In 1961, architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith built Park Hill, a 32-acre, Corbusian working-class apartment complex with 995 flats, plus pubs and shops. But by the 1980s, Park Hill had become dangerous and crime-ridden. Little changed until 2004, when design studio Urban Splash and architecture firm Hawkins/Brown (in collaboration with Studio Egret West) began to resurrect the mixed-use buildings.
“The original designers got it right on so many levels,” says Hawkins/Brown partner David Bickle. Innovative elevated walkways, dubbed “streets in the sky,” allowed residents to easily move from building to building. Each apartment was oriented for maximum sunlight (a boon in the cool climate), and many had two stories. “The existing configuration was smart and flexible; we worked within that structure to create new apartments,” explains Bickle.
Another big gesture was to visually open up the streets to pedestrians. Transparent commercial spaces replaced all ground-floor apartments, and the already wide streets were landscaped to connect to the area’s surroundings.
Slowly, a community is returning to the once-blighted space. “It is amazing to see the life flow back into the building,” says Bickle. “We are stripping away the pejorative views and replacing them with something that gives locals a sense of pride.”