Last year saw Dead Space review a number of significant Sheffield buildings that have been left, neglected and in some cases lined up for demolition. We return this year with a new series of architecture and design articles. Flipping the script, this piece looks at a current Sheffield housing development, Little Kelham, which is using […]

Last year saw Dead Space review a number of significant Sheffield buildings that have been left, neglected and in some cases lined up for demolition. We return this year with a new series of architecture and design articles.

Flipping the script, this piece looks at a current Sheffield housing development, Little Kelham, which is using the existing, adopting the vernacular and looking forwards. Just as language is a product of its time, so too is architecture. This development reflects current concepts of sustainable design and attempts to address notions of community.

Fuelled by the mighty River Don, Kelham Island sits within a hub of rich industrial past. It was steel from this industrial hamlet that helped build the Brooklyn Bridge. The island itself was created by channelling water from the main river and concentrating the flow to power the mill wheels.

Little Kelham will slot perfectly into the Kelham Island Quarter. The scheme reconciles the character of the existing site with the style of the new buildings. We can expect to see brick married with timber panelling, glass, dark metallic cladding and profiled metal roofing. The roof line, which follows a sawtooth pattern that mimics the existing buildings, is a nice touch that further enhances the integration of old and new. The site will include 150 one to four-bed urban houses with integrated car ports, roof terraces and green roofs. There will also be a nursery, a hotel, office spaces, leisure and retail facilities, cafes, bars and an on-site bakery.

Houses will be constructed to the Passivhaus standard, a first for Sheffield on this scale. The Passivhaus system is a global energy performance standard that promotes energy efficient home design. It should mean lower energy consumption and cheaper bills for residents. To achieve this, Little Kelham’s homes will be super insulated, airtight buildings that will also incorporate sophisticated heat recovery systems which capture waste heat and reuse it for heating.

What else will the development mean to the area and to Sheffield as a whole? We wonder about the inclusivity of the scheme and the community that it aims to create. Will it be exclusively for residents or can we expect access for all? We hope it’s the latter because a private, insular estate will only fracture our existing sense of community further.

In addition the scheme is being driven by speculative investment. We are wary of wealthy investors buying property at or before construction with the goal of making a quick turnaround profit or a lucrative rental portfolio. This may not be the case with Little Kelham, but if most buyers don’t end up there themselves, what kind of dynamic will that create? Britain is currently facing a housing shortage crisis. With reported asking prices of £120k -£250K, are premium developments like this doing enough to solve the problem? The answer is probably not. First-time buyers may be priced out of the market.

What about traffic? Currently Green Lane is used extensively by motorists during the peak-time commute and its limited width means that traffic can get backed up all the way to The Milestone. This might be a minor drawback, but it does invite another query. If cars produce air and noise pollution, why would a scheme that seeks to promote sustainable, wholesome living indirectly endorse further pollution by providing car ports? Could on-site vehicle use have been limited or restricted by designing some homes without car ports? If this was the case, Little Kelham’s statements about sustainability would be more coherent.

In reality the success of the development will not be affected by these issues and this highlights the positive sentiment that Little Kelham has engendered. It’s a fine example of the regeneration potential that exists in many of the city’s former industrial complexes. The Kelham Island Quarter is one of the brightest parts of the city and the addition of Little Kelham will surely make it shine brighter. We only hope that the development lives up to its billing.

Photo by Chard Remains Photographical
Little Kelham

Max Everett & Geoff Mackay.