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Sheffield City Lofts Tower Interview

Now that Sheffield's tallest building has been approved second time lucky we got the chance to speak to the architect who worked on the tower for Conran & Partners, Philip Thornton to find out more about the project and the reasoning behind it.

SN.com - Thanks, for talking to us. The site it sits on is if I remember correctly fairly hilly (just look at the Owen Building over the road!), how did you deal with this and did it present any problems?

P.T - The site in Sheffield was challenging, not least because the proposed massing will produce the tallest structure in Sheffield and is placed on the brow of the hill on the approach from the train station.

SN.com - How did you marry the proposal into "heart of the city" and the proposed new retail quarter?

P.T - The massing follows the principles set out in the master plan by Allies and Morrison, albeit with a 32 storey tower instead of an 18 storey as originally proposed. The planners were nervous that the master plan's squatter form would be seen as another slab block and were keen to have a building that would express the broader revitalisation of the City Centre.

SN.com - Given the previous design was actually attacked for it's height why did you then increase the building height further?

P.T - The tower form was proposed as a direct response to the planners request for an elegant form.

SN.com - Stone in particular is rare in tall buildings these days - why did you pick the exterior materials you did?

P.T - The materials were chosen to produce a building that although large would appear light. We chose to glaze the main elevations with a bronze anodised curtain walling, the solid side panels are a light grey glazed terracotta rain-screen, while the lower volume on St Paul's Place is clad in local stone.

SN.com - It's often said the top of the building and the base are the hardest parts to deal with, the top was heavily redesigned. How did you approach this?

P.T - The massing is broken down into elements, the tower is expressed as three intersecting volumes of the lift core and the two banks of apartments, this is a device to help improve the apparent slenderness of the elevations. The top of the building was redesigned to give a more interesting roof line at the request of the planners.

The base of the tower follows the new street edges set out in the master plan and allows large retail floor plates by placing the residential entrance and lift cores at the Alsops steps side of the building.

SN.com - How was the final design different in orientation from the previous one in reducing shadowing, particularly in relation to the Winter Gardens?

P.T - One of the concerns was the overshadowing of the Winter Gardens. The planning department commissioned an independent study which showed a net 5% reduction in direct sunlight into the gardens, the shadow of the tower passes over between 12 and 1.00pm. The study was conducted by the consultants who did the original planting for the gardens who concluded that there would be no significant effect on the plants.

SN.com - And finally, what's the basic design ethos Conran & Partners take to any tall building when they begin work?

P.T - Our design ethos is to produce well detailed finely crafted buildings that will age gracefully and hopefully embody a formal approach that will produce a contemporary architecture that will look as good in years to come as it will when completed.

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