Report by Mick Nott
Just over 30 people made the 80th Sheffield FridayNightRide (SFNR). The theme was Sheffield Design Week and we cycled to the locations of the buildings that won awards from the Sheffield Civic Trust/RIBA Yorkshire in November 2014. We started from the courtyard at Sellers Wheel and embarked on a 9 mile ride around Sheffield to finish at SUM Studios. None of us were architects or designers and that made it interesting in that none of us were really sure why some of the buildings were winners, and the reasons for the awards are not made clear on the Sheffield Civic Trust website.
So with a nod to the pleasant space of the courtyard in the off-white, modern looking Sellers Wheel we set off to make our way to the UTC at the junction of Matilda St and Shoreham St. We thought the building looks well styled and the new external frontages are well proportioned. The new build on a busy corner has an entrance that is obvious and with a glass frontage that draws one in, in contrast to many college and school buildings that are often confounding to enter. We looked up and noted the glass balustrade and thought that indicates the roof-top must be an open space of some sort. That set us thinking why is that and we suggested was it a space where students and staff could leave inside to go outside? There does not appear to be any playground or outdoor recreational space unlike most schools or colleges. We walked up the pavement to look at how the shell of the old works had been both preserved and neatly renovated to house a new interior for a novel educational establishment.
However the first impression is that the building doesn’t have pleasant access for any mode of transport. It’s on a very busy road junction so pedestrians have to cross rivers of traffic or walk along pavements, some very narrow, alongside heavy road traffic to get there. We needed space to assemble to look at the building so to get on the pavement on Matilda St opposite the UTC we cycled from Sellers Wheel past the Leadmill. The route involved some pavement cycling and dropping off kerbs to get the best approach as the one way road system restricts access. There are five cycle stands outside the entrance but getting there on a bike would be for the confident and experienced cyclist and you don’t see many bikes there. Surely we should be encouraging students to cycle to study? And that sets one off thinking if all the students living within, say 5 miles of the UTC, chose or even demanded to cycle to study then could, would or should the UTC be able to provide safe and secure cycle parking for all who want or need it?
If you travelled to it by car then where to park your car is not obvious (at the side of the building off Shoreham St?). Car parking is not allowed on the roads and car access must be severely restricted. That makes sense in a city and it makes sense for this college. We thought it recruited students from across South Yorkshire and for students then the station and bus interchange are a short walk away. It was noted that there is nowhere for courier vehicles to park to drop off or pick up deliveries from the reception and they have to park on double yellow lines on or off the pavement therefore blocking movement of road and foot traffic for everybody. Does this place have any kind of meaningful travel and access plan?
And that sets one questioning about where are the boundaries of building design? Is the boundary the envelope of the building itself or does the design also need to consider how goods, fixtures and fittings and people get in and out the building and what facilities are needed or appropriate to enable safe and pleasant access for different abilities and the needs of both the people who function in the building and the public who use the space adjacent to the building? Or do the building designers have to or volunteer to work with urban space designers – or vice-versa? And why are we building a college in one of the hot spots for air pollution in the city which could have insidious, long-term detrimental effects on the health of students and staff? Does the building filter the air in some way ….?
But hold on, we’re on a bike ride and we haven’t gone more than half a mile and we have already got a conversation and discussion going. Our heads are buzzing; people are listening and chipping in, thinking about their city and what kind of urban environment we want or need for the future. So if the 2016 judging panel want to justify their choices of award winners then perhaps they need to take people on a bike ride so they can talk about the criteria for selection and get a conversation going about the design of Sheffield’s urban space.
The ride carried on (we skipped West St because tram lines are accidents waiting to happen for cyclists) up to King Edwards, across the Porter Valley and climbed over Ecclesall Rd South to descend to Millhouses Lane and then down and up the sides of the Sheaf valley to Moor View Rd . Here we had a spontaneous event when Claire at number 41, having noted 30 people with bikes clustered outside her house admiring the (Farrow and Ball?) paint-job, the restored glass at the ginnel entrance, the zingurie on the window bay, came out and talked to us about the scope of the work they had done in developing the terraced house for the future. That was greatly appreciated by all and it’s all part of the happening of a SFNR.
We finished with a descent from Woodseats into Heeley to visit SUM Studios which won three or four of the 2014 SCT awards. Andy Jackson, the MD of the client, Heeley Development Trust (HDT), met us outside and told us a story. The story was about how, once upon a time, HDT saw an opportunity to turn the mothballed 1896 Anns Grove school into a community asset that would provide space for work and community activities and how fate, fortune and determination combined and enabled HDT to acquire the buildings and the funding to begin the development. He continued the story inside SUM Studios and we were awed by the vision and design that created such a fit-for-purpose, harmonious, light and warm environment. We responded with lots of lots of questions about the building, the occupants and had there been any teething issues. Andy was delighted to have the opportunity to discuss and explain lessons learned and plans for the future. Replete with food for thought we concluded by cementing our comradeship in the Brothers Arms.
Sheffield FridayNightRide maps the city by chosen themes or topics. Each theme provides a different layer for mapping the city. Layer is a term used by Google maps where you can put one map on each layer and then overlay the maps on each other and see them together. Each SFNR has a different theme so that is 80 layers of the city. The theme (or layer) of a ride has not necessarily been restricted to a singular academic subject, for example, the map for the ride on the theme of JG Graves plotted mainly Points Of Interest (POI) that are associated with Graves’ philanthropy, but did not plot the places associated with Graves’ mail order business. Some themes have been whimsical layers, for example, in 2012 on the Friday of the final of the World Snooker Championships we cycled to places associated with the colours of the balls on a snooker table.
Each theme is a particular layer. These layers are not geological strata which exist at different physical levels with some being deeper than others. The SFNR layers are all on the surface of the city and co-exist in that space. I think of them as a geographical representation of Sheffield that show a potentially infinite number of spatial worlds in the city maybe equivalent with the many-worlds interpretation in physics where there are considered to be an infinite number of worlds at the same time. Each of us, as an individual, if we mapped our presence in the city, will have created our own personal layer where we have lived, loved, worked, studied, partied and so on through time. And all of us on the last ride share another one of the infinite layers.
In November 2014 Sheffield FridayNightRide was awarded the Inaugural Keith Hayman Award by the Sheffield Civic Trust in recognition of its “outstanding contribution to the cycling experience in Sheffield.”