Sheffield's Listed Buildings
In the U.K places of historic interest and buildings of architectural importance can be listed for preservation. The idea is that future generations should inherit and build on the work and way of life of earlier generations. The practice began on January 1st 1950 under the austere postwar Labour Government. The French had been preserving historic buildings for about 100 years prior to 1950, and in Great Britain after World War II it seemed a good idea to do the same. There were groups around whose mission it was to save buildings prior to 1950.
Listing a building doesn't mean it is no longer useful. Many times it's in the best interest of the building to find a good use for it as long as it is properly maintained. If that use is not the same one it was designed for a new use may be found. Listing merely ensures that architectural and historic interest is carefully considered prior to changing, or demolishing, a listed structure. Incidentally listing is done for more than just buildings. A town square, phone box, or a number of other structures and places can be listed. By 1989 435,000 spots were listed in the U.K.
Older buildings are of course more likely to be listed than newer buildings. All buildings constructed prior to 1700 which have survived are listed. Most built between 1700 and 1840 are also listed. After that date the criteria is a little tighter. And post war buildings have to be exceptionally important to be listed. There are three grades of listed buildings in the U.K. Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest for one reason or another. Grade II* are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. And lastly, Grade II buildings of special interest warranting every effort to preserve them. Of the 500,000 or so listed buildings, 94% are grade II, and about 2% are grade I.
Listing can also be done for architectural merit, rarity, construction method, or if a building played a role in the life of a famous person, or was the scene of an important event. Sheffield and the surrounding areas of South Yorkshire are home to only eleven listed grade 1 buildings. Most are churches, with the exception of the Town Hall, Pinstone Street, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, and Wortly Top Forge. All of these magnificent buildings should certainly be preserved as long as possible. The Grade II and Grade II* building of the area may be another matter however in and around Sheffield.
The most interesting building listed in Grade II* in Sheffield may be Park Hill Flats. Originally built in the late 1950s as a solution to affordable housing, which had been lacking since the Luftwaffe's slum clearance program of the 1940's. Park Hill is the largest Grade II* in the country, and after opening as streets in the sky in 1961, ineffective maintenance and antisocial behavior by residents caused the project to be less successful than projected. This listed building shows that there can be some problems with listed building projects. While many residents would prefer to swing the wrecking ball and start over, that isn't an option with a listed building, particularly a grade II*. This style and method of construction is in fact rare now, and some think it should be preserved.
An ambitious renovation is proposed by Manchester based developers Urban Splash. The substantial Liberal Democrat minority on the City Council are for de-listing the building and tearing it down. 274 apartment units would be used as affordable housing. Six hundred would go on the open market and trendy shops and ethical markets would sprout up around them. The director of development has painted a picture of an idyllic future for the area and wants to reconnect Park Hill to the rest of the city, and persuade the rest of the city to love Park Hill.
The other one thousand or so listed buildings that are Grade II could be just about anything from stables to phone boxes and other buildings that certainly deserve saving. Many of the steel mill buildings that built the rest of the city that are still around are listed. The only problem with listed buildings would be owning one. While it may be cool to say you own a historical or famous building, you have little or no control over its future, and are required by law to keep it properly maintained.
As for Sheffield architecture, it's been chosen to represent Britain at the prestigious 2006 Venice Biennale. The theme of the exhibit is the relationship between urban architecture and social dynamics. The attraction to Sheffield's buildings is more the city's attitude - its reputation for honesty and craftsmanship - an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. The fact that it is pulling off a transition many thought impossible just a few years ago. A post industrial chameleon act starting on the minus side of 70,000 jobs turned into an IT and Service city in thirty years. That sounds about right, and is just what's happened.