The Heart of the City Project — Colin Farmer — 5th December 2016

Colin is an archi­tect who was employed by Sheffield Council.  He ran   the prop­erty func­tion of the Council with the aim of making the Council’s prop­erty work more effi­ciently.  Colin was involved in the Heart of the City Project as archi­tec­tural adviser from 1994.

He explained that it is import­ant to get the design of a build­ing cor­rect at the start because a build­ing is a very expens­ive under­tak­ing and it may have to last for many dec­ades.  He told us that if the design of a build­ing works then nobody notices the design, but if the design doesn’t work then every­one notices it.  He showed us slides of many impress­ive build­ings and bridges in sev­eral European cities to demon­strate his point.

The Heart of the City Project (HOTCP) aimed at increas­ing employ­ment oppor­tun­it­ies and pro­ductiv­ity in Sheffield.  Sheffield lagged behind Leeds in terms of GDP since the steel­works closed, with Sheffield’s GDP being only 71% of the national aver­age com­pared to Leeds 95%.  The pro­ject hoped to rec­tify this.   He men­tioned that the Peak District National Park is the second most vis­ited park in the world, with only Mount Fuji attract­ing more, and the aim was to get many of those vis­it­ors to the Peak to come into Sheffield.

Not every Sheffielder sees the Town Hall and its sur­round­ings as the city centre.  As a boy, living in Shiregreen, the centre to me was the area around Fitzalan Square and the Castlegate mar­kets because that was where our bus dropped us.  However, the HOTCP saw the Town Hall area as the centre so that was where the devel­op­ment was aimed.  The Project was always going to be con­strained by the city’s fin­ances.

The Council owned the land and build­ings around the Town Hall and decided to start there.  Colin showed us many draw­ings and plans for the area but the Peace Gardens devel­op­ment was the first step.  The build­ing oppos­ite the Town Hall was valued at £200,000, but after the Peace Gardens were fin­ished the value increased and the Council sold it for £2.25 mil­lion.  The plan for the Town Hall exten­sion (the ‘Egg Box’)  was to change it into a shop­ping mall, but this was dropped as being too expens­ive and also because it would block the way to the city centre from the sta­tion.  The ori­ginal idea was to direct sta­tion arrivals along a tree-lined walk­way from the sta­tion to the city centre, but the traffic depart­ment ran a dual-carriageway along Arundel Gate and cut it off to some extent.

The ‘Egg Box’ was sold to developers, who demol­ished it and erec­ted the cur­rent build­ing for the Council and a hotel.  Also the Winter Gardens and the Millenium Gallery were planned and erec­ted, although there were some alter­a­tions to the Gallery.  This was because the V&A, who were involved in stock­ing the Millenium Gallery, required her­met­ic­ally sealed gar­ages where they could unload their stock, so plans were changed to accom­mod­ate them.  The light­ing planned for the gal­ler­ies was dif­fused, reflec­ted day­light but the V&A covered the roof win­dows and blocked out day­light. The Council offices were designed to have a com­fort­able, calm­ing atmo­sphere in the wait­ing and inter­view­ing areas because people vis­it­ing are usu­ally there look­ing for help.  Colin also men­tioned that the Town Hall and the Central Library build­ings (and others) are show­ing their age and will be expens­ive to ren­ov­ate.

Altogether an inter­est­ing and enlight­en­ing talk with such a volume of slides and inform­a­tion that it is dif­fi­cult to cover it all.