The Alsopification of Park Hill

Park Hill

Park Hill

Park Hill

The £146m regeneration of Sheffield's Park Hill housing estate, which has this week been given the go-ahead, represents a remarkable reversal of fortunes for what had become a poster child/whipping-boy for the failures of modernism and mass housing. Snaking along a hillside in central Sheffield, Park Hill dominates the skyline, and casts a long shadow over Sheffield's fortunes.

Now, led by developers Urban Splash, the plan for the revitalised Park Hill is to bring some love in, and aims to soften the brutal modernism of the estate with a splash of colour, a dash of playfulness, and big dollops of gaudy landscaping.

Park Hill

The brochures accompanying the Urban Splash proposal, featuring graphics by The Designers Republic, design concepts by Studio Egret West and archtectural plans by Hawkins Brown, are full of intriguing forms and bright colours, designed to give an impression of something rather than be too prescriptive at this early stage. It's nothing less than the Alsopification of Park Hill, where some gaudy daubs of colour and form stand in place of any real idea what's going to happen.

But of course the biggest change that will turn Park Hill into one of the most desirable locations in Sheffield will be that it will no longer be the domain of sink social housing for the dispossessed, the rootless and the shiftless, low-income families, teenage mothers and other benefit dependants. Such as monoculture was always a recipe for disaster.

Park Hill

The regenerated Park Hill, like previous Urban Splash projects, will undoutedly see an influx of yuppies, trendies, middle income families, and the chattering, Guardian reading middle-classes. But, as the renaissance of the Barbican proves, and the recent renovation of the Brunswick Centre, people love a bit of brutalism, as long as they can get a cappuccino nearby. Brutalism doesn't really need to be 'softened up', all it needs is a Starbuck's and a Waitrose. It certainly doesn't need to dressed up with electric pink parasitic appendages or white metallic rose covered multi-storey car park facades. Actually, the facade proposals from Hawkins Brown,featuring bleached wooden decking and some pot plants in a kind of everytown Homebase-does-Scandi style are worse. Going too far down this route runs the risk of losing the essence, the frisson of the strange, Brutalism's dark promise, that makes Park Hill intriguing in the first place.

Park Hill

The brochures show how the new design aims to revitilise the housing stock of the estate, and turn the notorious "streets in the sky" into viable walkways and streetscapes rather than just a desolate network of muggers corners.

As the excellent post at Brand Avenue states, the designers of Park Hill, Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn, were strongly influenced by Alison and Peter Smithshon, who themselves were inspired by pop culture references, such as their competition entry for housing at Golden Lane.

With Urban Splash's proposal for the regeneration of Park Hill, things have turned full circle. The brochure and press material is littered with reference to Sheffield's pop illuminati, quoting ABC lyrics here, and namechecking the Human League and Pulp there. It's only surprising they haven't updated the brochures with the Arctic Monkeys.

Such attempts to piggyback on the pop-music archeology of Sheffield have in the past failed badly, as the operators of the National Museum of Popular Music discovered when it opened in 1999. Despite the mighty heritage of Human League, Joe Cocker and, err, Def Leppard, no-one came to visit the £14m building designed by Nigel Coates, and it closed 16 months later (and is no currently used as the Students Union by Sheffield Hallam University).

Impeccable pop credentials, music or architectural, won't save good intentions built in the wrong place.

Arnold Odermatt tunnel crashes

Odermatt tunnel

The intriguing cover and CD sleeve art on the superb Tortoise retrospective A Lazarus Taxon, by Arnold Odermatt, had me looking around on the web to find out more.

Here's what the New York Times' Ken Johnson had to say about Odermatt, in the description for the book Karambolage

"With thoroughness and a meticulous attention to detail, Arnold Odermatt photographed automobile accidents on the streets of the Swiss canton of Nidwalden between 1939 and 1993. For 40 years, the Swiss police office recorded the wrecked cars left in the wake of excessive speed, drunk driving, right-of-way errors, and plain foolishness, in poignant, sometimes funny, and always strange atmospheric photographs. Though Odermatt was not formally trained as a photographer, he made images that evidence a studied appreciation for romantic landscape scenes and a simultaneous attention to the clinical detail of an accident of police procedure. He created them as a personal corollary to the documentary photographs that typically accompany police and accident reports in his picturesque Alpine country. Art historically, they call to mind such diverse sources as Weegee's scene-of-the-crime pictures from the 1930s and 40s, and Andy Warhol's interest in the banal spectacle of disaster and accident in the 1960s. Wholly original and surprising, beautiful and haunting, Odermatt's pictures were only recently introduced to the art world--when Harald Szeeman exhibited them at the 49th Venice Biennale, they were virtually unknown. Magically lucid."

These photos also reminded me of this awesome video of a tunnel in Moscow, courtesy of YouTube.