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The Life we Share...Made Personal

The Theatre of Everyday Activity

Park Hill is an exemplar of Brutalist architecture. Our approach is that of plan masters with an ongoing stewardship of design rather than a detached master architect determining the culture of place.

Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith were hugely influenced by the work, writing and ideas of Alison and Peter Smithson.  Park Hill was the first manifestation of Alison and Peter’s ideas of external access as a way of building high without the problems of isolation. The idea of the elevated streets was to preserve community spirit relationships. Street life was designed in.

Brutalism expressed the industry of making architecture with an honesty of material and construction, expressing the concrete frame and timber board shuttering.  Decoration wasn’t an integral part of the architecture and there was no pretence for artifice.  Heritage England notes the material quality of park hill and we wish to retain the raw honesty and integrity of materials used throughout.

Relief to the municipal blocks was brought through the activity of its residents and the community. Park Hill was known for its community spirit and it is this loss which is lamented most by residents.  This notion of community has changed from that idealised in the 1950’s when Park Hill was conceived.   We wish to help create that cohesive community, activity and vibrancy now and to allow the expression of this community to humanise the buildings.

We want to allow greater expression of the individual and transparency.  Our approach is that of plan masters with an ongoing stewardship of design rather than a detached master architect determining the culture of place. We wish to address various audiences and intervene in various systems to confront questions to define the relevant community and establish an exciting expression of this community and culture.

Reyner Banham criticised the original scheme saying it was more concerned with life than architecture. We are concerned with nurturing this life and making manifest inhabitation in such a way that it makes sense at differing scales. Our approach is to re-evaluate the relationships that exist at four different scales; City, Neighbourhood, Street and Home. 


A clear external image has been established by Phase one. Phase two needs to compliment rather than mimic.  A complimentary design solution will add to the complexity and diversity of Park Hill.  The existing external face benefits from the greatest articulation of the various apartment types and as such is inherently rich and diverse.  You have suggested greater retention of the existing and we would look to retain the external brick infills to the expressed concrete frame, celebrating the artistic collaboration with John Forrester.  Other successful moves from phase one may be replicated, such as the transparent celebration of vertical access to nurture a sense of permeability and openness.


The relationship to a common ground becomes critical to the successful appropriation of communal spaces, such as the landscape.  The ideas expressed of allotments, gardens, bowling describe levels of resident activity which prevent a sense of ornamental and bring life. These areas are overlooked by the streets in the sky but are also overshadowed by the more un-relenting elevations where the percentage of solid to opening is significantly reduced. We would look to reconsider the infill overlooking the communal areas to improve transparency, overlooking and animation.

A key consideration at a neighbourhood scale is the proposed ground level and the potential animation achievable. How do the buildings meet the ground and what functions are placed here?  We are keen to explore alternative ideas, possibly re-evaluating some ground floor areas as zero value to be reconsidered as community assets or new forms of publicness. These ground floor spaces might be considered as urban allotments nurturing resident start-ups? Offering residents opportunities or be considered as live work units. Residents need to be expressed at ground not secluded to aerial accommodation. They need to co-exist with commercial businesses and community facilities. The scale of commercial activity could reflect the domestic scale so that the craft, maker and individual are re-enforced.


As you approach your home there needs to bean increased sense of familiarity, a reduction in municipality and consistency with greater opportunity for resident diversity and individualism to be expressed.  We would explore an increased threshold looking for opportunities for the home to spill out into a semi-private domain which is safe for young children to play.  We would like to explore how some flats might have accommodation, such as a study room, kitchen diner, play room, an extended vestibule which could open out onto the street.  This combined with ‘eddies', recessed areas off the main thoroughfare where neighbours front doors face each other will help nurture passive overlooking, bring articulation and prevent sterility. We want to extend the sense of the home into the street.

The streets are long and a little un-relenting we would like to explore opportunities to break the continuity, introducing punctuations, common rooms, elevated gardens or green houses. These spaces will bridge the scale relationship between the street and neighbourhood.

