Alumno and Whittam Cox are celebrating the completion of Béton House (www.betonhouse.co.uk) – a unique student living offering in Sheffield city centre. Béton House is the third phase of the redevelopment of Park Hill and provides accommodation for 356 students which includes townhouses and a number of 2- and 4-bedroom apartments, and studios.
Alumno has worked alongside Kier Construction in adapting the building. Homes for Students have been welcoming and settling in new students since September and managing the building. Other collaborators are design companies Ben Kelly Design and Brinkworth with Graphic Thought Facility.
David Campbell, MD of Alumno commented: “We create living spaces for students all over the UK. This year more than ever it is important to provide quality term time homes for students, and the adaptation of this amazing brutalist structure by Whittam Cox is exemplary providing an ideal place for students to both study and socialise. The whole project has been a fantastic team effort from planning, design, construction through to the influence of some great creative interior designers and artists. It is so heartening to see Béton House fully functional and occupied and to see students enjoying living there.”
Whittam Cox Architects have worked in close collaboration with Alumno, leading the student accommodation design and building shell restoration, saving as much of the original building fabric as possible and integrating the modernist mosaics and use of colour from the original design.
Nick Riley, Board Director at Whittam Cox Architects comments about the Park Hill project: “We have worked incredibly hard to understand the deep roots of the original design which is clearly very unique in architectural character. Our designs retain and celebrate all of the important elements of the original scheme, while respectfully adding new layers of identity and design thinking to create three-storey townhouses for student residents, using the famous ‘streets in the sky’ of course. We are particularly proud to be associated with Park Hill as we are a local practice; this building is culturally and physically an intrinsic part of Sheffield for many people, so being part of realising its next chapter is hugely important to us.”
Regional director, Kier Regional Building Northern, Dan Doherty, said: “We are delighted to have handed over the completed Phase 3 of the Park Hill Flats project to Alumno Group. The scheme has not only improved an area of Sheffield for students and residents for years to come but has also enabled us to invest and provide a legacy to the community in which we work.”
Matthew Jarratt, curator, consultant and long-time collaborator of Alumno oversaw the public art provision, including the commissioning of Sheffield’s poet laureate, Otis Mensah’s poem We Were Never Derelict. A typeface Park Hill was commissioned from design studio Founded and extracts of the poem rendered in concrete and steel totems located in the Béton House landscape. The poem is juxtaposed alongside the quotes of former residents of Park Hill sourced by S1 Artspace that is based at Park Hill, reflecting on their lives there, alongside texts from leading theorists and architects who saw the design of Park Hill and other projects as key to social innovation in 1960’s and 70’s.
Matthew Jarratt comments: “The creative development for the Béton House artworks has been a really collaborative process, with S1 Artspace gathering quotes from local people and Otis Mensah writing about the building. My aim for the arts commissions was to echo the Brutalist materials of the original building with raw concrete and steel and a text based approach that contrasts quotes from former residents with statements by leading Modernists, as well as showcasing the work of Sheffield artists Otis Mensah and photographer Chris Wainwright. Park Hill has always been a much debated building and home to 1000s of people, I hope the artworks continue to encourage that dialogue.”
Alumno brought in Ben Kelly of BK Design and Brinkworth to transform the 650 sq m of communal area that now includes a gym, cinema, private dining room, and study room. Tatham Studio worked on the accommodation on the floors above and Graphic Thought Facility’s Andrew Stevens to develop the signage.
Ben Kelly: “If you look at it from a student’s point of view, they’re living in a very different building to the usual one. I like to think it might open their minds to society and to other ways of living – an extra part of their education”.
At the beginning of this year a new short film on Park Hill was made by artist/photographer Martin Gray. Martin approached Alumno with his idea and secured funding for the film. Park Hill itself is well documented but this is the first short film for some years and it includes real stories of real people that is full of heart and of Sheffield character. ‘We Were Never Derelict’ has been released online via YouTube: https://youtu.be/Z03WzvIHduQ
Martin Gray says: “Like much of my work, the Park Hill film project reflects a fascination with the relationships we have with our physical and cultural environment. A strong connection to place and shared space exists for most of us, however that evolves. The initial three-month Coronavirus lockdown, which began just after the film was made, put this into sharp relief.”
There will also be an exhibition of the finalists’ entries to the 2020 Park Hill Student Photography Competition run by Photo North in the communal areas at Béton House over the coming months. The theme of the competition was ‘Your Community. https://www.photonorthfestival.co.uk/sheffield-student-competition-your-community-1
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Photographer credits; Louise Melchior, Jack Hobhouse, Will Roberts