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Cooling towers site competition


31 July 2007

Press release contact:

Julia Davies
T: +44 (0)113 203 1490
E: julia.davies@riba.org

The prize winners of the Open Ideas Competition for the Cooling Towers Site in Tinsley (Sheffield) are announced today.
The competition, organised on behalf of Groundwork Sheffield, sought inspirational design ideas for the potential re-use of a brownfield site that has lain derelict for many years. Although dominated by a pair of disused cooling towers and the M1 Tinsley Viaduct, the site has taken on a wild, natural landscape, with the River Don and Tinsley Canal acting as important wildlife corridors linking adjacent green spaces.
The first stage of the competition attracted 34 entries that were assessed anonymously, with six finalists invited to present their design proposals to the jury panel at a final interview. The panel included representatives from English Partnerships, E.ON UK plc, Groundwork Sheffield, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Sheffield City Council, together with a Landscape Adviser and an RIBA Architect Adviser. The three prize winning proposals were submitted by:

  • Insite Environments (first prize)
  • DLA Architecture Ltd (second prize)
  • Astudio Ltd in collaboration with Alfredo Caraballo (third prize)

The three remaining finalists were Moxon Architects, Sheffield Wildlife Trust and Sprunt. 
Jury panel comments on the prize winning schemes
We faced a difficult task in selecting the prize winning schemes, as we were presented with six well thought out proposals, which all contained elements that could potentially be both exciting and intriguing. The teams had adopted a variety of innovative strategies to unlock the potential of this long since disused site. The Panel favoured those that had a clear vision, with a holistic, coherent approach that whilst responding to the opportunities afforded by the site, also considered its constraints and economic viability. All three prize winning schemes addressed the complex set of issues affecting the site, with the potential to generate a sense of place with a lasting legacy.
The ambitious mixed-use scheme submitted by Astudio Ltd in collaboration with Alfredo Caraballo (third place) sought to slowly transform the brownfield site into a Garden City. The team invoked a modern re-interpretation of the crescent typology and a celebration of the linear form of the M1 Tinsley Viaduct. One of the cooling towers would be retained for cultural use, whilst the other would form the core to an office/residential development, whose exterior would 'bristle' with balcony-like pod structures. Pockets of landscape areas would be interspersed with broader, more natural ones.

DLA Architecture Ltd (Second Place) sought to create a power station for the 21st Century, which would be a reminder of the past and a signpost to the future. A national centre for renewable energy research would be located at the gateway to the energy park, with a research village of light industrial units to house spin-off companies etc. The existing cooling towers would be retained as a beacon for relaying sustainable messages and a reminder of how electricity used to be generated. Twelve new towers would be constructed - similar in scale to the existing ones - and clad with an ETFE envelope. These giant hydroponic towers would be used to provide the optimum growing conditions for a bio-mass crop (up to a hectare per tower) that would be used to generate electricity on site. The electricity could be used to power the adjacent Meadowhall shopping centre, with any surplus being fed into the National Grid. The new towers would also incorporate other renewable energy technologies within their design to harvest wind, solar and/or geothermal energy. Much of the remaining landscape would be given over to bio-mass production, which could act as a huge external laboratory to test existing (e.g. short rotation coppice fields) and new crops.

Insite Environments (First Place) proposed to replace the existing cooling towers with two new ones, which would have the same hyperbolic parabola form and be of a similar scale and proximity to the Tinsley Viaduct. The appearance of the new towers' steel lattice frame would mirror the natural, organic forms that have reclaimed the site. The meshwork would provide an extraordinary image, forming complex interference patterns by day, with particularly striking visuals when lit from within at night. The new towers would acknowledge Sheffield's industrial heritage of manufacturing bespoke steel products, provide a landmark for Sheffield and herald its on-going regeneration. Insite Environments' proposal also included a world-class, exemplar sustainable business park, which would incorporate flood alleviation measures, whilst retaining as much of the naturally regenerated vegetation on site as possible with minimal landscape intervention.

The prize winning schemes should not be viewed as a completed blueprint, but the basis of a shared vision around which the main Partners can hopefully coalesce to move the site forward.
Comments from individual jury panel members
Helen Batt, who co-ordinated the competition on behalf of Groundwork Sheffield, commented: 'We are particularly pleased with the way the competitors responded to the opportunities for creating high quality green space on the site. New wetland features and areas of woodland, as well as existing habitats, are used to provide a visually exciting landscape and a public park for local residents and workers. This would ensure the site becomes a beautiful link in the 'emerald necklace' of green spaces that thread along the River Don. The winning scheme, with its stunning lattice towers, was strongly supported by the entire jury panel and provides a firm basis for developing this vision into a masterplan for the site'.
Mark Banister, Regeneration Manager at English Partnerships said:
'The vision shown by the winning entrants highlights a wonderful depth of uses for the cooling towers site and is a perfect example of our belief that derelict land need not be a blight on communities forever, but rather should be brought back into beneficial use for local residents. This approach lies at the heart of the policy recommendations English Partnerships submitted to Government last month and will inform the first-ever national strategy for the re-use of brownfield land.'
Karl Battersby (Director of Planning & Transportation, Rotherham MBC) commented:
'I was impressed by the range and quality of the submissions, and the different approaches that were taken to this challenging site on the gateway between Rotherham and Sheffield. I very much hope that this is the start of a process which ultimately will lead to the regeneration of the site.'
Simon Ogden (Head of City Development Division, Sheffield City Council) added:
'All of the proposals had some interesting ideas and demonstrated the potential of this site to be a beacon for the regeneration of both Sheffield and Rotherham. The winning project is particularly inspirational whilst offering opportunities for commercial and community involvement.'

Notes to editors

The RIBA Competitions Office offers a tailored competition management service delivering excellence in design. For further details visit RIBA Competitions. 
Groundwork is a National Federation of individual Trusts created to achieve sustainable development through joint environmental working. Groundwork Sheffield works with local statutory and community organisations, businesses and schools to create better green spaces, develop the waterways, connect young people with their environment and support local management solutions. For further details visit www.groundwork-sheffield.org.uk


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