Southey and Owlerton. This provided us with the opportunity to build on the techniques we used in the preparation of the framework document and to try out the “5 big ideas” narrative that emerged from the process to see if it would work at a smaller scale.

Parkwood Springs is a vast scarred landscape, a largely redundant area of the city with many challenges.17 It also has moments of great beauty and importance; an historic graveyard, a beautiful river landscape, some successful businesses and small industry and a very popular dry ski slope, one of the biggest in Europe. The communities and stakeholders involved were diverse, ranging from the utilities providers such as British Gas – whose above-ground pipes cover the lower reaches of the site, to displaced communities – who still meet up after 50 years, to the friends of the historic graveyard. Two of the biggest owners of the site are the ski slope and the most controversial – the vast landfill site. The whole population of Walkley and Hillsborough look on to Parkwood Springs and the site is ringed with housing.

The complexity of ownership, involved communities, stakeholders and issues previously raised indicated the most important task of a participative approach was to break down conflicting interests and develop a consensus that everyone could work with. We now had an initial narrative for the city and the more specific physical narrative of North Sheffield to use as the basis for starting the process. The strength of the narrative themes worked well to encourage all the interested parties to work together.

We developed a series of workshop events to encourage a variety of “stakeholders” to come and give their views on the long-term development of the site. The most successful, however, was the launch of the visioning process at the Hillsborough Winter Fair – it imagined the first vintage of wine produced on Parkwood Springs and asked local residents to give their views and try the mulled wine.

Fig 19 Building a narrative for a sustainable future for Parkwood Springs

This opened the discussion to the storyboards18 that suggested all the things that could happen on the site based on early consultation with the council, the stakeholders and community groups for what was needed. It also suggested a bold framework the ideas could become part of based on the 5 big ideas narrative for Southey and Owlerton. It created swathes of different landscapes with leisure and sporting facilities dispersed within in the landscape. It made connections to the green arteries and connected the site to the city centre and to the countryside. It became part of the green web. Some of the visitors to the Winter Fair recognised the narrative ideas and appreciated seeing them visualised in the vision for Parkwood Springs. Comments were diverse. What was surprising is how many of the ideas suggested had already been tried on the site. Mainly the allotment holders who had been present on Parkwood Springs for generations had tried growing grapes for example. The south-facing slope was good if the vines were protected, but the wind was too strong.

The vibrancy of the event and the enthusiasm and knowledge that residents had of both Parkwood Springs and the wider area ensured many comments from all age groups. This gave us the questions for the more in depth participatory events where a specific plan emerged. The process here, we are convinced, went more smoothly because we had a relevant framework, a story to underpin the development ideas for Parkwood Springs that everyone felt had relevance and resonance to Sheffield.

Fig 20 The plan “jigsaw” used at a collaborative workshop allowing participants to move pieces around and remove and add elements and facilities agreed on

A housing scheme or a small neighbourhood?

In 2004 we were asked to join a limited competition to design fifty “green homes” for Norfolk Park. The process we followed was heavily influenced by the narratives already developed.19

The massive changes currently underway at Norfolk Park20 provide an ideal opportunity to create new kinds of neighbourhoods in the “Park City’. Putting together the best of parkland environments and high technology, low energy solutions, the “eco-neighbourhood” will attract both local people and new residents, as well as investors. In this instance the nature-technology identity brings together social, economic and environmental factors and provides a reference point for change. It forms the basis for a new image for the Norfolk Park area. This identity is about the physical place but also about the history, the culture and the aspirations of the people and organisations that live and work here in Norfolk Park. The topography is again very important with stunning views over the city.

Norfolk Park is not a tabula-rasa. It is home to a strong community, keen to welcome new residents. The green-home development must build on this.

