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Reimagining Moorfoot: Steel drums on the steel route

Posted on 30 November 2018

Written by:

Grace Crannis

By Grace Crannis

For Reimagining Moorfoot: co-design, connections and city spaces, the second event in our Glass-House WE design 18/19 event series, the team were in Sheffield exploring the potential of the Moorfoot building and connecting spaces with an afternoon workshop and evening debate.

Due to the building’s strategic location at the edge of the ring road and its key position on the axis line that runs through the city, we wanted to investigate ways the user experience of the area could be improved whilst championing the role multidisciplinary, design-led collaborative placemaking can have when reimagining public spaces.

Working in collaboration with Sheffield University’s urban room, Live Works, which occupies a unit at the foot of the divisive structure, the session was attended by members of the public, professionals, community groups, local councillors, students and academics.

Completed in 1981 as a building for government use, construction effectively severed the connection between the Moor and London Road. Although a through route was intended to be kept open, the tunnel at the base of the building was closed due to security fears and now forms the entrance to the car park for Sheffield Council, who purchased the building in the early 2000s and now occupy some of its capacity. The area is currently undergoing phased development by the site owners, making our aims of exploring the ways interested parties could come together to co-design strategies particularly timely.

To kick things off and get everyone in the mood for 3D thinking, we asked participants to reimagine the locked gates of the Moorfoot through route. Inspired by the Santo Spirito Projection project in Florence, the ideas were poetic, wacky, destructive and colourful. Whilst some stuck to written notes, others created ambitious spatial tissue paper creations which busted out of their line drawing confines.  

Moving onto the main activity for the afternoon, we asked each table to work together to co-produce a design strategy for the Moorfoot passage and surrounding public realm. It was important that the spaces were considered together, and the flow through each space was taken into account. Establishing group dynamics, making a plan, and creating a 3D model in such a short time frame is a substantial challenge, but the groups quickly started talking, drawing and getting to grips with the task at hand as the room buzzed with activity.

Production of the models themselves started relatively late into the session, but soon there was card, paper and plasticine flying. Each group was given a baseplate to build upon, which slotted into a 1:200 model of the area and proved to be an essential tool to test ideas and consider wider spatial relationships.

Proposals were ambitious, and reimagined the site as a new accessible cultural gateway featuring open spaces, places for leisure and socialising, wellbeing centres and moments of architectural delight. One proposal knocked a large hole through the building, bridging the ring road entirely, whilst another created a series of gardens and non-prescriptive spaces for relaxed enjoyment. All proposals spoke of the need to open up site access, celebrate Sheffield’s multicultural heritage, and link the Moorfoot to its wider city context and to the countryside around it – “from the Moor to the Moors” (with thanks to Jack Bennet for the quote).

Before we wrapped up with the evening discussion, some of us grabbed torches covered with coloured cellophane to head outside for a ‘guerrilla lighting’ session. The council had allowed us access to the through route, and we had lots of fun experimenting with different configurations and colour patterns which was a great way to end to the active part of the day. The results were striking and would be easily achievable in lieu of (or in addition to) a more substantial intervention.

Back at Live Works, the discussion turned to politics and the role of each of us can play in combining diverse views and pushing such projects forward to be realised. We also discussed what the co-design process was like to experience as a participant. One attendee noted how they flicked instantly to ‘competition mode’ at the mention of teams, and had to be slightly coaxed to collaborate, whilst another with a background in architecture ended up naturally assuming the role of facilitator and commented on the importance of listening.

All in all, the format of this workshop was slightly experimental, as we were interested in how this place-based model could be replicated, and what was possible to produce with light touch facilitation. We leave Sheffield and our local partners with a great set of proposals, ideas and enthusiasm for a multidisciplinary team to take to stakeholders, which will hopefully be the next step of this journey.

Grace Crannis is Outreach and Impact Manager at The Glass-House Community Led Design.