My favourite modernist building … Arts Tower, Sheffield

Arts Tower S 2013.jpg

As a supporter of repairing, recycling and adaptive reuse (whether it be buildings, bits of left over timber or my kids toys) I was delighted to have the opportunity to contribute a few paragraphs to the Architectural Centre’s efforts to stop the delisting of the Gordon Wilson Flats. Although I value the aesthetic of a building – as all architects should – my favourite modernist building is not due to its aesthetic, but rather it is the building that I have some of my best and worst memories of.

History of the Arts Tower

I started my architectural studies in Sheffield (UK) and so had the privilege of studying for 4 years in one the best schools of architecture at the time (at least I think so). In my view the reason it was one of the best schools (in addition to the staff of course) was that its home is the Grade 2 listed Arts Tower (1965, Gollins, Melvin and Ward). It is a fantastic almost brutalist, and definitely minimalist, 20 storey tower that has a key component of all good buildings: Good Bones and the ability to repurpose and adapt.

A quick trip down memory lane reminds me that it went through the usual teething problems that buildings of its era had: terrible glazing leading to heat loss and sun gain problems, a crazy downdraft at the front entry that caused the original entry pond to be covered over (and leaves me with fond memories of nursing architectural models into the building on windy days).  There was also a rumour that it was very slowly sliding down the side of the hill. During its lifespan it has been re-clad at least twice and been through numerous major interior changes.  Last year it celebrated a 50 year anniversary following an extensive building renovation.  I was very pleased to see that it is still standing and working well as a home to the studies of the arts.

Paternoster Lift, Arts Tower, Sheffield

Finally, the reason I recall it so fondly: the lift. It houses a paternoster lift, a marvel of ‘modern’ engineering which, if you don’t know what that is, you’re missing out. Analogous to a perpetually moving sushi train turned up on end which instead of housing tasty rice and fish has students perilously jumping on and off as they move between floors. If you have a spare half an hour, the obligatory going all the way around a few times whilst snacking on a bacon butty and trying not to lose your coffee as the car rumbled and bumped over the top and bottom of the shaft.

Tim Asby

The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.


One response to “My favourite modernist building … Arts Tower, Sheffield”

  1. Interesting – thanks for sharing this one. Very reminiscent of Lever House – the mini-me on a more stylised podium

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