Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rebuilding streets in the sky

The planning application from developers Urban Splash is finally in for the redevelopment of Sheffield's (in)famous Park Hill estate, that highly visible and much loved/loathed monster of modernist architecture.

For the application, go here and search for ref 06/00848/OUT. For Urban Splash's eye-opening brochure, download this.

The listed complex is undoubtedly one of the most striking/terrifying examples of post-war high-rise idealism sunk into urban decay. Can it be rescued for the 21st century? In the short to medium term, if it gets enough money thrown at it, probably. It was a proud and sought-after place to live when it was first built, as were many high-rises - and as are many of the new generation of high-density 'urban living' type developments.

As the promotional bumf puts it:
Can it work second time around? Of course it can.
In many ways Park Hill is so modern. The flat plans are great, more generous than many developer’s modern boxes – they were built to Parker Morris standards so there is enough room to swing a cat and somewhere to park your Dyson.
The streets in the sky are great because not only do you get to know your neighbours but you might get to know your whole ‘street’ and we want to make great streets again.

(Interesting, by the way, that a Dyson has become a ubiquitous signifier for an aspirational lifestyle.)

But will it be more successful this time at building and maintaining enough of a community that it remains a desirable, thriving place? That'd be the real challenge, and one that's only met once the developers have made their money and moved on. I know from people who've bought into the new developments in Leeds, Manchester and elsewhere that there's little community to be found in these schemes - not least, I suspect, because the vast majority of flats are bought to let, meaning there's few permanent residents to long-lasting attachments, and that many flats are empty thanks to an over-developed, over-heated market. I don't know that the famous 'streets in the sky' layout will necessarily help that - I suspect the dominant factors here are socio-political rather than architectural.

It'll be fascinating to see how it all works out, but I hope I'll be excused if I don't pre-order my flat now.

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