Saturday, 27 August 2011

Park Hill Estate, Sheffield

Park Hill caretaker, Grenville Squires, referred affectionately to Park Hill as his grand old lady who has 'come on hard times. She just wants to wash her face and put on a new frock, and she'll be out there!'

Park Hill was previously the site of back-to-back housing, a mixture of 2–3-storey tenement buildings, waste ground, quarries and steep alleyways. Facilities were poor, with one standpipe supporting up to 100 people. It was colloquially known as "Little Chicago" in the 1930s, due to the incidence of violent crime there. Clearance of the area began during the 1930s but was halted due to World War II. Following the war it was decided that a radical scheme needed to be introduced to deal with rehousing the Park Hill community. To that end architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith began work in 1945 designing the Park Hill Flats. Inspired by Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation and the Smithsons' unbuilt schemes, most notably for Golden Lane in London, the deck access scheme was viewed as revolutionary at the time. The style is known as brutalism. Construction is of an exposed concrete frame with yellow, orange and red brick curtain walling. However, as a result of weathering and soot-staining from passing trains, few people realise this and assume the building to be constructed entirely from concrete.

The concept of the flats was described as streets in the sky. Broad decks, wide enough for milk floats, had large numbers of front doors opening onto them. Each deck of the structure, except the top one, has direct access to ground level at some point on the sloping site. The site also allows the roofline to remain level despite the building varying between four and thirteen stories in height. The scheme also incorporates a shopping precinct and a primary school. Construction began in 1957. Park Hill (Part One) was officially opened by Hugh Gaitskell, MP and Leader of the Opposition, on 16 June 1961. The City Council published a brochure on the scheme which was in several languages, including Russian.

To maintain a strong sense of community, neighbours were re-homed next door to each other and old street names from the area were re-used (e.g. Gilbert Row, Long Henry Row). Cobbles from the terraced streets surrounded the flats and paved the pathways down the hill to Sheffield station and tramlines.

“They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never dissapointed” ― J.G. Ballard, High-Rise

Further housing schemes were completed to similar designs, including Hyde Park and Kelvin in Sheffield. Although initially popular and successful, over time the fabric of the building has decayed somewhat and some other disadvantages of the estate, such as poor noise insulation and easy getaway routes for muggers, have become apparent. For many years, the council have had difficulty finding tenants for the flats. The estate was nicknamed "San Quentin" by some residents after the notorious American jail.

Despite the problems, the complex remains structurally sound, unlike many of the system built blocks of the era, and controversially was Grade II* listed in 1998 making it the largest listed building in Europe. Sheffield City Council hoped this would attract investment to renovate the building, but this was not initially forthcoming. The decision to list the estate was controversial at the time and it continues to attract criticism. Even now, inhabitants of Sheffield are split on the matter of Park Hill; many believe it to be a part of Sheffield's heritage, while others consider it nothing more than an eyesore and blot on the landscape. Public nominations led it to the top 12 of Channel 4's Demolition programme. Other television appearances for the flats include Police 2020 and in an Arctic Monkeys video. A BBC programme called Saving Britain's Past sheds light on the building site's past and discusses the listing from several viewpoints in its second episode, called "Streets in the Sky".

A piece of graffiti, "Clare Middleton I love you will u marry me", which is written on one of the "bridges" linking two of the blocks, was the subject of a documentary broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2011. The presenter went in search of the story behind the graffiti, eventually finding that Clare did not marry the author of the graffiti, a man named Jason. She died of cancer in 2007. As part of the refurbishment of the estate the developers have chosen to illuminate the portion of the graffiti reading "I love you will u marry me" in neon. Clare Middleton's name has not been illuminated.

Park Hill is also the name of the area in which the flats are sited. The name relates to the deer park attached to Sheffield Manor, the remnant of which is now known as Norfolk Park.

Further information here, here and here. Video content here, here & here.

Many thanks to Sid Fletcher @ towerblockmetal for the use of his images. See more of Sid's work here.

Friday, 19 August 2011

The End of History and the Last Man – A book by Francis Fukuyama

Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama (born October 27, 1952) is an American political scientist, political economist, and author. He is a Senior Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford. He is best-known for his book The End of History and the Last Man (1992).

