Pioneer behind Sheffield’s Park Hill complex dies aged 86

Architect Jack Lynn at Parkhill Flats Sep 14 2002
Architect Jack Lynn at Parkhill Flats Sep 14 2002
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A pioneering architect who was one of the key designers behind Sheffield’s Park Hill flats complex has died, aged 86.

Jack Lynn and his partner Ivor Smith had only just left college when they began work on the project in the early 1950s, guided by the city council’s chief architect Lewis Womersley.

Their creation, completed in 1961, would become the largest listed structure in Europe – with a Grade II* rating – and is emblematic of its era.

But the complex sparks controversy to this day – many brand it ugly and symbolic of everything that is wrong with architecture of the post-war period.

Its continuing renovation by leading developers Urban Splash has been attacked by some as a waste of money, while supporters say it has a scale and ambition rarely seen in housing developments before or since.

Jack came from a mining family in Northumberland, a background which his family believe gave him an understanding of the needs of ordinary people.

He believed that housing for the working class deserved the same care and attention in design as the grandest country house.

Park Hill was the city council’s first major post-war housing development and Jack was influenced by the work of French architect Le Corbusier in Marseilles and his English disciples.

Jack was later to explain how he gave his designs a unique English spin to create the complex’s famous ‘streets in the sky’.

He was also aware of what had been lost with many of the city’s wholesale slum clearance programmes.

“In our zeal to erase the evils rising out of a lack of proper water supply, sanitation and ventilation, we had torn down streets of houses which harboured a social structure of friendliness and mutual aid. We had thrown the baby out with the bath water,” he said.

While in Sheffield Jack met and married Mari Prendergast, an Irish nurse from a large family.

They would later return to the north east.

Jack’s legacy is now protected from demolition by English Heritage.

Park Hill’s major remodelling has this year been shortlisted for the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture.