The Arts Tower, Sheffield

4, June, 2010

The University of Sheffield has embarked on a major refurbishment of the iconic, Grade II* Listed Arts Tower in Sheffield, to restore it to its former glory, safeguard its future by extending its life for a further 30 years and upgrade the interiors to address the needs of its occupants.

Sheffield-based HLM Architects has been tasked with the challenge, and will also be dramatically improving the building’s environmental performance, increasing its physical and operational flexibility and enhancing its fire and DDA strategy.

The 1960s 22-storey tower block has a semi-unitised window system and houses some 2,500 students and 300 staff.  It accommodates several Univeristy ‘arts’ subject departments each complete with teaching and ancillary offices and tutorial rooms.  Around its base spread larger support ‘public’ circulation areas and Lecture Theatres.

HLM’s overall design provides a holistic solution to a wide range of practical and technological issues.  HLM achieved both Detailed and Listed Building Consents for all aspects of the proposals including quite radical new interventions as well as sensitive reinterpretations of the altered and replaced heritage fabric.

The project is being undertaken in several phases.  Phase 1, which began in June 2009 and will complete this September, includes the complete replacement of the main listed facade of the tower itself as well as comprehensive internal refurbishment of the upper 11 floors.  The new facade recreates the proportions of the original design but introduces improvements in operation, safety, thermal control, energy use, solar glare and ventilation.

The new interior re-orders the available space and introduces improved facilities and amenities, addressing legislative and technical shortfalls occasioned over its forty plus years, bringing the working environment up to the standard befitting a 21st Century educational environment.  Among the innovations introduced are flexible storage walls and sliding walls that allow open studio spaces to readily convert to large exhibition spaces as smaller seminar rooms on a day to day basis.

Nick Beecroft, Director of HLM says: “We worked closely with English Heritage and the local area and conservation planners to develop options and agree solutions that would be wholly appropriate to the building’s listed status.  The rejuvenatd building will restore the building to its former glory and establish its position as an important local and historic landmark building.”

BAM Construction is the contractor for the first phase.  A feasibility study for the completion of the works for floors 1-8 is currently underway.

The Arts Tower was orginally built in 1964.  During the summer of 1965, 18 departments and 160 staff moved in.  The building was officially opened by the Queen Mother in June 1966 when she called it the “tower of light and learning”.  It was listed Grade II* in 1993 and is the tallest university building in the UK.  English Heritage describes it as “the most elegant university building tower block in Britain of its period.”

It is the only building in the UK to still have a working “paternoster” a set of continually vertically moving open-fronted elevator cars from which you step on and off at your chosen floor.

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