Park Hill.. (flats Sheffield)

Over the weekend of the 19/21 WARP celebrated 20 years, on the Saturday night they showed films some that had used Park Hill as a location, from Aphex Twin window licker, to The Artic Monkeys

over 500 people some who love the forms of Brutalist Architecture, others who will no doubt not have been before The Urban Splash project once completed 634 flats will be for sale another 240 for affordable housing 62 of which will on a shared ownership, this is very much the privatisation of public housing.

I had not been all summer I was not going to miss such a moment, this was the re-awakening of my love for her this due to my last visit ending following threats from drug dealers, like a farther ending an illicit love afaire with his daughter it was for now over, but any true love will come through. Time has stood still there is not much change, in the ruin people live, with the last problems in mind it was with some fear I go back.

I spent a day taking images, along with a night time shoot, this place is addictive, it,s forms are made even more by the work of local graph artist Kid Acne. The visit followed headlines in the local news about the project to bring this grand old lady back to life taking longer, with mummers of the impending demolition in my ears, to be frank there has always been this talk, but somehow it feels like we are now very much watching the last days of Park Hill, people close to the project who do ignore such idle talk, but there in private admitting to some truth in them.

It was with this in mind and following The WARP film night I wanted to go, the loss of one Sheffield’s icons The Tinsley Cooling Towers is much in my thoughts, what is it with Sheffield and it,s fucking heritage, of course Urban Splash are there for the gain, but we also know they love the challenge haveing seen there work of past, if only the local papers was not feeding negatives and just let the project emerge, I neither agree with what is the privatisation of public housing, but know enough of the work from Urban Splash to bring this grand old lady back following the listing, English Heritage began a process of preservation whose philosophical absurdities are richly comic, even as they are melancholically ludicrous. Park Hill is being taken back to its bare concrete frame and the vacant gaps will be filled by good intentions.

English Heritage has also suddenly become a property developer and is collaborating with Urban Splash. This saviour of blighted buildings all over the north west will turn Park Hill into a loft-dweller’s paradise, here is the compromise that make it is hard to take like a kick to the bollocks the pain will fade, but the thought of social housing becoming this is somewhat harder to forget that pain.

This is all very good, but why has English Heritage suddenly adopted an bourgeois role, especially when, with absurd archaeological pedantry, it insists that all the staining and flaws in the Sixties concrete must be meticulously restored so as to match some abstract historical model? This pseudo-scholarship adds ruinously to the budget, the flaws are what add to her character, would you want your grandmother to have a face lift and boob job? Of course not the wrinkles in perfections add to her character give her soul it is the same with Park Hill, have a walk round before it becomes loft-dweller’s paradise and some of that soul along with character is removed, of course she is ugly indeed grotesque loud rather rude at times but this is her charm.

As a result, Park Hill is an expensive muddle at taxpayer’s expense, here is the problem the privatisation of former social housing is being paid for by the taxpayer, in part at least? it beggars any thought that the whole sum can not be given to Urban Splash to return it back to social housing, no instead it will either limp on cost far to much at the end of the day it will become lifeless as any other new build in Sheffield, if not done right but I trust Urban Splash though it will become a loft-dweller’s paradise full of the pontificating bourgeois, but at least those who had to foresight to build this form of Brutalist Architecture will see it being used once more, we can only hope that the mistakes of the past are learnt.

Here is an opportunity to recycle and use some of the green techniques from the first build, with up to date green ways of building, and create a project of green sustainable community’s, it effect turn it back to when it was first built.

The flats employed an early example of recyclable energy when they were built back in the sixties. A district heating system was installed whereby almost all rubbish could be put down a chute in the sink for it to be mashed up and converted to electricity in the bowels of the flats!

The original Park Hill development consisted of nearly 1000 flats as well as four pubs, plenty of shops (butcher, baker, bookie, laundrette, upholsterer, hardware shop, wallpaper shop, off licence, newsagent, fish & chip shop, gents & ladies hairdresser) as well as a nursery, primary school, community centre, garages, doctor’s surgery, pharmacy and dentist’s.

Site History

In the nineteenth century the Park Hill area was made up of old quarries, untidy waste ground, steep alleyways and some of the worst slums in Sheffield. This densely populated area consisted of 2 or 3 storey back-to-back housing around central courtyards. Often there would be just one stand pipe for around a hundred people. This, combined with the lack of any proper sewage system, allowed diseases such as typhus, dysentry and cholera to ravage the area. In 1864 back to back housing of this type was prohibited.

During the 1870’s Sheffield Corporation built drains and sewers through the city. Although originally the untreated raw sewage was sent directly into the rivers, at least the sanitation within the housing areas like Park Hill was improved. During the 1880’s the provision of water supplies passed from a private company to the corporation and the first sewage treatment plant was built.

