Anyone who has an interest in post war architecture will know that Park Hill is Europe’s largest listed structure. But did you know how celebrated and critically acclaimed it was when first built? Town planners, architects, sociologists and politicians from all over Europe flocked to visit when it first opened to marvel at its innovative design, replete with many desirable features and benefits for the residents. So much so that the original brochure was translated into French and Russian to respond to the constant demand for information from visiting delegates.
Just as 50 years ago, Park Hill is now attracting international attention. It takes centre stage in 1000 Rooms with a View, a new exhibition in Belgium about the past, present and future of large scale public housing. CIVA - Centre International Pour La Ville, l’Architecture Et Le Paysage (that’s International Centre for The City, Architecture and Landscape) - in Brussels is an incredibly well respected architecture centre. After a great deal of research they’ve created an interesting and informative exhibition by displaying and discussing Park Hill alongside a similar Flemish building – the leder Zijn Huis.
Designed by architect and furniture designer, Willy Van Der Meeren, the leder Zijn Huis is as a public housing scheme built at the same time as Park Hill. The similarities between the two post war housing projects are many, clearly sharing the same influence – Le Corbusier. In fact, from the exhibition, we learnt that the original architects of both projects, as well as ourselves, visited Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles during the evolution of the design. Though not connected in any way other than sharing a similar architectural DNA, it’s interesting to ‘compare and contrast‘ the two projects. Conceived, delivered and regenerated at similar times it’s a great opportunity to understand approaches, social and political context, economic structure, construction and aesthetics - then and now.
Hawkins Brown’s involvement in the exhibition goes back almost 2 years when we were asked to contribute material to an exhibition that would describe and chart Park Hill’s noble past, its sorry decline and its current optimistic regeneration. So it was fantastic that a small group of us made the journey to the Private View last week. The event was extremely well attended with more than 300 guests… in spite of the torrential rain, that we were accused of bringing with us! We were warmly welcomed by our kind hosts Christophe, Marcelle, Marcelline and Veronique. Good friends and co-collaborators Christophe Egret from Studio Egret West, Claire and Rumina from Claire Curtice PR, Sally Spencer Davies aka The Maid in Barnet and Christian from AMODELS made up the Park Hill contingent.
1000 Rooms with a View features drawings, sketches, film footage, models, historic material and new ephemera, and is an immersive gold mine of information and artifacts for anyone interested in its subject. The architects working for Origin, the practice appointed to bring new life to leder Zijn Huis, were keen to learn more about Park Hill, its history, the constraints, the opportunities and even its acoustic detailing! And for our part, we are keen to learn from our Belgian counterparts; furthering the cultural connections we have made both personally and professionally.
We are hoping to bring the exhibition back ‘home’ to Park Hill for 2013 but if you are in Brussels between now and 14 October 2012 then please drop in - you won’t be disappointed either by the exhibition or the warmth of the reception.
David Bickle is a partner in the architectural practice Hawkins Brown, and has been working with Urban Splash on the redevelopment of Park Hill, Sheffield.