Architecture 00

Sheffield SOAR Works

SOAR (Southey Owlerton Area Regeneration) is a community-led regeneration charity in north Sheffield, which is developing a reputation for commissioning quality architecture for its regeneration projects in the most unassuming areas. The Paron Cross estate, where SOAR Works is located is an ocean of garden suburb semi-detached social housing developed in the 1930s after Sheffield’s first slum clearance.

SOAR Works is an Enterprise Centre comprising light industrial units, workshops, offices and artists’ studios with an aspiration of tempting local businesses and artists to set up with minimal commitment and expense.

Architecture 00 – Sheffield SOAR Works

Perhaps surprisingly, the project was won by the young practice through an OJEU advert in 2008. 00:/ was selected not only for its ideas and enthusiasm, but because of its realistic approach to the budget. These two most prosaic factors – security and budget – were the main design constraints and generators, along with the landlocked triangular site. 00:/ designed a building with minimal surface area not only for cost reasons, but also to reduce energy loss.

Due to overlooking issues, the building sits in the middle of the site, presenting a blank two-storey crinkly tin face to the domestic properties to the north. It rises to a three-storey fully-glazed south façade behind a domestically-scaled parade of shops. It is a shame the boundary conditions were not reversed, as the building might have nested into the site more naturally. As it is, it waits patiently for the promised growies to bed in and soften its impact.

Architecture 00 – Sheffield SOAR Works

On the south façade, security is turned into a virtue with a celebration of perforated steel shutters covering every unit over all three floors. This exoskeletal layer performs a number of functions from protection and sun shading to image creation and communicator, signalling which units are occupied.

The simple device of a perpendicular toughened glass panel with dichroic film separates the shutter from the glazing and filters coloured light across the façade and into the units. As this façade is always viewed obliquely, the panels, doubled by their reflections on the glazing, contribute far more colour than their size suggests. Low-cost, high impact moves like this are a signature of the building.

Entering the shared conference room (…) is like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when it goes from black and white to colour.

A triple-height atrium is the principal organisational device. Tube lighting performs an angular dance above and seems to be permanently on, more for its sculptural quality than for illumination. The reception, balconies, lift, meeting spaces and servery animate the space with the intention of encouraging a social atmosphere and the stair is deliberately positioned at the far end to force people to walk past each other.

The atrium also benefits from panels of reclaimed art: Jeff Ball’s glass Floating Wall originally clung to the exterior of Persistence Works, an art space in the city centre that Saxby worked on at FeB Studios. After several years, they started breaking and so the remainder were removed and stored. The quotidian catalogue components can only envy the sui generic personality they lend this social hub.

The atrium is a space found between the lines of the brief, eked out by the architect saving money elsewhere. Though tendering at the beginning of the financial crisis resulted in competitive bids, there was no surplus for luxuries. The design therefore comprises off-the-shelf components with only the reception desk bespoke. Where to spend money in tight pecuniary situations can be quite critical, but is almost always spot on here.

For example, the doors feel high quality but this can be contrasted with the industrial quality of the concrete floors, with their repair scars barely healed. The finesse of construction is closer to QPark than One Hyde Park and the organisation of components, treatment of materials, and unfinished surfaces result in a Brutalist feel with a colour gamut ranging from cold to warm greys and a material palette of concrete, steel and glass.

Only the acoustic baffles, occasional orange floor tiles and the dichroic glass panels relieve this austerity. Entering the shared conference room, for example, is like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when it goes from black and white to colour.

Architecture 00 – Sheffield SOAR Works

The aesthetic is something like Hunstanton School would have been had OMA designed it – a cool, casual and confident hyper-Brutalism. From the detailing to the spatial organisation, the project is intelligent and convincingly appropriate.

Furthermore, the building came in on budget and received a BREEAM excellent rating due to its high level of insulation, heat exchangers and biomass boiler – a condition of the funding, but which SOAR’s Ian Drayton says is the only thing he would do differently due to the ongoing commitment it imposes.

But how is this an exhibition of alternative practice? After all, it’s a conventional building delivered for a conventional client using a conventional contract.

Galvanised steel was used within the project for the following key elements:

  • Entrance gate, screens, and soffit: fabricated galvanised steel louvred panels
  • External stairs, balustrades, and security screens including roof mounted plant deck: fabricated galvanised steel structure, grate decking, and expanded mesh infill panels.
  • Secondary steelwork and roller shutters to main façade: powder coated galvanised steel
  • Exposed soffits (throughout): Richard Lees, Ribdeck.
  • Exposed services: galvanised steel ductwork, trunking, and conduits.
  • Internal balustrades and handrails: fabricated galvanised steel and expanded mesh infill panels.

Images © Lynton Pepper

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