Developing a strong neighbourhood will involve a network of existing local community groups –

Fig 21 Image of the community facility

Fig 22 Section through the site raising various important issues

Fig 22   Section through the site raising various important issues

The scheme encouraged natural and sustainable cycles both in the landscape and in the building. On the technological side it encouraged the possibility of self-build and enables dis-assembly to happen. Disassembly still rare here is more common place in Germany and Scandinavia. It demands a highly technological approach to the way materials are put together so they can be dismantled and re-used.

Fig 23 Section through eco-houses indicating seasonal changes.

Thinking of nature and ecology the scheme was designed to mature and improve over time with the feel of buildings in parkland; the landscape enhances existing habitats. We increased the diversity of the landscape usually very small in housing schemes by planting in layers. An orderly framework allows areas of informality, which help to create an ecologically rich area.

Fig 24 Image of the central street.

As part of the detailed narrative in the framework document we explored the possibility of using different green energy technologies appropriate for the topography and the siting of the projects. In a future with green technologies Sheffield could promote wind power on the tops of hills, solar power on the slopes and water power in the river valleys….

So in this project on top of a hill we looked at a wide variety of approaches to achieve a truly sustainable development. What became apparent was that some eco-technologies, such as wind turbines, need larger sites. Working with neighbours (the green school, community centre etc.) will make this technology viable. For example: A wind turbine could provide energy for community facilities as well as the green-homes. Norfolk Park Community Forum are considering a turbine on their new community centre site, so the option is open to go for a community enterprise linking the housing in with the community centre for a turbine.

Individual buildings too can realise similar themes that lead to it becoming part of the same identity of the city.

Two individual building projects again have tried to work with the narratives for Sheffield.

Ballifield Community Primary School in Handsworth in the South East of Sheffield is a successful school in a residential suburb on the edge of Sheffield. In 2004 two new classrooms were built as part of the Government’s DfES Classrooms of the Future initiative.

Instead of being hidden away as stand alone classrooms on the edge of the playground, the new classrooms were placed at the front entrance to the school. The project aimed to solve the inadequate entrance and access problems and create a new image for the school for both the children and the community.

The proposal at Ballifield investigates how a strong natural link is reconciled with increasing technological developments, both in the building methods and materials of the classroom and in the curriculum. An approach is adopted that seeks to embrace the benefits of both nature and technology, rather than seeing them as opposing forces. The new classrooms have a strong relationship with the natural conditions throughout the day and year, bringing qualities and experience of nature into the everyday teaching environment. Equally, technology will be implicit in the classrooms’ built fabric and in the way the classrooms help the teaching methods employed. We tried to re-address the role of technology in the classroom so it is in the service of the natural world, not only helping us to understand the world around us but also to achieve a healthy, breathing, responsive classroom environment.

Fig 25 Conceptual sketch through the classrooms

Fig 26 concept to realisation – the box bay windows provide a special space half in and half outside the classroom. The School use these as reward spaces.

Children and visitors will enter the building through a door in a hedge, when it has grown, reminding them of the ancient hedge running along the boundary of the school. The two classrooms each with their own expressed form are timber or ply clad with some green “living” walls. The building is designed to be light hearted and fun.

The classrooms are divided by an ambitious and ultimately rather heavy moveable ply wall that has subsequently been replaced for a lighter version; emphasising one aspect of the nature-technology theme. The two classrooms are class bases for one year group, each has a different emphasis. One is looking forward to the time when all pupils will have blue-tooth technology – to the building technology explained and inscribed on the materials and the structure. In the nature classroom water and light are strong elements with the external classroom, the living walls and the pond reflected in the classroom. The passage of the sun throughout the day and the cycle of the seasons and the stars can both be experienced with windows and views on three sides. The teachers at Ballifield are keen to experiment with the way the classrooms are used and children move from classroom to classroom depending on the curriculum requirement, a mezzanine space with a secret entrance was designed for retreat and for “quality circle time”.

