To begin at the beginning.
Park Hill was previously the site of back to back housing, a mixture of two and three storey tenement buildings, open ground, quarries and steep ginnels connecting the homes.
John Rennie, the city’s Medical Officer of Health, concluded:
The dwelling houses in the area are by reason of disrepair or sanitary defects unfit for human habitation, or are by reason of their bad arrangement, or the narrowness or bad arrangement of the streets, dangerous or injurious to the health of the inhabitants of the area.
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 under the supervision of J L Womersley, Sheffield Council’s City Architect, began work in 1953 designing the Park Hill Flats.
Park Hill Part One was officially opened by Hugh Gaitskell, MP and Leader of the Opposition, on 16 June 1961.
Following the ethos of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation.
The development integrated playgrounds, schools, shops and pubs into the scheme.
Government restrictions on how potential tenants were allocated to flats, the limitations of the building’s fabric which decayed when not maintained, poor noise insulation and issues with resident security caused their popularity to wane. For many years, the council found it difficult to find tenants for the flats.
Despite the problems, the complex remained structurally sound, it was controversially Grade II* listed in 1998 – making it the largest listed building in Europe. A part-privatisation scheme by the developer Urban Splash in partnership with English Heritage to turn the flats into upmarket apartments, business units and social housing is now underway.
I first visited the then almost uninhabited site some years ago – meeting the handful of remaining residents.
Mark – “Why are all these photographers coming here from Manchester?”
Chatted with Billy the lone cleaner.
The majority of the site was tinned up and secured in an insecure fashion.
Following the hiatus caused by the Covid epidemic, building work has recommenced.
It’s joy to return and view the developments that are taking place – a structure that seemed doomed returning to life, providing new homes within a unique architectural experiment, which continues to evolve.
Each stage designed by a team of architects willing and able to link the wealth of heritage to new possibilities.
Stirling Prize winning architects Mikhail Riches were appointed to undertake the new designs for Phase Two. Demand has been high for the one, two and three homes that also include three two bedroom townhouses.
Phase Three is unique student accommodation with the block being configured into four and eight bed townhouses, two and four bed apartments and classic studios for 356 students. The development partner is the Alumno Group and Places for People who have named it Béton House.
It’s May 2022 time to take a post Covid look at work in progress.
Highlight of any tour is the sight of the restored mosaic which adorned The Parkway pub – my heart literally leaped with joy.
The palette of the mosaic forms the colour coding of the development’s colour coding.
The last word goes to Mr Tom Bloxham:
We were the only ones stupid enough to take it on.
He is sitting in the vegan cafe that now occupies one of Park Hill’s ground floor commercial units, dressed in a black Prada x Adidas tracksuit, with a matching hat.
When I first looked at the place online, I thought: F*ck*ng h*ll, that looks like a disaster. From the outside, it looked really crap. But as you get inside it, you see there is this object of beauty.