September 27, 2022

Future imperfect

Had a walk around the famous (well, it is, sort of) Park Hill estate in Sheffield and up close you can understand why the rehabilitation of this maligned solution to post-war housing is such a success. 

The superstructure is a designer’s dream of wonderful grids, cutaways and reveals, with the rescued concrete frame now a cradle for new homes in the sky. 

Comparing the blocks that have yet to be rescued with what the City and the developer’s have achieved, it’s remarkable (and, of course shops, nurseries, play areas, lifts that work and an actual sense of community that cares for it also helps.) 

Being a modernist icon it also appears to have been designed with repeatable perfection in mind. 
Walking around it with a pair of Architects and another more interesting story emerged. 

The concrete framework was prepared using timber shuttering, which leaves a lovely grained patterned. What it also achieved (if that’s the right word) is something more appealing – every single new window frame that comprises the facade is ever so slightly different. 

Each had to be cut to accommodate the difference that the less than precise woodworks effected. 

The idea of the imperfections in this (while likely a procurement nightmare. Imagine preparing the drawing package) now adds to the human quality of the rhythmic blocks. Tiny modulations that are probably imperceptible but are undeniably there, like the quiet characters, make the rescue work and results even more appealing. 

The precision that graphic design tools offer iron out this ‘error’. 

Perhaps it’s time to relax the snap to grid settings. 

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About Richard Hill

Creative director, writer, designer, illustrator based in the UK with global project experience and consulting skills across sectors.

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