By way of an Introduction:

The distant origins of the present volume lie in an article entitled “The End of History?” which I wrote for the journal The National Interest in the summer of 1989. In it, I argued that a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. More than that, however, I argued that liberal democracy may constitute the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government,” and as such constituted the “end of history.” That is, while earlier forms of government were characterised by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy was arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions. This was not to say that today’s stable democracies, like the United States, France, or Switzerland, were not without injustice or serious social problems. But these problems were ones of incomplete implementation of the twin principles of liberty and equality on which modern democracy is founded, rather than of flaws in the principles themselves. While some present-day countries might fail to achieve stable liberal democracy, and others might lapse back into other, more primitive forms of rule like theocracy or military dictatorship, the ideal of liberal democracy could not be improved on.

The original article excited an extraordinary amount of commentary and controversy, first in the United States, and then in a series of countries as different as England, France, Italy, the Soviet Union, Brazil, South Africa, Japan, and South Korea. Criticism took every conceivable form, some of it based on simple misunderstanding of my original intent, and others penetrating more perceptively to the core of my argument. Many people were confused in the first instance by my use of the word “history.” Understanding history in a conventional sense as the occurrence of events, people pointed to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Chinese communist crackdown in Tiananmen Square, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as evidence that “history was continuing,” and that I was ipso facto proven wrong.

And yet what I suggested had come to an end was not the occurrence of events, even large and grave events, but History: that is, history understood as a single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all peoples in all times. This understanding of History was most closely associated with the great German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. It was made part of our daily intellectual atmosphere by Karl Marx, who borrowed this concept of History from Hegel, and is implicit in our use of words like “primitive” or “advanced,” “traditional” or “modern,” when referring to different types of human societies. For both of these thinkers, there was a coherent development of human societies from simple tribal ones based on slavery and subsistence agriculture, through various theocracies, monarchies, and feudal aristocracies, up through modern liberal democracy and technologically driven capitalism. This evolutionary process was neither random nor unintelligible, even if it did not proceed in a straight line, and even if it was possible to question whether man was happier or better off as a result of historical “progress.”

Both Hegel and Marx believed that the evolution of human societies was not open-ended, but would end when mankind had achieved a form of society that satisfied its deepest and most fundamental longings. Both thinkers thus posited an “end of history”: for Hegel this was the liberal state, while for Marx it was a communist society. This did not mean that the natural cycle of birth, life, and death would end, that important events would no longer happen, or that newspapers reporting them would cease to be published. It meant, rather, that there would be no further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions, because all of the really big questions had been settled.

Further information here, here and here.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Escape Into Night (ITV 1972)

An ATV Network production. ITV 1972, 6 x half-hour. The series was produced by Alan Coleman, directed by Richard Bramall, designed by Don Davidson and adapted by Ruth Boswell. Regular cast: Vicki Chambers (Marianne Austen), Steven Jones (Mark), Sonia Graham (Mrs Austen), Patricia Maynard (Miss Chesterfield), Edmund Pegge (Doctor Burton).

Confined to bed after fracturing her leg in a horse riding accident, young Marianne Austen is fed up with her predicament – until she discovers an indelible pencil in an old sewing box. After drawing an imaginary house and garden in a sketchpad, Marianne falls asleep and finds herself on a remote cliff top facing the house from her picture, now seemingly given form. Marianne goes on to draw a boy inside the house – and when she dreams again, she meets the same boy, Mark, who seemingly also has a life back in the real world. As the two children slowly become friends, they discover that this dreamworld is also home to a terrifying menace: huge, menacing stones with fearful glowing eyes are approaching the house – and unless Marianne and Mark can escape, these monstrous creatures will surely kill them.

Based on Catherine Storr’s 1958 children's novel ‘Marianne Dreams’, ‘Escape Into Night’ was adapted for television by Ruth Boswell (‘Timeslip’, ‘Shadows’, ‘The Tomorrow People’). Despite its low budget and small cast, this six-parter is an amazingly atmospheric foray into the world of nightmares, illness and morality, with a particularly impressive performance by then-newcomer Vikki Chambers as young Marianne.

Sadly, although originally made in colour, only black and white copies of the episodes exist – but if anything, this only adds to the show’s feeling of menace, by accentuating the shadows in the crooked house of Marianne’s dreams, and making the sinister stones with their terrifying glowing eyes even more threatening.

This is a show that scared a generation of children witless. Indeed, it’s one of the programmes I get the most emails about, “do you remember the children’s programme with the really scary stones in it…?” If you’ve never seen ‘Escape Into Night’, then make sure you do – and I dare you to watch it with the lights off.

Text by Clive Banks.

Further information here, here and here.