Park Hill Flats

Slum clearance began in the 1930’s but was halted by the 2nd World War. By the time the issue was reassessed in 1953, a radical solution was needed. This took the shape of Park Hill Flats, built between 1957 and 1960. The unique design was based on an idea by French architect Le Corbusier of creating ‘Streets in the Sky’. The 995 flats were built on top of a 1:10 gradient making them range from 4 storeys high at the top end to 13 storeys at the end nearest the city centre.

This layout allowed nearly all of the decks to reach ground at some point, meaning milk floats and other services could access them. The community feel of the previous traditional streets was recreated where possible by rehousing neighbours next to each other.

Park Hill Flats attracted worldwide attention and were praised for their innovative design. In December 1998 Park Hill Flats became Grade 2* listed giving it equal status to the Turret House at Sheffield Manor Lodge and making it the largest listed building in Europe.

In the history of the British Modern Movement, a handful of buildings are so widely regarded as beautiful that they have become architectural icons: the De La Warr Pavilion and Highpoint One are good examples.

Conversely, there is more than a handful of buildings that have achieved iconic status for all the wrong reasons: buildings which are so widely loathed that they have come to symbolise what the public at large dislike about Modernist architecture: for years, Trellick Tower held this dubious honour. Not far behind was the Park Hill estate in Sheffield.

Completed in 1961, Park Hill was intended to provide local authority housing for thousands of people. A largely working-class industrial city, whose best days were behind it, the city fathers of Sheffield hoped that Park Hill would signal the rejuvenation of the town and provide quality homes in a deprived area.

The council turned to two young Modernists to realise their vision. Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn were graduates of the Architectural Association and heavily influenced by Alison and Peter Smithson.

Modernists like the Smithsons were beginning to question the decades-old vision of giant towers set in green parkland as a workable model for urban regeneration.

Denys Lasdun had just completed Keeling House in London, an attempt to build a collection of tower blocks designed to preserve the sense of community which existed in narrow, working class streets. Even the master himself, Le Corbusier, had, with his Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles, signalled a new approach to social housing: relatively low-rise blocks, packed with amenities.

Park Hill is one of the most spectacular examples of new approaches to communal living in post-war Britain. Consisting of 995 dwellings, and housing over two thousand people, it occupies an entire hill overlooking Sheffield city centre, and is built on a slope, so increases in height as the hill slopes away. The estate consists of huge snake-like blocks which contain the duplex apartments and the estate’s famous ‘streets in the sky’, (based on the Smithsons’ Golden Lane Housing plan of 1952), a bold attempt to preserve the communal benefits of street-life.

Each apartment had a front door which looked out onto a twelve-feet wide access deck (‘street’), which ran from one side of the scheme to the other. Bridges carried the street through the entire scheme, allowing milk floats to trundle from door to door.

Jack Lynn was worried that the lobby space in other Modernist estates tended to become a no-man’s land, serving neither public needs nor offering privacy to residents, and it was hoped that the ‘streets’ would solve this problem. He remarked enthusiastically on the different colours of linoleum at each doorstep as proof that residents’ individuality was not being smothered by gargantuan surroundings.

But Park Hill’s problems quickly became apparent. The streets allowed some of the worst aspects of urban life to remain (muggers found they made convenient getaway routes), whilst failing to preserve the better aspects.

They were never really streets in the real sense. Although the architects had included shops, a school, and a pub in order to create a distinctive community within the estate, the access decks were really just long walkways with none of the vibrancy, diversity, and organic feel of a city street which has grown and changed over decades or even centuries.

In the Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles, Le Corbusier had enclosed his streets within the building: in Sheffield they were left open on one side, and exposed to the less clement Yorkshire climate.

A team of 12 caretakers employed by the council lived on-site until 2003, on call 24 hours a day to look after the building, pick up litter, collect rubbish, mend, fix, mow and more.

Grand old lady

To Grenville Squires, Park Hill’s caretaker, Park Hill is a grand old lady who’s “come on hard times. She just wants to wash her face and put on a new frock, and she’ll be out there!”

The flats were Grade II* listed in 1998 so there’s no chance they’ll be knocked down, and development company Urban Splash who intend to return the estate to its former glory over the next few years say they wouldn’t want it to be knocked down even if it could be:

“What would we put in its place? We accept that Park Hill has its flaws but we believe, warts and all, it’s better than a lot of the mediocrity that is defining our cities.

“And it’s actually cheaper to keep Park Hill and refurbish it than if we built it new, by a good margin. If you demolished Park Hill you’d have enough landfill to fill four football stadia.

“And besides, getting rid of it is not a ‘sustainable’ solution, when it can be saved, repaired and made good again. All it needs is to be loved.”

But by the 1980s Park Hill had become dilapidated and was no longer a popular place to live.

