Sheffield Hallam University
Bond Bryan Architects
The new block for the Faculty of Development and Society at Sheffield Hallam University is no ordinary project.
The Charles Street site sits between a main road and the Cultural Industries Quarter conservation area, a grid of historical lanes and listed buildings dating back to the 1700s.
The £25 million seven-storey building straddles Brown Lane, an old alley at the back of the masters' workshops when the area was at the heart of the Sheffield Steel cutlery industry. Maintaining pedestrian access to the lane at all times was a pivotal element of the design.
The project also contains a bridge made of stainless steel hoops with a Corten rusted steel base partly designed by David Mellor Design, a local firm with an international reputation for cutlery-making.
It was way back in 2009 that the project partners began to build the 9,500 square metre block which includes a lecture theatre, cafe, classrooms, offices and open plan working areas.
Architect Matt Hutton of Bond Bryan explained some of the design elements which made the brick choice crucial:
"We've got 20mm projecting headers on the upper two-storeys on one of the blocks, to give some depth to the tall elevation. It's also designed in a Flemish bond to match Butcher Works, a listed building nearby. For that projection you need a brick that is more robust than a traditional brick.
On the other side we used a series of special shape Cant bricks to match the pattern of the wrought iron grills on the Butcher Works. The building is over 100 years old so the bricks there have many different tones and no one dominant colour."
Matt contacted Taylor Maxwell early in the project to help find the right product.
We took (Taylor Maxwell’s Divisional Director) Chris Goodchild to the site to show him the listed building we were trying to match up with. He came back promptly with various samples and we discussed the options.
In this case we chose a dark multi-smooth facing brick manufactured from Etruria marl clay. This is a highly durable brick synonymous with those manufactured for railways and waterways in Victorian times. The multi smooth gives a multiple colour effect that blends with the variance in brick shades on the neighbouring listed building, and the fact that it is so robust enabled the more contemporary features such as the projecting headers and Cant bricks.
We took it to the planning and conservation team's pre-planning meeting and it looked so good that it was accepted pretty much straightaway. When the construction tender went out to market, we had the brick specified.”
From the early stages of brick selection right through to the build itself, Taylor Maxwell worked in partnership with brick manufacturer Forterra to make sure the architect Bond Bryan, the contractors Balfour Beatty and the brick layers had all the information and expertise they needed.
"Taylor Maxwell and Forterra dovetailed really nicely. Forterra were involved more onsite, after Taylor Maxwell had worked on the pre-tender details. It worked really well." Matt Hutton added.
The cutlery industry is the pride of Sheffield, so it was important for the Charles Street development to satisfy the local community in what is culturally and historically one of the most significant parts of the city.
Happily, as Matt Hutton reports, the building has exceeded expectations.
"The transition from the front on Arundel Gate, one of the main thoroughfares into the city centre to the conservation area of small-scale workshops at the back is quite difficult. However, the glass and LED-lit front feels very contemporary and by the time you reach the conservation area you have this wonderfully detailed brickwork and smaller scale features.
The bridge helps because it has become somewhat of a destination point for people in the city as an iconic singular design piece in itself - and by the bridge you see the finer brick details.
"When you see it or look at the photos, you'll see why everyone is talking about the brickwork. The client, contractors, planners, everyone is over the moon with it.”
And Matt had warm praise for Taylor Maxwell's role in the critical task of choosing the right brick.
"Their customer service is always fantastic. It is typical of what we've come to expect from them, no qualms at all, and we will continue to actively seek them out for other jobs."