Step out of Sheffield station, turn around, and look up. That hilltop curtain of concrete, gradually being coloured in, is Park Hill. Brutalist, characterful, divisive Park Hill.
When it welcomed its first tenants in 1961 the estate was a pioneer of postwar social housing. Park Hill's flats replaced sooty and neglected Victorian back-to-backs, elevating their inhabitants above land they'd previously crowded into and instead offering panoramic views and fresh air.
Enamoured of Le Corbusier, its architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith were young idealists who wanted to transpose the area's existing social structure into "streets in the sky". Rows were named after the terraces they replaced, old neighbours were rehoused next to one another, decks were wide enough for milk floats and a good natter. Four pubs, a school, play areas, around thirty shops – everything a community needs was all brought together in one, very concretey, place.
Like so many utopian visions, though, the dream didn't last. By the 70s the economy, society and political priorities had shifted, and Park Hill's upkeep, security and reputation compromised. Though relatively positive to begin with, public opinion on Park Hill had always been divided. But by the time it was Grade II* listed in 1998 – making it Europe's largest listed building – many had a hard time seeing past the estate's rising crime rate to appreciate its historical social mission and architectural significance.
Sharing the optimism of the original architects, Urban Splash have taken on the towering task of reconfiguring the Park Hill dream for the 21st century. They're slowly tapping into the building's potential, bringing colour back to its cheeks and life back to its streets in the sky. Head up the slope behind the station for a look at was was an ambitious and iconic housing experiment now in a state of change – while you're there, look out for remnants of old Park Hill and locations used in TV series This is England (find out more in our Sheffield on Film tour), and enjoy the view.
- Words by
- Kathryn Hall
- Images by
- Will Roberts