Love Among the Ruins

Last chance to see Love Among the Ruins

Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future is available to view for just a few more days.

The exhibition, featuring the work of Roger Mayne and Bill Stephenson, is on until Saturday, September 15, at S1 Artspace.

It includes archival photography and film of the residents who shaped the original communities in Park Hill and Hyde Park.

S1 Artspace reopened in the heart of Sheffield’s iconic brutalist Park Hill estate in July.

Love Among the Ruins
Bill Stephenson: Donna Hargreaves and Carmen Bello sit on an unguarded fourth-storey concrete parapet. Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield, 1988 © Bill Stephenson

Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future

Social documentary photographers Mayne and Stephenson photographed the first residents of Park Hill and the last remaining residents of its sister building Hyde Park.

Both landmark buildings were the product of city council architect J.L. Womersley’s pioneering vision for social housing in Sheffield.

The exhibition takes its title from Evelyn Waugh’s satirical short story, imagining a dystopian future Britain as the result of an overbearing welfare state.

Written in 1953, Waugh’s story foreshadowed concerns about the possible social consequences of the government’s progressive post-war approach to rebuilding the country.

Including rare documents and archival material, Love Among the Ruins is a re-interpretation of Streets in the Sky.

The original exhibition by Mayne and Stephenson was curated by Matthew Conduit at the Untitled Gallery, Sheffield, in 1988.

Staged during the estates’ most significant period of decline, it provided an insight into the residents’ connection to the architecture.

Stephenson found ‘a close community reluctant to be broken up’ despite the increasing deterioration of the building.

He ‘did not meet a single resident who wanted to be rehoused’.

Thirty years on, Love Among the Ruins revisits aspects of the original exhibition and features previously unseen work.

It also includes The Fortress, a BBC film about Park Hill produced in 1965 as part of its Landmarks series.


Love Among the Ruins
Roger Mayne: Boys playing football, Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, 1961 © Roger Mayne Archive/Mary Evans Picture Library

A radical housing project

Love Among the Ruins looks back to the Utopian ideals inherent in the architecture of both buildings and traces their social history.

As Park Hill once again undergoes a huge period of reinvention the exhibition offers a moment to reflect on the major changes the estate has experienced and marks the next phase in its evolution.

The Park Hill redevelopment was commissioned by J.L. Womersley in 1956 and designed by architects Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith.

They were tasked with providing a solution to the post-war housing and health crisis in Sheffield.

Lynn and Smith were heavily influenced by Peter and Alison Smithson, proponents of Le Corbusier’s incorporation of ‘streets in the air’.

This aimed to facilitate neighbourliness with space to chat and for children to play.

In translating this concept to the hillside location of Park Hill, the architects vertically recreated the existing streets to rehouse neighbours next to each other.

Designed to include all the amenities people needed to live well, the Park Hill redevelopment was the largest and most radical housing project of its kind outside of London.

Love Among the Ruins
Roger Mayne: Milk delivery, Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, 1961 © Roger Mayne Archive/Mary Evans Picture Library

Energy and conviviality

Mayne’s seminal body of work capturing community life on the streets of working class neighbourhoods in the 1950s and early 1960s earned him a reputation as one of the most important post-war British photographers.

He visited the newly developed Park Hill between 1961 and 1965, documenting how residents were transitioning to this new way of living together.

His photographs uniquely capture the energy and conviviality of the estate at its inception.

Hyde Park completed part two of the redevelopment in 1965.

Its design differed significantly from Park Hill and included four separate blocks with the tallest reaching a dramatic 19 storeys.

However, by 1967, concerns were already being raised about the social impact of such high-density housing. There were reports that applications for transfers were increasing.

From the 1970s, the estate began to suffer from chronic pest control problems and ‘generally filthy conditions’ according to a council survey.

The building also developed ‘concrete cancer’ as rainwater gradually caused chunks of the facade to disintegrate.

Love Among the Ruins
Bill Stephenson: ‘Tony the Ton’ and Martin age 8, outside the Pop In Centre. Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield, 1988 © Bill Stephenson

A deeply personal insight

In December 1986, 3,000 tenants of Hyde Park learned they would be rehoused in order to accommodate the Olympic Village for the World Student Games.

Tenants began moving out in January 1988, with over half having left by the end of June that year.

Stephenson documented the last remaining residents of Hyde Park in 1988.

By that time the estate had fallen largely into disrepair. Sheffield City Council considered it a failed experiment in social housing.

Having spent eight months visiting and getting to know the residents whom he would eventually photograph, Stephenson’s portraits offer a deeply personal insight.

They stand in contrast to the anonymity and fleeting energy of Mayne’s photographs.

By 1990, the city had embarked on a £27 million renovation scheme to transform the estate for the Games.

Demolition of the 19-storey Block B began in 1991.

Hyde Park was part of the council’s city-wide programme of tower block demolition from the late 1980s to the late 90s.

The programme also saw the flattening of Broomhall flats, Kelvin flats and the high-rise towers of Norfolk Park.

Hyde Park’s fate became a microcosm of the changing attitude towards social housing and the welfare state.

It reflected the shifting priorities of central government from social responsibility towards privatisation and home-ownership.

Love Among the Ruins
Bill Stephenson: Roller skating paper girls Anita and Emma. Hyde Park Flats, Sheffield, 1988 © Bill Stephenson

Utopian ideals of social housing

Love Among the Ruins explores the complex social and architectural history of Park Hill and Hyde Park.

It comes at a time when social housing is increasingly scarce and communities of post-war social housing projects have been largely fragmented and dispersed.

The exhibition provides a platform for discussion about the relationships between architecture, community and the urban landscape, looking back to the post-war Utopian ideals of social housing and to the contemporary re-purposing and commercialisation of the period’s remaining buildings.

Public funding has been provided by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Additional support has been provided by The Freshgate Trust Foundation and Sheffield Church Burgesses Trust.

Love Among the Ruins: A Romance of the Near Future, S1 Artspace, Sheffield, until Saturday, September 15.

Main image: Roger Mayne, Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, 1961 © Roger Mayne Archive/Mary Evans Picture Library

Recent blogs

Iconic spomenik memorials explored in new photo book

Must-see exhibitions this September

Dafydd Jones: The Last Hurrah

diep~haven: across Sussex and Northern France