Concrete, dramatic and brutalist, Moore Street Substation lends itself to comparison with that other towering example of post-war urban regeneration in Sheffield: Park Hill. Like Park Hill the electricity substation was built in the 60s on land recently cleared of neglected back-to-backs. And, like Park Hill, it has split public opinion ever since.
Designed in 1968 by Jefferson Sheard – the same architecture practice that did the Roxy Disco (now Academy Sheffield) – the substation was lauded by critics; yet despite being Grade II listed in 2013 it continues to face objection over its unapologetically imposing exterior.
In a prominent position next to the inner ring road, one of the main routes into the city centre, the substation can't fail to catch the eye. Particularly at night, when its stairwells and clean concrete lines are all lit up with the red, blue and yellow of 100,000 LEDs.
The substation was referred to as a "citadel" when it was built and while its striking, fortress-like form may seem straight out of a brutalist's dream scene, it's not without functional basis. Windowless and made from reinforced concrete, the building is optimised for fireproofing, noise reduction and to support heavy floor loads. As its English Heritage listing puts it: "the opportunity was taken to design a building which was a powerful expression of its purpose." Powerful indeed. In 2016 the public had the very rare chance to step inside this enigmatic bunker, when the Art Sheffield festival took advantage of its temporary closure to fill it with a suitably awe-inspiring audiovisual installation by artist Steven Claydon.
Take a detour from the Devonshire Quarter for a good look at the substation and see which camp you fall into: the lovers or the haters.
- Words by
- Kathryn Hall
- Images by
- Will Roberts