Review: Life On The Hill exhibition at the Made North Gallery

Life on the Hill

Walking into the ‘Life on the Hill’ exhibition at MADE NORTH GALLERY, I was instantly struck by just how much there was to look at and, even better – play with. For a relatively small space, SIA’s product, furniture and design students had managed to produce a well-curated feast of innovative prototypes waiting to be used, touched, heard and even sniffed!

Personally, I had no prior knowledge of Park Hill, the inspiration for a series of design briefs that centre around the sub-themes ‘work, rest, and play’. It turns out that Park Hill is the largest listed building in Europe, a large council housing estate with a rich history that is closely linked with Sheffield’s industrial past. Previously a poor area, known for violent crime – the site was initially redeveloped after World War II when architects Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn set about rehoming the local community in a concept that became known as ‘streets in the sky’. The development was opened in 1961, neighbours were re-homed next to each other to reinforce a strong sense of community – it even included a shopping area and school. Sadly, the glory of Park Hill was short-lived due to a rise in unemployment in the steel industry during the 1980’s and the site began to fall into disarray.

12648157_10156402880620627_1939055998_nHowever, shortly after Park Hill controversially became a listed building, property development company Urban Splash together with English Heritage began a project to re-ignite the once imagined spirit of community by turning the site into a combination of apartments, commercial space and social housing.

This evolution of how we interact with living space, with many people now working from home, is reflected in the design briefs that the students have responded to for the exhibition at MADE NORTH. Titles such as Three Rules: No shoes, No phones, No Politics, Make Yourself at Home and The Artist Upstairs have evoked responses that surpass more than just creating a product or design but actually incorporate how these items relate to the site and their potential consumers.

I found the Three Rules concept particularly interesting, emblazoned in bold letters on the wall opposite the entrance and repeated on rows of ‘stubby’ beer bottle labels, I stifled a grin at having inflicted similar rules on friends in my own home. Underneath the title wall, a table laid out as if set ready for dinner was adorned with several impressively crafted objects, all designed with the purpose of inspiring interaction and relationships; a Candleboard invites residents to light a candle and illustrate their stories using a piece of chalk and slate, a beautifully finished product entitled Fusion allows the user to offer either coffee or tea at the supposed Three Rules event and The Chimney – an intricate prototype of an attractive grill/heater that invites you to gather together in the warmth.

12648176_10156402880840627_422053206_nThe Artist Upstairs was developed from a brief which invited students to explore the idea of a residency programme at Park Hill and how the proposed artist might utilise and interact with their space. Whilst initially this seems far removed from the industrial history that accompanies that of Park Hill, it speaks of Sheffield’s move away from steel into becoming a city celebrated for its culture. This brief yielded some interesting responses from the students, allowing them to not only design the implements that the ‘artists’ would use but also proposed workshops that might be offered to the Park Hill community, such as Hive – furniture designed to be easily stored between classes and The Box which contained a series of interchangeable handles and nibs made with the intention of being an initial creative output for the ‘artist’.

Overall the exhibition spoke of a utopian future, clean-cut designs engineered to be a platform for community and interactivity. It was made up of so many inspiring ideas and designs; a series of doorbells designed to spark conversation, complicated jigsaw puzzles that depicted the structure of Park Hill itself, shelves that could be easily changed depending on the resident’s needs and so many others, more than I can list here – there really was just so much to play with!

The exhibition runs until February 27th. For more info visit