Meet the Sheffield modernists making the case for concrete

Andrew Jackson and Nicholas Gill have launched the Sheffield branch of the Modernist Society - a group aimed at appreciating 20th century architecture and design. They are pictured at Park Hill flats.
Andrew Jackson and Nicholas Gill have launched the Sheffield branch of the Modernist Society - a group aimed at appreciating 20th century architecture and design. They are pictured at Park Hill flats.
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“As the buildings get older, more people see the value in them,” said Andrew Jackson, explaining why he and friend Nicholas Gill have set up the Sheffield Modernist Society - a group that celebrates the divisive design of monolithic constructs such as Park Hill flats and the Moore Street electricity substation.

“If you take 1950s and 60s architecture, it’s taken until the second decade of the 21st century for people to really appreciate its form and worth, and what people were really thinking when they designed it,” he added.

“At the time, people thought they were thrown up quickly, and they didn’t have any merit, but it comes out of a real architectural narrative.”

And it seems Sheffield harbours many fans of 20th century architecture and design.

Within weeks the group has attracted about 80 members, and a programme of regular events is being organised, where like-minded enthusiasts will be able to appreciate modernism through tours, walks and lectures, as well as other mediums including music and film.

Andrew, who studied architecture and urban planning at Liverpool University and now runs food and interiors shop Mooed on Ecclesall Road, was inspired by the success of the Manchester Modernist Society.

There is an umbrella organisation - the Modernist Society - and a quarterly magazine, called The Modernist.

“I ran a regional group of the 20th Century Society, and I realised a lot of people were interested in modernist architecture in Sheffield specifically, so I decided that we really needed a group for the Sheffield area.”

Andrew got the go-ahead from the Manchester group before setting the wheels in motion alongside Nicholas, who has a flat at Park Hill.

“As it turned out, they were really waiting for someone in Sheffield to ask them the question - they wanted it to naturally come along.

“It’s surprised me quite a bit, the speed with which people are joining.”

The high level of interest in Sheffield stems from the number of examples of post-war, modernist architecture visible around the city, he believes.

There is a also a very active community of designers in Sheffield, the Royal Institute of British Architects has suggested.

“I suspect it’s because Sheffield is a creative city,” Andrew said.

“The National Trust has recently become more aware of modernism and Brutalism. They did tours and have clearly seen a revived interest in these buildings.”

Another reason behind the perceived need for a Sheffield group is the number of modernist buildings lost or earmarked for demolition locally, among them the Hallam Tower in Broomhill, the Grosvenor Hotel in Charter Square and Castle Market.

“It would be great if the Hallam Tower was saved,” said Andrew, who has a good view of the former luxury hotel from afar at his home in Brincliffe.

“You could re-use the frame easily, it’s a perfectly sturdy building. You could refurbish it and have lovely apartments there.”

The group’s first event is a city walk on April 3, taking in sites such as Sheffield University’s Arts Tower.

A research project and printed guide is also planned, focusing on Sheffield’s 20th century churches, among them St Mark’s in Broomhill, and St Paul’s at Parson Cross.

The society is a community interest company, meaning it is a ‘lot more informal’ without the need for AGMs or other bureaucracy.

Sheffield is soon to be joined by groups in Birmingham and Liverpool, too.

“You don’t have to be a university academic to join,” Andrew said.

“We want to appeal to the general public.”

n Visit www.modernist-society.org/sheffield or follow @modernistsocSHF on Twitter for further details.