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    Guest blog by Alim Saleh

    It takes a brave and bold client to undertake something like Park Hill

    27 June 2024
    A 4 minute read by Alim Saleh

    Since 2015, Alim Saleh has overseen the transformative designs for Park Hill in Sheffield.

    Last month, Alim was honoured with the RIBA Yorkshire Project Architect of the Year award for his work on the Brutalist, Grade II listed building. In this interview, he shares his journey of designing an architectural icon and how he has truly lived and breathed the project – even living here to ensure its success.

    Park Hill really is an incredible building, and one that’s become an emblem for my career as an architect.

    I joined Mikhail Riches as a fresh-faced architectural assistant, and Park Hill was one of my first projects. It was an unconventional but highly enjoyable start, with Mikhail Riches invited to enter a competition to show how we’d bring the next phase of Park Hill to life.

    I’d read about Park Hill – even studied it – but seeing it in person was a whole different experience. Urban Splash, unique as ever in their approach, gave us a real-life canvas to pitch from, inviting us to one of the building’s derelict flats. This fast paced design challenge has been my most memorable competition to date, and it’s been the most defining project of my career so far.

    Alim Saleh of Mikhail Riches - RIBA Yorkshire Project Architect of the Year 2024

    Practicing what we preach

    Park Hill’s dominated my life since. During Covid, I was fortunate enough to live in Phase One whilst Phase Two was under construction. Witnessing the changes being made each day was hugely satisfying. The only downside being the site team’s awareness of where I was at all times; I couldn’t be late for meetings!

    When I lived here so much of the building was still in its unoccupied and gritty state. Studio Egret West and Hawkins\Brown have done an incredible job completing the first phase but their brief was different; they were tasked with kicking off a new era of Park Hill and creating something that would alter the long-held, negative perception of the building.

    Phase 1 at Park Hill, designed by Studio Egret West and Hawkins\Brown

    Phase One was characterised by the architects’ decision to use bright and colourful anodised panels that echoed Park Hill’s original brickwork. That decision was a strong signifier of change, and helped the local community to see a new direction for the development.

    This allowed our team to take a more sensitive approach for Phase Two. We didn’t need to be as transformational, so our first decision was to retain the original brickwork. This was a risk as we didn’t know how well it would clean up, but the restoration has been hugely successful. It was sympathetically done so that the brick still shows some of the carbon staining which had gradually built up over the years. Although not perfect, this tells a story of the age of Park Hill, which I feel adds to its beauty.

    The team from Mikhail Riches work on some early design for Phase 2 at Park Hill

    A challenging project

    It sounds simple in hindsight, but as with every huge reconstruction we’ve faced challenges along the way; it takes a brave and bold client to undertake something of this magnitude and fortunately that’s exactly what Urban Splash embodies with their approach.

    Urban Splash director of regeneration Mark Latham has been the epitome of that – pioneering the project and keeping us all on our toes with his eye for design and desire to consistently challenge us to make Park Hill the best it can be. He’s been a wonderful client and together we’ve tackled obstacles head on.

    Homes in Phase 2 at Park Hill, designed by Mikhail Riches

    Learning from the past to build for the future

    Looking to the future, being retained for the next phase is the biggest testament to the relationship and trust we have built with Urban Splash. It’s a great personal achievement to be instructed on Phases Four and Five, where we can learn from the past and continue to create more beautiful homes here.

    We’ve also pushed the needle, with the consensus of Park Hill shifting in recent consultations. Whilst engaging with the local community it is noticeable how much more enthused local residents are than our initial consultations for Phase Two – with some asking more questions about when they could move in rather than calling for the building to be knocked down! That’s illustrative of the shift in mood and perception around the restoration and we’re really happy to have been a part of that.

    Phase 2 at Park Hill, designed by Mikhail Riches

    I’ve been fortunate to meet many of the residents, and hearing their stories first hand has been valuable. It’s great to see how some of our design decisions have been enjoyed by residents and to see how well-lived Park Hill has become already, it’s evolving into a thriving and varied community that is able to live, work, and play here. We’ll be learning from those residents and applying that valuable feedback to Phases Four and Five.

    At its core, Park Hill is about the community coming together. That not only includes the residents, but also the businesses which have chosen to be here. Businesses such as South Street Kitchen and The Pearl – each helping to galvanise the social side of the community, providing a place for people to connect and evolve together as they build roots.

    It’s been so rewarding to see the community thrive at Park Hill and I’m excited for the next phases to commence and for this unique place to grow further.

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