Horror stories abounded: tales of drugs and muggings galore and even sniper-style air-gun shootings of children in their primary school playground. But residents and caretakers (in particular Grenville Squires and friend of mine who lived and worked on the estate a total of 26 years) believe that Park Hill had bad press”

Like Claywood, Woodside Kelvin Flats Hyde Park this form of yes utopian Brutalist Architecture will be lost, if this happens it would be crass and such another wasted opportunity, the very people this project was built for will be the grater losers in all of this, along with Sheffield’s pride in having the bollocks to build such grand designs, it should anger people, need I remind people that the red brick fire station is going to be demolished, 20 years on from when it replaced what is now Bungalows and Bears on Devonshire Street, this city is becoming another clone with slums of tomorrow in the form of West One St Paul’s The Velocity Tower, we let such dire mundanity architecture take over our city, but some can not see the positives of Park Hill allow them selfs s to be fed a lie form the local media and those currently in administration, it seems the fight has began I say the government should pay the full cost, for this project and it be turned back to the former social housing she once was.

We could disagree why she was listed, and looking back the reasons for the listing was a mistake this I agree with, but once more we are told not the whole truth, such as just before it was decided to seek the complete refurbishment, all flats had been fitted with new kitchens, in the empty ruin they wait to be ripped out, how fucking sustainable and green forword thinking is this? Instead of looking to pass the blame on to the current and former residents for the failings of Park Hill as in The Sheffield Star is suggesting in the lead article of their paper on Tuesday 22nd 2009, the continuation of the sensationalist headlines on page five is full of the same old propaganda of anti working class, it manages to throw in some positives, once again the wider problems of mismanagement are placed with negatives of Druggies along with other such negative stereo types of anti working class propaganda

It was very much self evident on Saturday night, the uninvited people still living there were kept out by The Police, indeed the current residents only learned of the WARP film night when it was happening, this should have been much a event for those living there, once again the working class are nothing but cannon fodder. Once completed 634 flats will be for sale another 240 for affordable housing 62 of which will on a shared ownership, this is very much the privatisation of public housing agreed and sold to us by the former ruling Labour Party, all politicians are lieing fucking scum who ever we vote the working class are fucked over, neither have we herd fuck from Sheffield Green Party on the foolishness that has become Park Hill.

The same politicians that had seen the wholesale demolition of social housing along with their part privatisation under Sheffield Homes the remaining housing stock has been seen some improvement, but once more at a cost to the working class living there. There are tails of thefts people with out bathrooms, kitchens life’s overturned due to the ongoing program of refurbishment, if the housing stock had been taken care of would there be a need?, indeed how fucking green is to place into landfill a bathroom and a kitchen that had life left in them, when some objected they was told they would face eviction, only to be told by Sheffield Green Party it would be sustainable, told they was just being anarchist for the sake of it yes a true account of a comrade from his experience of The New Homes program, indeed we need only look towards Southey Green, the empty wasteland where Woodside once stood, before her demise it had been seen refurbishment it was the so called druggies along with the social problems was the reasons given for that demolition now the land can not be sold and stand as reminder why capitalism dose not work for us the working class.

Another look at Parson Cross the neighbour of Southey Green tells you of the failings, through the late 1970s right up to and through the 1990s the housing stock of Sheffield has slowly become slums, no lessons have been learnt from the past, instead Sheffield was taken to the brink of bankruptcy due to an on-going disagreement with the former Conservative government, it had no choices left, but place us into further debt with projects like the World Student Games, that we are still paying for, along with Kelvin Flats, the former Hyde Park and now we are paying for Park Hill as 40 Million of public cash has been given to aid Urban Splash, look towards the Manor the ongoing problems there. Across Sheffield we see the new slums being built such as West One, old ones such as Pitsmoor given a face lift, the social problems of high unemployment and poverty which are the formation of the problems facing not only those on Park Hill but the wider city come from are at least hidden behind the new walls and face lift gardens of Pitsmoor. Once moor the Burngreave New Deal Community’s is in the news and the former Labour administration offer us platitudes about that fuck up, it was Burngreave New Deal Community’s who sold the demolition of Woodside you could not make up this shit, it gets better those involved with this scam are Trotskyist, I have found a use for those new lamp post, lets hang the fuckers from them.

The actions of former Labour administration are excluding the very people places like Park Hill was built for much the same for The current administration, not even a fucking murmur form Sheffield Green Party, of course it would be cool for the completed flats to be given over for affordable housing and the full cost covered by The Government this returning back Park Hill Flats to the working class, in a city where much of the social housing program of Roy Hattersley has been demolished and lost, there has been some very successful refurbishments programs, we need only look to Norfolk Park, along with Netherthorpe in a city that has lost so much public housing over the years, the loss of Park Hill to the private sector is a grate loss, in these times we are told we have to compromise, perhaps this is one we have to come to terms with, however the anti working class propaganda in The Sheffield Star is just that, and one we should not have to come to terms with, just the same as the lies from all involved in the shame that is Park Hill and the demise of social housing in Sheffield along the side of the Trotskyist this scum shall hang.

{notes info researched nicked from}

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