Figs27 The front of the classrooms seen over a sea of meadow flowers

Closely associated with a natural environment is a healthy environment. It has now been proven that a healthier environment with natural light and ventilation aids concentration and therefore learning. The vast majority of school classrooms are not as healthy as they could be with too little ventilation too much artificial lighting and heating. They are filled with unhealthy cheap materials, for example carpets that give off chemicals known for their carcinogens and the copious use of medium density fibreboard. We are still solving the practical problems of the last forty years in classroom design, this fundamental building ecology still needs to be solved and should form the basis for any classroom of the future.

The dilemma here is that it is as much about how the classrooms are used as how they are built. The teachers and the children need to feel comfortable and a combination of the technologies never having been explained properly and immediate comfort being required sometimes negates the positive effect of the natural technologies. Children have a higher resistance to cold than adults and our experience during this project is that most classrooms are too hot.

The Sheffield projects prioritised the less visible sustainable technologies associated with a healthy environment, – we lost the battle with rainwater re-cycling but kept the healthy breathing wall and recycled insulation. We achieved the healthy natural carpet but lost on the type of paints we wished to use. We lost the wind power operated laptops but managed to encourage recycling.

School children are knowledgeable about their environment and vocal as the consultation process showed, but they need to be convinced that the adult world takes sustainable issues seriously, what better place to do this than in the classroom with the classroom as the raw material. At Ballifield the sustainable issues and the construction itself became a teaching device If the children can see where their re-cycled newspapers and plastic bottles from home go, re-cycling seems more worthwhile.

The paradox we are left with is government spending limits per school prohibit most sustainable technologies being employed and the de-skilled and conservative construction industry still finds it difficult to implement these new technologies. Until sustainable materials are common currency and are therefore inexpensive, we will have to carry on proving their worth.

The Hillsborough Pavilion

Finally, a project funded by the Sport England and the National lottery to rebuild the Hillsborough Pavillion. The project was won in a limited competition in 2003 and will be opened to the public in spring 2006.21

Fig 28 Internal Perspective drawn as part of the competition.

The new building is part of a masterplan for the regeneration of the whole of Hillsborough Park. Many of the parks in Sheffield are undergoing a renaissance and the Hillsborough Park vision is to make it a contemporary park of the highest european standard for the 2ist century; blurring the boundaries between sport and leisure. In the pavilion, the main tenant of the pavilion will be the Hillsborough crown green bowling club, an established and highly successful club that hosts many tournaments. They will have a new indoor facility to use throughout the year.

The intention of the building is to weave many other activities and uses from dancing to yoga to even weddings in a place that is at the heart of the community. On the lower ground floor runners using the new track around the park, also have a place to meet, shower and change. A living roof on one part will be monitored in an education suite as part of a wider experiment to encourage green roofs in Sheffield.

In terms of being part of the Framework document for North sheffield it forms one of the community buildings connected to the green web discussed in the 5 big ideas.

In developing the brief and the ideas for the pavilion key ideas from the wider vision for Sheffield were influential. The views are important the main space looks over to Parkwood Springs and Connecting the park to the wider city – the pavilion is a community facilitiy in a parkland setting that connects to some key routes placing it firmly as part of the green web. There is a visual connection with views over to Parkwood Springs on the other side of the upper don valley.

Fig 29 Elevational drawing from the championship green.

Fig 30 Photograph of the front of the pavilion showing the relationship between the building and the green

Relevance to the place – The building continues the tradition of the English Pavilion but and re-interprets it for the 21st century. The boundary between outside and inside is critical in how it presents itself to the city. The pavilion opens with a sequence of glazed doors onto one of the greens; it is highly visible to the main road into Hillsborough suggesting an open engagement with Hillsborough and all its residents. The tram runs past the front of the building too linking it to the future of sustainable transport in the city.

We were not able to use alternative energy, but the building is ecologically sound, super insulated and with a living roof. We are aiming to use one of the felled trees in the park to form an enormous bench in the main room in the pavilion. Whilst sitting on the bench you look right down on to the place where it was felled. It is worked locally and to us forms a statement of the importance of using local timber, part of the vision for a sustainable city.


