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RMJM's controversial Sheffield Uni scheme approved

Sheffield City Council’s planning committee has voted to demolish the Grade II-listed Edwardian wing of the Jessops Hospital to make way for a scheme by RMJM

The City Centre South and East Planning and Highways Committee voted in favour of plans which will see the Edwardian wing of the building knocked down and replaced by a new £81million engineering building for Sheffield University.

The proposed 19,500m² building by RMJM will house 19 teaching laboratories over six floors – one below ground and five above. It has been criticised for providing just 5 per cent more space than if the existing building were to be refurbished.

The Victorian wing of the hospital, originally constructed in 1878 has already been converted into the university’s music department, and a 1970s extension to the building was demolished in 2007 to make way for the Sauerbruch Hutton and RMJM designed Jessop West development.

English Heritage, The Victorian Society, The Conservation Advisory Group and the Sheffield Community Heritage Forum had raised concern about the plans.

The planning application received 190 comments online, of these 110 were objecting to the demolition.

Comments from local residents included:

  • ‘The proposed design is completely out of keeping with much more significant buildings in this area which are listed and should be protected. This design is unlikely to last a lifetime, by which time the Jessop buildings will both be all the more remarkable.’
  • ‘The proposed building is in no way sympathetic to the surrounding architectural heritage - all of which are listed buildings. Furthermore, demolishing the Edwardian wing of the Jessops hospital will irrevocably erase a significant part of Sheffield’s cultural history.’
  • ‘There is little remaining of the historical architecture which formed the character of Sheffield city centre, following the Sheffield blitz. To want only destroy what is left to be replaced by the proposed new building is simply not logical.’
  • ‘Why demolish something beautiful to build something awful’
  • ‘It’s a beautiful building with historic merit and to replace it with modern building will impact on the character of Sheffield.’

The university has claimed that the project will create 500 jobs and bring £44.5million into the local economy.

Vice chancellor of the University of Sheffield Keith Burnett said: ‘We recognise that we have been given a wonderful opportunity to create a fitting legacy for the future, an opportunity we take very seriously indeed. We are committed to investing in a high quality, stunning building which will not only be the centrepiece for the Faculty of Engineering’s continued success, but will also be a source of enormous pride for the city.

‘Today’s news is good for the University, good for the city and good for the people of Sheffield, bringing a much needed economic boost.’

Construction on the new development is due to begin in 2013 and is expected to complete by 2016.

Comments from Sheffield Sustainable Development and Design Panel:

‘The panel appreciated the significant amount of work undertaken and also the importance of the development to the university. It is however the panel’s role to comment on the design of the scheme and for other to weigh this against any compromises that may need to be met to meet the needs of the university. With this in mind the panel considered that a number of aspects needed further consideration as the design thinking progressed.

‘The panel was mindful of the rigorous requirements that needed to be met to justify demolition of the Edwardian block, which it did not consider had been demonstrated – that the building is incapable of alternative use not just for this scheme but for any scheme.

‘The panel accepted the view expressed that this block did not meet the needs of the university, this is not, however, sufficient to justify the demolition.

‘There was a real concern that the proposals were placing too great a demand on the site, supressing the fine grain townscape of the area.

‘The panel largely welcomed the bold approach to the elevational treatment, but this view was not unanimous. The mathematical approach to window dimensions linked to the needs of interior spaces had the potential to create a striking solution but the wrap approach exasperates the massing by reinforcing the massing as a single object.

‘It was considered that greater articulation of the elevations might help break down the form, creating a more sympathetic response to the site.’

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Is there really any point having a system of listing anymore when there is no organisation that enforces it and when councils treat the system with such contempt?
    Our local councils are inhabited by people who have no understanding of architecture, architectural history or town planning but make very important decisions on those very things.
    We saw it recently with decisions in Manchester relating to the Grade II* Lutyens Cenotaph, The Grade II* Library and Town hall extension, the depressing situation regarding Preston Bus Station and now this. I fear we are entering a new dark age of municipal vandalism.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • It would be interesting to see the comments from Sheffield Design Panel about this application - is that possible?

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