top of page

Representations of the Street:

The Role of the Architectural Journal Page in the Critical Debate Around Park Hill’s Streets-in-the-Sky 

Park Hill … looks like the building by which 1961 is destined to be remembered. 

-Peter Reyner Banham 

The term ‘streets-in-the-sky’ describes an external circulation typology for high-rise housing blocks that sits on the side of the building and is open to natural light and ventilation. Compared to access balconies, streets-in-the-sky are considerably wider, allowing room for social interaction, and are less frequent, usually only on every third floor. 

Streets-in-the-sky first appeared in the early 1950s and became increasingly popular in post-war housing scheme proposals throughout the decade. Through its provision of horizontal access to multiple flats via internal staircases, this new typology provided the financial advantage of reducing the number of expensive lifts while at the same time allowing double aspect for all apartments. The first implementation of streets-in-the-sky on a significant scale was Sheffield’s Park Hill in 1961. The estate was celebrated as a great success and has been covered extensively by the architectural press. Its critical acclaim led to a boom of deck-access housing estates throughout the country. 

Nevertheless, the cheap construction and low maintenance of many of the subsequently built estates and the promotion of critiques that directly associated streets-in-the-sky with anti-social behaviour led to the demise of the typology during the Thatcher government, and the typology never recovered from this stigma.[1] The lively debate that developed around this new proposition of space turned streets-in-the-sky into one of the most contested architectural inventions of 20th-century architecture in Britain. Several, sometimes contradictory, studies have been conducted about its social value and the history of its rise and fall has been told numerous times.[2]

What has not received extensive attention, however, is the role of the architectural print media page in the critical debate around this new spatial invention. The time of its development was a very prolific phase for the architectural press in the United Kingdom. Journals like The Architectural Review (AR) and Architectural Design (AD) established themselves as strong critical voices within the profession and fundamentally shaped the architectural debate at the time. Both magazines covered the opening of Park Hill in 1961 with lengthy articles. The AR published a criticism by Reyner Banham and AD dedicated an entire issue to the city of Sheffield with illustrations by Roger Mayne. 

With English Heritage’s announcement to list the estate in 1998 and the city’s controversial decision to hand it over to a private developer, a new critical discussion has re-emerged in recent years. Exactly 50 years after its first appearance in the architectural press, Park Hill has demanded its attention again with the opening of the first redevelopment phase in 2011. Over time, a whole body of representations was created to shape an opinion about this radical new typology. Not only was there an uncertainty about its spatial qualities, but also the perception of its sociological function and values has continuously been evaluated and re-interpreted. Hence, this study suggests, that the portrayals of Park Hill within these influential architectural journals have significantly impacted the public perception of this contested typology. 

This dissertation, therefore, takes Park Hill as a case study to assess the role of the journal page in the critical debate around streets-in-the-sky. As the first built and first listed streets-in-the-sky structure in the United Kingdom, Park Hill simultaneously exemplifies the historic value of this typology, as well as its present relevance, and its extensive coverage within the architectural print media offers a wide range of sources to draw on. By taking the journal article as a historic testament, this study explores how the UK’s leading architectural print media have constructed a diverse set of representations of this new proposition of space and examines, how these representations have shaped the critical debate. Through a comparison between its historic and contemporary representations, this study further examines how the discursive culture around streets-in-the-sky has changed between Park Hill’s implementation in 1961 and its redevelopment today. 

By using the journal article not only as a source of information, but as a site of construction of the contested discussion itself, this dissertation unveils a different reading of the history of Park Hill and its streets-in-the-sky. As compilations of distinct voices with individual ideologies and subjectivities, the articles are valuable artifacts of the complexities and contradictions within architectural history. They present different readings of this new typology and reflect the complex agendas that were involved in the construction of these portrayals and the discussions behind them. 

With the assessment of streets-in-the-sky through its portrayals on the journal page instead of its built manifestations, this study provides an alternative theoretical comprehension of this typology through the ‘method of theorising architectural history from the archive of journal publishing’.[3] This methodology draws on Naomi Stead’s perception of ‘criticism as a translation’.[4] Following Stead’s method of attention to the page, I am examining how each of these articles ‘relocates and constructs the architectural object’.[5] Through in-depth study of the articles as a whole, I am investigating, how these representations in text, drawing, and image have been instrumentalised to construct a certain image of streets-in-the-sky. 

This in-depth analysis of the journal page reveals the fundamental role that these articles played in the classification of streets-in-the-sky as a Brutalist working-class typology and highlights the antithetical editorial agendas behind these representations. The comparison between the historic and contemporary articles further draws attention to the changed role of the critic within the close entanglement of the journals with the industry today and discloses, how this commercial bias precipitates a marginalisation of Park Hill’s streets-in-the-sky and a reversal of its Brutalist ethos in its contemporary media representations. 

[1] In Utopia on Trial: Vision and Reality in Planned Housing (London: Hilary Shipman Ltd, 1985), the author Alice Coleman draws on Oscar Newman’s defensible space theory and claims that deck-access estates foster criminal activities through their network of multiple escape routes. 

[2] For a detailed history of streets-in-the-sky see Christopher W. Bacon, ‘Streets-in-the-sky: The Rise and Fall of the Modern Architectural Urban Utopia (unpublished PhD diss., University of Sheffield, 1982). 

[3] Robin Wilson, Image, Text, Architecture: the Utopics of the Architectural Media (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), 9. 


[4] Naomi Stead, ‘Three Complaints about Architectural Criticism’, Architecture Australia 92, no. 6 (2003): 52. 

[5] Stead, ‘Three Complaints’, 52. 

bottom of page