The Arts Tower at the University of Sheffield was completed in 1961 to designs by Gollins Melvin and Ward and it has been dubbed by English Heritage ‘the most elegant University tower block of its period’. Its renovation, finished in 2012, can be understood as representative of wider debates about the attitudes and values attached to the future use of notable twentieth century modernist architecture. This paper explores the dilemmas and decision-making that characterised the complex negotiation processes involved in deciding how best to renovate this icon of modernity. It highlights the different perspectives and multiple voices within the University and explores the role of architectural values that privilege design in decision-making processes. It may be a familiar tale to anyone who has built or renovated a building involving a complex client and a diverse set of building users.
Through the analysis of four alternative narratives of participants, the complexity of a multi-voiced organisational process is exposed. These four narratives belong to four different players in the process, representing four different cultures. The first accounts for university management (the client); the second the School of Architecture and Department of Landscape (‘end-user’ clients); the third the estates department (the client's representative); and the fourth the expert architectural historian (an academic and end-user). This complexity was represented in the composition of the organisational body in charge of the project and the decision making process.
The images accompanying this paper also provide a short illustrated account of key aspects of the renovation from the perspective of the authors.