Sheffield: City of Landscape and Architecture. Part Three – The Arts Tower
This seems like an apt closing point for our whistle-stop tour of the modernist buildings which set Sheffield apart as a city from everywhere else for me. Once again, we find a building which makes the most of the landscape around it, a theme which you may well have seen developing throughout my posts this week. It just seems that so much of the building that went on in Sheffield during the era that these beautiful buildings were erected was done with such thought for the fact that these were structures which would sit within the City of Sheffield as a whole, not just things which were being plonked down and would speak entirely for themselves. Admittedly, this is one of my pet gripes about a lot of new buildings, which seem to bear very little thought for their surroundings. I’m digressing…
Heading just out of the city centre, you start walking up the hill towards the University of Sheffield, heading in a Broomhill/Crookes direction. As you round the corner from the University Supertram stop (The Trams Of Sheffield! How have I not shoehorned them into this discussion of the city before now? Digressing again…), passing the bland looking and horribly named ‘Information Commons’, the real star of the University comes into view. The Arts Tower is a thing of profound beauty in my book, a huge concrete grid frame, filled almost entirely by glass which allows light to pour into the building (unlike a number of other University buildings which seem to view light as a resource counterproductive towards academic progress). However, for me it is how these windows reflect the city back out to itself that offers one of the most impressive features of the Arts Tower. This video shows just how much the Arts Tower becomes a part of the landscape, reflecting the day.
Designed by Gollins, Melvin, Ward & Partners in 1961, along with the sumptuous Western Bank Library which is connected by a stunningly simplistic bridge, the Arts Tower is Grade II* listed, and is the highest/tallest (I’m never sure which one of those stats is true) university building in the country. I feel that the tower needs to be read from a distance, before making the most of the approach to it. From across the road (somewhere near-ish The University Arms pub) you get a real sense of the scale of the buidling, and also notice for the first time the fact that the tower doesn’t actually sit on the ground, it is on a stilt like structure which acts to emphasise the concrete grid above it. It is flashes of design like this that really speak to me, in a similar way to the flat roofline of Park Hill which I mentioned earlier in the week. They are the kind of things that on first glance seem very ordinary, even mundane. Yet once you start to pick apart the design and structural features you realise just how much they are adding to the building.
Once again I am going to draw an inevitable parallel between Manchester and Sheffield, and once more we see Sheffield maintaining the modernism which saw it find a place on the architectural map. The Arts Tower and Western Bank Library have been protected, maintained, and over recent years genuinely cared for by the University of Sheffield. Switching our gaze to Manchester, the Womersley designed Maths Tower (built 1967-68) has been ripped down from the city’s skyline, and replaced with an oversized tin can. Sheffield is a city which celebrates the 1960s architecture which has become as much a part of the landscape of the city as the seven hills, five rivers and 2.5 million plus trees.
NB – over the course of the past three days I have barely started to scratch the surface of the beautiful architecture of the city. I’ve had no room to look at David Mellor’s Park Lane house in Broomhall, Hallam Tower Hotel (supposedly built to accomodate visitors to the city for the World Cup in 1966), the Grovesnor Hotel and nearby Sheffield Telephone House or any of the raft of new buildings which tip their hat to Sheffield’s architectural upbringing. I would suggest picking up the Pevsner Architectural Guide as a good starting point for further investigation.
To accompany this soaring gesture of beauty and learning, I present today’s Sheffield band – The Sweet Nothings. These guys make the kind of pop songs which make me fall in love with them a bit more every time I see them, and claim to be the city’s best socialist pop group. I would tend to agree with them.