Second Lives

Unveiling design's hidden narratives, where past lives shape renewed spaces



Buildings register, absorb and patinate; they wear out and when new, wear in. The marks made by protest, by war and being loved to bits, the scars of graffiti left in timber panelling, makers marks, and the traces of feet on well-worn steps. These qualities and phenomena are physical changes which can be seen. But what of the social or economic narratives or the non physical acts that make buildings memorable? By connecting with people and understanding how they used buildings in the past , we can breathe new life into them and ensure their futures.

Our buildings tell stories about people


Greg Moss, Sheffield University alumnus

Standing at the sky's edge

Park Hill

My choice to study architecture at Sheffield was galvanised by my love of the city’s Warp record label and the then contemporary Yorkshire sound of Bleep and Bass. So as a naïve sixth former, when the time came for the obligatory university open day, I enthusiastically headed east on the Trans Pennine Express with a specially compiled tape on my Walkman for the journey.

That was the first time I ever saw Park Hill. As the train pulled into the station it forcibly loomed over the city centre through the wintery drizzle. I’d never seen anything like it.

Although constantly part of the panoramic views from the architecture studios in the Arts Tower, my first meaningful encounter with Park Hill was in fifth year as a ‘Live Project’ under the guidance of Jeremy Till. A group of us students renovated one of the flats with a grant of £5000 from Sheffield City Council, restoring it to as it would have been when the first residents moved onto the estate in the early ‘60s.”

I certainly couldn’t have foreseen that I would then spend over a decade of my career working on the masterplan and the completion of the first phase of Park Hill’s rejuvenation. We’ve often talked about our Park Hill project being a journey in itself – one that took us to the Venice Biennale, Le Corbusier’s Unite D’Habitation in Marseille, onto a BBC documentary and to a shortlisting for the Stirling Prize.

So thirty years on from my first visit to Sheffield, I never expected to be sitting in the National Theatre watching ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’, a play with Park Hill as a back drop for multiple parallel stories, spanning 50 years of the largest listed building in Europe. It struck me that Park Hill had been woven itself into most of my adult life, and in ways that I could never have predicted. You can listen to the soundtrack to my early experiences of Sheffield here


Negar Mihanyar, former Elliott School pupil

Elephants & inspiration

ARK Putney Academy

I was at Elliott through school and sixth form. It was a good school but pretty rough. Large, with huge grounds, and the provision was good. I’m not sure how or when it fell into disrepair and special measures, but it wasn’t run down then.

It had lots of characterful spaces. Like the beautiful old assembly hall which featured in the film ‘Love Actually’. I remember sitting in that hall and writing down what I wanted to do for a career – I didn’t even know how to spell architecture!  It was a creative school then, specialising in arts and languages.”

People said that if you went up to the geography floor at the top of the building and looked down onto the playground, you’d see it was in the shape of an elephant, which was appropriate since it was the Elli-ott School and had an elephant logo. The geography floor itself was really unusual, particularly it’s beautiful lightweight wavy ceiling. We also had huge DT workshops, an amphitheatre in the playground, alongside the tennis courts and long jump pitches, and a designated theatre. The internal staircases were interesting too and we had lovely panels of brick mosaics in the courtyard.”

The newly sealed buildings now meet modern energy standards, vastly improving thermal and solar performance, with the option to open windows in the warmer months. Annual heating bills have dropped by around 80%.”

John Jeffery

Associate Director


Jason Martin, Conservation Lead

Capturing hearts and minds

Plumstead Centre

Years ago, you used to be able to borrow a print from Plumstead library as well as books. You could take it home and hang it on your wall for a few months and then bring it back. We discovered a whole stack of these pictures in the basement when we started work; reframed the best ones and decorated the new café and the elephant stairway with them, for everyone to enjoy again.

At the start of the project, we met local residents and workers to find out what they really wanted the building to be; what activities and functions they needed the most.  Now the building is not just a library, it’s a gym, a sports hall, a dance studio, somewhere for music practice and a café. We asked the children about what living in Plumstead was like. And their lives and words are etched into the glass of the new extension.”


Terry Page, Upholsterer

Pride & joy

Hackney Town Hall

The most enjoyable part of this project has been the design of the new chairs: working with John and Chloe, developing the specification and then the design of the frames, and creating the finished article. Not only did we enjoy doing it but, more importantly, it was just what the customer wanted.

The critical part was the set-back design of the arms to suit the other furniture here. It had to fit the height and width of everything else, save space, but also fit around the table. The frames, the joinery, the upholstery, the finish, the dome of the seat, it’s all in keeping with the original designs.

There aren’t many people who can still do the stuff-and-stitch work. We can, hence the finish you’ve got here. We were the last people to work on the furniture at Hackney Town Hall, way back in the early 70s.

When I first came here this time round, I thought, I don’t believe this. It took me back to all those years ago. When I walked in and saw the settees we’d worked on, I was amazed how well they’d lasted over 40 years.

When we were selected to help design the regeneration of Hackney Town Hall, we brought our long history of updating town halls with us, but we also brought our day-to-day experience of the local community in Hackney. I married Morag Morrison in the Town Hall, in 1992, and we registered the births of our children in the same rooms.”

Russell Brown

Founding Partner