Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Normal service will be resumed...

II* Listed Park Hill, Sheffield, by Chris Downer soon as possible, as they used to say when the Beeb broke down.

It rarely does now; I wonder what sort of fevered activity went on to find the blown fuse in those far off days when telly was still all new and exciting.

Thankfully, the Republic computer has been repaired, returned and lives again. As one who learned to type (two fingers only) on an ancient Imperial, black, glass sides, and extra long cork carriage (legal docs and accounts, I believe) the laptop I was loaned for a short while daily, with its flimsy keyboard, simply wasn't up to Grumpy Old Blogger style bashing.

A short post then for now, to say thank you to the Society of Antiquaries for the very kind mention of the Republic in SALON, although the sex change came as a surprise I can assure all I never felt a thing.

If the august Fellows of the Soc of Crocks are liable to keep dipping in to the Republic, possibly I had better cease mixing metaphors.

Sadly, I can't say I thought that last Friday's English Heritage prog showed conservation as being A Good Thing. I can't say anything terribly good about what seems to be happening at Park Hill, Sheffield, much as I would like to, beyond the fact it wasn't bulldozed. I appreciate Urban Splash's desire for a marketable product, but surely conservative repair, not wholesale destruction, should have been rather more to the fore? William Morris, where are you now?

I did think that listing was the right thing to do; I actually find a great deal of twentieth century (and earlier) concrete construction, and its history, interesting; shame EH and DCMS got it so very wrong in refusing to list the equally as architecturally exciting (for Gateshead) and in my humble opinion, although not that of those who exist in the terracotta tower that is EH, iconic 'Get Carter' car park, destined for the wrecking ball.

The reasons for refusing to list are increasingly sounding less than convincing for that rare car park/shopping centre combination (the fact the restaurant never functioned seemed to loom large, that may be because Gateshead folk's idea of eating out was Friday at the chippie, haddock, chips and mushy peas for health) but sense and listing don't seem to go hand in hand. The more you learn about the inner workings of the DCMS and English Heritage listing and delisting lot, the more risible it all becomes. See also the link to SALON and the delisting of the Colin St John Wilson / Arthur Baker house, not an isolated incomprehensible incident I believe, but more on that at some other time.

(It's worth perusing the correspondence released under the FoI Act on the DCMS website relating to the refusal to list the car park. As someone who took some small part in the campaign to try to save it, I say a loud thank you, to that person who is still arguing the toss with the powers that are, and who take not one jot of jobsworth's notice.)

However, what is happening at Park Hill now seems to fly in the face of the listing. I wonder, if faced with a new application to list a building with so much of it comprehensively junked, what EH's recommendation to the Secretary of State would be?

The 'squint test'? What was all that about then? Hell, let's demolish St Paul's but leave the dome? 'Constructive conservation' is all very well, but reducing a building to what is perceived as its important part (in this case the concrete framing, and possibly the more intangible cultural significance) is a dangerous road to meander along.

Sure, the interiors required some refreshing and rethinking, but I watched with growing horror as the carefully considered, subtly coloured and sound brickwork and fenestration of the II* listed building was attacked with hammers and consigned, presumably, to a landfill hole, or worse. Sustainability, anyone? Conservation of the earth's resources? I even recall a whole heap of EH documents on the very subject.

English Heritage’s three-fold responsibility is set out in our Sustainable Development Strategy:
  1. to ensure that the historic environment is recognised as a finite and non-renewable environmental resource in its own right
  2. to ensure that the value of the other environmental capital embodied in the historic environment is not wasted
  3. to ensure that our own activities, actions and advice are fully sustainable
    Our climate change policy forms an important part of this.