Our approach is to humanise the street, using lighting and materials to reinforce this altered semi-private / public space. The spectacle of the milk float, special delivery and collection vehicle could be re-introduced, maintaining a clear thoroughfare and allowing residents to take on line deliveries directly to their door.


Home should be adaptable with an ability to shape your surroundings; making your place; your home, a reflection of you and your needs.  Rather than strip away and start again there is merit in preserving.  Some apartments could become conservation projects, with integrity to the original vision– this might be as living nostalgia but could equally be a living archive developed in collaboration with the brutalist society archive, the RIBA and Heritage England.

There is an economy of adaptation and appropriation where new life and a forward looking perspective is achieved but without total eradication of the past. Cementing the layers of history should add to the richness of Park Hill’s story. This is a role of curation, determining what is worth keeping and what should be removed because it is no longer beneficial to residents.   The degrees to which the apartments are appropriated could vary and could potentially be led by future tenants. Amendments will be required to meet modern environmental standards and to ensure that the apartments are efficient to run and maintain. What is important is that residents feel that they can make the spaces their own.


We are working with a ready-made, an existing dominant infrastructure and re-appropriating it to establish new relevance.  This process of collage, the insertion of new or enhanced architectural elements alters the way in which residents can occupy the spaces and choose to express themselves. We have chosen three principle acts of inhabitation and celebrated these as though they are scenes from the theatre of everyday activity.

Act One, The Vestibule 
Scene one; Arriving and leaving home

The vestibule enhances the threshold of moving from one environment to the other.  Ritual habits can be expressed, dropping your bag at the door, leaving your keys in a familiar place, taking your coat off. The vestibule is an opportunity for the home to express its residents through the choice of left objects, decoration and practicality.  Similarities will exist between residents but no–‘one’ is ever exactly the same.  This new space brings the home up to the street and allows an inhabited presence to be expressed. 

Act Two, The Balcony
Scene one; Engaging with outside

The balcony provides a vantage point, a physical means of relating to the outside space.  Small balconies to the major bedrooms bring a sense generosity to the flats and allow the occupants to be expressed externally.   The balcony improves transparency, overlooking and animation. Opening windows and shutters change the dynamic of the exterior by expressing a resident’s choice to control light and air.

Act Three, The Conservatory
Scene one;

The conservatory alters the existing balcony to create a new usable space which can be used in multiple ways.  This use is influenced by residents, weather, orientation, such that no-‘one’ is ever the same; a kitchen herb garden, an exotic hot house, an extension of the living room, somewhere to read or smoke.  The conservatory extends the home and makes the balcony inhabitable.

Act Four, The Core
Scene one;

The core of the fats is the concrete I / H.  The material should be celebrated and paired with an equally strong but relenting material, timber.  A new timber box insertion of almost cabinet making quality contains essential bathroom space is the most economical way to preserve generosity for circulation.  The central cupboard and walls surrounding the stairs are removed to allow light and the sense of arrival from the vestibule to register on the flat below.

The proposed plans:

The existing flats are well planned and organised. Three strategies exist for the refurbishment.

  • Do nothing and leave the flats as they are, a heritage or nostalgic response.
  • Totally strip them out to expose the shell of the building and respect its industrial heritage to create a loft type approach to the refurbishment where only core elements are replaced allowing the greatest flexibility for future residents.
  • Amend and alter the flats in a subtle way. Work with the existing organisation and look for enhancements / improvements.

Collage Incidents;

Moments of inhabitation

The vestibule;

A transparent glazed enclosure at street level. 

Access to the front doors is altered to create eddies of the street.  The front doors leading to the flats with accommodation at street level and above are pulled back and the two front doors leading to the flats below street are turned through 90 degrees and pulled forward to increase the space available at street level.

None of the front doors address the thorough fare of the street and are pulled back away from the main area of circulation and grouped in four – two up;  two down.

