Reader's Letter - Cole Brothers Building: "Sheffield must celebrate its architectural and cultural heritage"

Sheffield must celebrate its architectural and cultural heritage, not immediately resort to demolition and new build.

Monday, 30th May 2022, 9:54 am

Cole Brothers Building

The Council is currently applying to Historic England, for a certificate of immunity from listing for this building, meanwhile the architectural and heritage groups within this city are setting out reasons to list this important building. No decision either way has been made by Historic England.

Beyond its architectural and heritage merits, it also has cultural and social factors (which HE now take into account within its listing assessments). Sheffield must celebrate its architectural and cultural heritage, not immediately resort to demolition and new build.

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There are calls for the former Cole Brothers building, last occupied by John Lewis, to be listed to preserve it for further use in Sheffield city centre

The Commons Environmental Audit Committee has just submitted a paper to Government setting out a new policy encouraging greater use of retrofitting.

“the single most significant policy the Government could introduce is a mandatory requirement to undertake whole-life carbon assessments for buildings at the end of 2022. This policy will incentivise greater retrofitting”.*

Encouraging retrofitting of existing buildings is currently not listed in the Council’s action points for achieving zero carbon – however if this policy is adopted it could be in place at the end of this year.

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As an architect I realise that buildings can be transformed by retrofit and future fit, and the Cole Bros building is a good example of potential offered for transformation. The Sheffield Society of Architects together with other groups such as the Civic Trust, 20th Century Society and Hallamshire Historic Buildings, will gladly organise a workshop around different ideas for the use of the building and provide visualisations of how it may look. There are two very good Schools of Architecture in this city, giving way to many excellent architects who studied here and remain in practice in the city. This workshop could also help shape the brief for the marketing information. However, the building is now already being marketed. Is this a missed opportunity?

It is also likely that retrofit would be much quicker than demolition and newbuild. Retrofit could be achieved floor by floor, say, starting with the ground floor, bringing active frontages back into that side of Barkers Pool very quickly. This could be the catalyst to bring forward the rest of the building. There are many other buildings in Sheffield and Yorkshire which have been very successfully retrofitted, such as the Co-op building in Castlegate.

In contrast, the whole building will need to be demolished to provide a new building. with all the materials carted away, the site made tidy etc, services re laid etc., and only then could the new build begin. Plus there is also an ongoing shortage of building materials, with fast ascending prices for certain materials, so it may take a lot longer than estimated. This means that the renaissance of that part of the city centre is further delayed. Not to speak of the amount of dust and noise associated with demolition for those who live in the City Centre.

I realise that not everyone loves Modernism, but many people have changed their mind about Park Hill since its transformation brought about by an enlightened developer and architects. Let us give this building a chance. With creative architects and a developer who cares about the building, it could become a long term investment for the council if they keep a stake in it, bringing in revenue for the Council.

Barkers Pool is the heart of our city, and isn’t it better to provide heart surgery rather than a full transplant. There is a lot of other changes happening around this building, there is a need to finish something.

It would make much more sense to see the retrofit ideas before the demolition ideas. This is a green city, and should be green in all respects. The following is Sheffield’s policy.

“We have declared a climate emergency and are working towards Sheffield becoming a zero-carbon city by the start of the next decade. The biggest contributors to climate change in Sheffield are:21 Apr 2022

electricity and gas used in business and industry energy we use in our homes, particularly gas used for heating transport (the flights people take and road travel by vehicles) the food that we eat (and the food that we waste)

From bigger energy and food bills to unpredictable and extreme weather, increased risk of flooding and negative impacts on our health, climate change and energy affects everyone. The more we can do to save energy and cut carbon the better. The food that we eat and the things we buy and throw away also make a large contribution. Our natural environment, including trees, plants and peat bogs in the rural parts of the city area can reduce our carbon emissions.”

Using the same logic – why throw a building away in favour of starting again with a new building, why not reuse and reset for the future instead?

Elizabeth Motley

RIBA, ARB

Member of Sheffield Society of Architects

*Encouraging retrofitting of existing buildings is currently not listed in the Council’s action points for achieving zero carbon – however if this policy is adopted it could be in place at the end of this year. At the moment the City Centre has many empty, to let former shops (such as on Chapel Walk,or Fargate).