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Deep Structure: S1 Artspace film explores buildings and health

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A still from Deep Structure.

A new film installation explores the relationship between architecture and health through the story of Park Hill.

Deep Structure by Ilona Sagar runs from 11 October to 14 December at S1 Artspace. Entry is free.

The film features computer modelling, documents from the building's construction and interviews with original tenants.

"I was struck by the cellular shape of Park Hill, which isn't accidental," Sagar told Now Then, when asked what inspired the film.

Concrete is one of the most toxic materials over time

"It was [built] at a time when things like cybernetics and systems theory were really prevalent. It felt like an interesting springboard to think about this link between bodies and buildings, or health and architecture."

The film explores how Park Hill is both a politicised space and one that, more recently, has been celebrated for its brutalist aesthetics.

"The film is trying to complicate and tangle those relationships," she said. "But from that root of the shape of the building, which felt like a way to think about different scales as well."

"You can scale up to this social scale from the shape of the building, or you can go into a microscopic scale of materials. That goes into a whole long tale of earth and landscape and industry. It stretches in two different directions."

Shot partly at Hope Cement Works, the film explores how the architecture around us affects our health, both on a physiological and physical level.

"Concrete is one of the most toxic materials over time", said Sagar. "There's also its impact on the environment. From the surface of a building you have all these other things that come out of it."

On 12 December, a free round table discussion will explore soft power, care and the commons. Contributors include Park Hill resident Joanne Marsden, who established the Park Hill young mothers action group, and former GP Jack Czauderna, who ran a co-operative practice near the estate in the seventies.

Sagar's film both disrupts and complicates the familiar narratives about the estate, which has become an unlikely icon of the city.

All of the maps that you're seeing have been made for this film

"There's something that I found quite complex about the way developers like Urban Splash or Alumno talk about Park Hill in this very linear way," she said. "It's a rose-tinted idea of the way this working-class community erupted out of Park Hill."

"At the end of the day, it is to sell properties. To sell a mid-modern aesthetic of Park Hill."

Breaking with this linear narrative, Sagar uses the stories of the original residents, as well as social data collected when the building was new, to build a film she describes as "almost semi-fictitious."

In contrast to the unpopulated photos of hammered concrete and sculpted stairwells that fill websites like Dezeen, Deep Structure places human narratives back at the centre of modernist architecture.

A free walking tour on 15 November will explore the history of industrial and postwar Sheffield within its contemporary context. It will be led by local cultural historian Dr Helen Smith and material science expert Professor John Provis, alongside the artist.

Another element that runs all the way through Deep Structure is the idea of space syntax. This is a technique for analysing how people navigate the spaces between buildings.

The film includes a space syntax map of Sheffield city centre, which Sagar created with academics from The Bartlett School of Architecture.

"It was developed by Bill Hillier in the early nineties as a way of understanding housing estates," she explains.

"I've used a syntax analysis of Park Hill to contrast with the data that was collected in the early sixties. It's to think about those ways of analysing and navigating space through data collection."

On 27 November, Alex Taylor from City University and Laura Vaughan from The Bartlett will be in discussion with Sagar about the human nature of data.

"It's used at a city-wide scale. All of the maps that you're seeing have been made for this film," she said. "They start with Park Hill and they expand to the entire spread of Sheffield."

Sam Gregory

Deep Structure runs until 14 December at S1 Artspace. Entry is free. There are special events throughout the exhibition.

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