Hopeful architecture

Maggies Center, Dundee

Universally we reward brand new glossy buildings and landscape – forgetting that these shiny new stars of the built environment don’t always hold up to their promise. But I detect a shift in tone amongst the awarding bodies – nominees for this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize were a group of contextual buildings – less star architecture – and more humane and poetic in their response to place. Last week the RIAS awarded Maggie’s Centre Gartnaval ‘best building in Scotland’ – in recognition of OMA’s healing architecture offering restorative spaces – indoors and out – for cancer patients and their families. My own experience of Maggie’s Centre Dundee is of a light, cosy, domestic space – more akin to home than a hospital institution – nurturing hope.

So why don’t we reward more buildings for their healing power and affective quality – or indeed for longevity and adaption to our changing social world and climate?

Discussing potential nominees for an award in Hopeful Architecture with colleagues and students, a unanimous choice was Park Hill Estate in Sheffield. As a child I recall this towering mass of 1960’s concrete – Europe’s largest ever housing estate – rising up above the city ring-road with an insistent and ominous presence, its longevity forever secured by Grade 2 listing in 1997 by English Heritage. But – like most other high density, inner city estates in the 1970s – Park Hill hit hard times, descending into a hell of crumbling concrete, cockroaches and crime – an urban eyesore and a planner’s nightmare.

Two towers at Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, joined by a walkway
Park Hill Estate, Sheffield

But new life is whipping through Park Hill and it’s sky-high walkways. Urban Splash purchased the Estate for the nominal sum of £1 and have resurrected Corbusier’s original vision for high rise communal – and affordable – urban living for all – humanizing the Brutalistic concrete mass with touches of colour, light and landscape.

So what would your nominations be for Hopeful Architecture – health-sustaining and resilient buildings?