    Does one part of EH not ever link with the other parts? This is the same EH, and the same Simon Thurley, currently carrying out a campaign on Conservation Areas (see blog entry:

    Flats and maisonettes. 1957-60 by Sheffield Corporation City Architect's Department under J L Womersley, designed by Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith with F E Nicklin and John Forrester (artist); Ronald Jenkins of Ove Arup and Partners, engineer. Formally opened in 1961 by Hugh Gaitskell. Reinforced concrete frame, partly board marked, with concrete balcony fronts and brick infill in four shades - a progression of purple, terracotta, light red and cream. Continuous flat roof of even height throughout the estate. 995 flats on 17 acres (total site 32 acres) at density of 192 ppa and a unit cost of £2,800 each (total cost £2,158,591). The scheme includes 31 shops, 4 pubs, a laundry boiler house, Garchey refuse station and garages....

    Park Hill is of international importance.

    It seems I wasn't alone, as reported in this week's AJ:

    Shown on Friday night at 9pm, English Heritage is comedy gold - albeit unintentionally so on the part of those filmed - and frankly wasted at a time when most architects are discussing the woes of the recession in the pub.

    This week saw Simon Thurley and his spiffing tweedsters (surprisingly) take on the overhaul of Park Hill, the 1950s brutalist flats in Sheffield, with regeneration darlings Urban Splash. Few come across well - with perhaps the exception of Christophe Egret, who keeps on smiling through the buffonery as the scheme slowly goes awry...

    If you missed it, here's a chance to watch again:

    It seems also that great minds etc as a reader has posted this comment:

    Taken together with previous weeks offering on Apethorpe Hall (EH as developer), they are classic investigative and unconsciously humorous TV. Particularly liked the squint test applied to a concrete frame when all the subtle colours of brick and fenestration had been just chucked away as if it wasn't part of the original concept. It was also interesting to see the caretaker driving around the streets in the air past what looked like sensitively restored front doors and lots of friendly residents....

    Totally baffling. Conservation Officers throughout the land must have been crying into their half pints watching that. How on earth are they supposed to explain to yer average listed building owner just why they can't rip out original windows to replace with nice, easy to maintain, modern uPVC, and why 'historic fabric' should be treasured?
    Here's the much admired PPG15, and Annexe C:
    It's worrying that an update is being prepared. Let's hope Park Hill is not the shape of things to come.
    Good news is that Caius Plinius, Being the inconsequential witterings of a builder-cum-conservation project officer has come out from the lambing shed, and has posted on his blog again:

    A reminder that the SAVE Liverpool exhibition is now in London at the gallery at Cowcross Street, if you have so far missed it at its previous two venues (one Liverpool, one London) then this is another chance to catch it.

    Triumph, Disaster & Decay from 5 - 22 May at The Gallery, Alan Baxter Associates, 70 Cowcross Street, London EC1M 6EJ. OPEN DAY 14 May (9am - 8pm), otherwise by appointment only.
    See also:
    A reminder also from SPAB Mills' Section, of which some at the Republic are keen supporters, that it is National Mills' Weekend this weekend, May 9th and 10th:

    Good luck, too, Save Dreamland campaign, with the applications for Heritage Lottery and Sea Change funding, the most worthy of causes.

    If anyone wishes to view the latest plans for the Heritage Amusement Park (which includes the II* listed Dreamland cinema, as well as the newly listed Sanger animal cages and the Scenic Railway) and the applications here they are:

    Reminder number three that the hugely historic and rare rides at Pleasure Beach, Blackpool, are not covered by any listing; the Grand National was refused a listing for the most bizarre of reasons in 2000ish, then the Scenic was listed... with similar 'flaws'. Noah's Ark, the finest collection of 'woodies', Hiram Maxim's Flying Machine...

    If Amanda Thompson could do what she did at Southport Pleasureland and bulldoze the Cyclone woodie, and a great deal else besides, (another EH and DCMS cock up meant a last ditch campaign to have it listed was foiled) then I doubt much would stand in her way at Blackpool either if she thought she could make a faster buck.

    Rant mode off, a reminder there is a further episode of jolly japes and restoration comedy at English Heritage Friday evening on TV.

    Back soon.

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