The increased space of the vestibule for the flats below street level introduces practical and useable space. This is somewhere for the pushchair, bike, coats shoes and bags.  Each space would be personalised by the resident. 

The design balances transparency and openness with the need to control this variation so that the overall perception is organised. Regular Deep laminated timber mullions frame vertical openings of glass. Light is let in but the oblique view provided as residents and visitors walk along the street is the colour of the laminate.

The balcony:

The windows to the flat are more than sufficient for the size of the bedrooms. Blank walls allow for furniture placement. This perception is quite different from the outside where the elevations to the bedrooms and overlooking the semi-private gardens feel less generous and very static.  Balconies add generosity to the flats and increase the sense of overlooking and connection between each flat and the gardens.  Integral to the design of the balcony is a screen panel which works with the glazed opening. The screen panel allows the resident to shut the light out and change the elevation of the whole block by registering their activity.  In this way the rear elevation becomes a kinetic, dynamic elevation dictated / manipulated by resident choice. These movable panels of colour provide relief to the austerity of the existing brick. Colours are chosen to complement the existing brick panel and to compliment the colour strategy of phase one.

The conservatory:

The flats below the street each have a single level balcony. The scale balcony takes potential area from the flat and is only useable for select occasions.  The conservatory reclaims this space for the resident.  It is a space that can be inhabited in numerous different ways.  It can be used as a balcony or as an extension of the flat.  The design of the conservatory works with the existing design of the concrete balustrade. The top concrete horizontal is replaced with a large horizontal timber transom, recessed back from the leading edge of the concrete frame and balustrade. This transom forms the centre piece of a new external timber framed opening glass wall. This outer wall is complimented by an inner conservatory glass screen, which can be lighter, and potentially left open.

Scale Up

Multiple incidents

Each designed incident or moment of celebrated inhabitation expresses the resident and registers an impact on the overall composition. The repeating nine square module is consequently relieved through subtle variation. Providing opportunity for individual expression and amplifying this humanises the buildings. This is most dramatically felt on the street with the multiple vestibules.  Ivor Smith regretted the omission of windows onto the street, we have gone a step further and established display windows to celebrate residents.

Colour has been used to great effect on phase one. We want to continue with this strategy and also retain the majority of the brick work. Our proposed colour pallet picks up on the yellow from phase one and introduces mustard tones of green. These colours are placed into the reveals of openings.  As such the colours work with the brickwork, amplifying the structural frame and reveal depth. This altered orientation for colour changes the perception of the buildings from the city.

A Sense of Community

We think we can add to each flat, to enhance life as a resident by providing opportunities for the new community to come together or to provide spaces which provide flexibility and opportunity for activities that are difficult to achieve given the scale of the flats.  It would be impossible to have a piano in our flat. Equally the flat can accommodate a new family but there is little room then for parents to visit.  New models of development are demonstrating an interest in community build and self-build where residents are collectively coming together to manage shared facilities. We think that there could be an opportunity to introduce a community corner.  Accessed from street level where the street moves from one side to the other; the corner flat could become a common room and shared kitchen. This would be open to the street removing the perceived dead end and provide a space where music lessons, toddlers group, after school activities etc. could take place.  Above and below this one of the flats could be converted into two guest bedrooms. This would become a sort of small hotel for resident’s guests, such as mum and dad.

The community corner could extend to the lower levels of commercial space and provide common facilities, table tennis for office workers?

The sloping grounds alters the relationship with the street and in phase one the lower levels are converted into commercial space. With the specific levels in phase two we think that the lower level street can be retained in part to create a relationship between the flats above the street and with commercial spaces below. These could potentially be conceived as live work spaces, accessible out of hours for residents from the street and during opening times from the public realm leading to the new S1 arts space. The street need not continue along the whole length of the block and come to ground at a new entrance / opening through the block. The introduction of live work space would offer a new type of accommodation and integrate residents with the commercial offer of the development.