My thanks go to Miranda Plowden and Sarah Watson who have been an inspiration to work with on regeneration projects in the city and to Howard Evans and Leo Care.

Relevant Bibliography:

Lippard Lucy R. 1997 The Lure of the Local, The New Press , New York
Marras, Amerigo ed. 1999 Eco Tec – Architecture of the In-between, Princeton Architectural Press
Hough, Michael 1995 Cities and Natural Process. Routledge
Girardet, Herbert 2004 Cities People Planet, Wiley Academy
Matless, David 1998 Landscape and Englishness, Reaktion
Blundell Jones, Peter. Petrescu, Doina and Till, Jeremy eds. Architecture and Participation Routledge

  1. The idea of a narrative process for re-imaging the city is dealt with in detail in Prue Chiles “What if?….A narrative process for re-imagining the city” in Architecture and Participation eds. J.Till et al.
  2. comments from consultation in exhibition ” Living in the City Centre” 1999 funded by the Arts Council carried out by Studio 5 Architects -Robert Evans, Rachel James, Simon Gedye and Prue Chiles
  3. ref. Jean Gardner “Topology of an Island City” in Eco-Tec – ,”Architecture of the In-between”. Princeton Architectural Press 1999 )….
  4. There is a whole collection on Carpenter at the Sheffield Archives. – see also Edward Carpenter and Millthorpe in Derbyshire Life and Countryside, January 1996, pp28-29.
  5. Allies and Morrison, Remaking the Heart of the City: Sheffield Bid to the Millennium Commission, Sheffield: Sheffield City Council, April 1995 Sheffield One the agency given the task of regenerating the city centre.
  6. Sheffield First Partnership – the official Local Strategic Partnership for Sheffield and concerned with regeneration in Sheffield.
  7. from Girardet, H – ‘Cities, People, Planet”.
  8. These ideas were first put forward ten years ago by the political and social think tank Demos’ who produced The Creative City (1995/6, by Franco Bianchini) These ideas are expanded in the first appendix.
  9. My colleague Doina Petrescu calls particular projects she has been working on, in Eastern European cities in transition, as “feminine practices” She is interested in showing is how the power of small scale phenomena such as dance can generate urban change. She discusses her work and that of Chora (the Chora institute of urban studies) in her paper Feminine practices of transition or how six pairs of dancing children generate urban change.
  10. Walter Benjamin.
  11. SOAR – Southey and Owlerton Area Regeneration Board, the regeneration body representing North Sheffield.
  12. The team comprised of Sheffield City Council officers, a community enabler, arts regeneration specialists, a landscape architect and myself an architect, with the School of Architecture diploma students participating during a 6 week “live” project.
  13. Extract from the framework document written by Miranda Plowden, the Regeneration Officer for North Sheffield, working for the Inclusion Unit, in the Chief Executive’s department of Sheffield City Council, who lead the whole project with clear thinking and insight.
  14. Neighbourhoods making up the SOAR area of North Sheffield are Southey Green, Hillsborough, Foxhill, Owlerton, Shirecliffe, Longley and Parsons Cross.
  15. Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement – the ideals of which were never achieved as intended, the garden cities in England remain shadows of the social and economic principles he developed for – the best of the city married with the best of the countryside.
  16. The Bureau of Design Research at the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield.
  17. This project became one of the first commissions for the BDR (the Sheffield University Bureau of Design Research) when we won the commission to develop the community vision for the Parkwood Springs Steering Group after a diploma student “live” project re-imagined the site for the Department of Environment and Leisure (DEL) of the City Council in 2001.
  18. Sheffield School of Architecture diploma student produced the images used in the storyboards, again during a “live project.”
  19. We came second in this competition so our scheme is not being built. An alternative scheme by Matthew Lloyd Architects is being built.
  20. See Simone Abram’s paper in this volume
  21. Prue Chiles Architects – job architect Howard Evans with Prue Chiles and Leo Care.