Park Hill – Urban Splash

October 21st, 2010

UPDATE: 5/3/14 Park Hill today Utopian estate left to die

Color Me Goodd! Urban Splash brighten up Park Hill Phase One

For a larger version of this photograph click the image itself.

“Streets in the sky” on a gloriously sunny October day

The falling leaves, Drift by my window, The falling leaves
Of red and gold . . .

From the heady days of the 1950s to the depressing times we live in with cuts, cuts, cuts, still ringing in our ears, Park Hill has seen them all.  It was the future once, then it sadly became the past, now thanks to Urban Splash it is the future once again.

Watch the video:-

Park Hill was built between the years 1957-61 and replaced rows of back to back terraces on cobbled streets.

From Old Maps 1956 – click for full image

Park Hill today from Google Earth – click for full image


National Library of Scotland maps side by side

My first sight of Park Hill from the station car park

On arriving on site for the “tour” Phase One in progress

I had travelled to Sheffield to join an Urban Splash “tour” which is in inverted commas because it turned out to be a sales pitch and a short walk.  It consisted of a 35 minute PowerPoint presentation of the history of the site and plans of the flats for sale.  At 1045 was a walk down the hill looking at the outside of Phase One (above) but by then I had had my attention diverted by Sid Fletcher (a Sheffield resident) who was prepared to show me the entire site (not the building site) on a whistle stop tour and this he did.  I am very grateful to him for his trouble and the information I learned is reflected in this article.  I have since written to Urban Splash addressing my concerns about their “tour” and they have promised to include me on a later more comprehensive tour.

Phase One in progress

Watch the video:-

Declaration of love – Urban Splash are keeping this

I love you bridge – Radio 4 Now on YouTube

also on the BBC website here -> I love you bridge

These were the only images I took whilst with the group and as I said above I peeled off with Sid Fletcher who intimated that he had known the site for a long time and could show me the streets in the sky that I had come to see.

Streets in the sky

This iconic phrase has entered the vocabulary of the Modern Movement as a result of places like Robin Hood Gardens, Park Hill and Keeling House.  An attempt by Modernist architects to reproduce the neighbourliness of the cobbled streets of former terraced houses with their reinforced concrete equivalent several floors above ground.  Initially it worked, and later, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article, it didn’t.

Watch the video:-

If there is one image that has come to be associated with Park Hill from the documentaries it is the milk float on the landings which were designed to be wide enough for a milk float to visit each front door.  On visiting Park Hill it becomes clear how the milk float was able to reach each deck.  It is owing to the steeply sloping site which rises from just above Anson Street, where Phase One is 13 stories high, up to Talbot Street where owing to the rising ground and the constant roof line, the flats are only four stories high.  There are therefore points of access to each deck, from ground level at one end or the other.

Concrete spalling is evident on several parts of the structure above

The reason that Urban Splash have had to make 5,500 repairs to the concrete on Phase One is that the reinforcing bars come too close to the surface in many parts of the structure which has allowed water penetration and rusting to occur which has caused expansion and forced off the concrete covering exposing the rusting re-bars beneath and this process has continued.  On other parts of the site the same process is at work, untreated.  Below is an extreme example, look at the balcony rail on the right.

Balcony fire escape via kick through panel (in red) to next flat

More elaborate fire escape balconies

As I said above the site slopes upwards from North to South and the buildings at this end are illustrated in the following photos of the blocks at Talbot Street and the view from them towards the city.

Click photo for panorama

I was told there were four pubs on the site at one time, I only found two but then the others may by now have been demolished.  The two I found are shown below in a dilapidated state.

Although the Talbot Street end is still inhabited a majority of the site is not and with Urban Splash working on Phase One within sight of and nearest the city centre, there are an awful lot of boarded up and secured flats.

I asked my guide for the morning if the milk float had been able to reach every level from a ramp or ground access and he said that they sometimes used the goods lift to change levels.  I spoke to some workers from a security firm who were boarding up empty flats about the lift and they said that they thought it had been used for a small electric trolley to do the same job.  I took a photo of the goods lift open and closed and it does look a bit small for a standard milk float so I’m still not sure what the true situation was.

Grenville Squires was the Estate Officer or Caretaker for Park Hill for at least 28 years and became a well known person both to the residents of the estate and was filmed for at least one documentary about Park Hill.  His face has been displayed by a local artist on hoardings erected in the windows of empty flats and the results are visible below.

I have decided to put the remaining twelve photographs of Park Hill into an album format in order to avoid further lengthening this already long article.  I hope you have enjoyed looking at my photographs and learning about Park Hill as I did, for many years before actually getting to see it.

Click here for the photograph album of Park Hill

Rachel Cooke of the Guardian went back to look at Park Hill in 2008 and has written about her experience here:-

Last but not least the Guardian has another take on it by Owen Hatherly he of the recently published book on bad British architecture (but not Park Hill):-

And another:-

and one on class cleansing:-

And another, this time in Red Pepper magazine:-

UPDATE: See updated visit

More here from the Architectural Review:-

A second chance for Sheffield’s streets in the sky

A visit from Douglas Murphy

A brief visit to Park Hill

Architectural Review links here:-






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