Park Hill Estate: an infamous Sheffield icon

Did architectural design transform an unloved building in South Yorkshire into a place people wanted to live?

Renovation and rehabilitation

  • Grade II
    Park Hill is the largest Grade II listed building in Europe. Listed buildings have special architectural and historic interest and national importance.
  • 874 flats
    As well as 874 flats, the estate has business units and a ‘high street’ with shops, bars and pubs on ground level.
  • £120 million
    The renovated and redesigned Park Hill Estate is worth a whopping £120 million.

What's the story?

Streets in the sky

Park Hill is a council housing estate in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. It was built between 1957 and 1962 and designed by the architects Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn. The estate was inspired by the Unité d'habitation, a housing building in Marseille, France designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and completed in 1952. Unité d'habitation focused on bringing the people that lived there together in a 'vertical garden city' with shops, restaurants and other facilities as well as private flats. The concept of Park Hill was described as 'streets in the sky' with four street levels wide enough for milk floats to drive through, each with direct access to shops and pubs on the ground floor.

3,000 people were housed in Park Hill. A survey one year after the flats were officially opened was very positive. Most people living there said they felt better off and the architects won awards for the design.

What went wrong?

By the 1970s problems started to build up. Crime on the estate was making headlines in newspapers and with the increase in unemployment by the 1980s there were more and more social problems. Drug use made Park Hill a dangerous place to be at night and people began calling the building ugly and likening it to a prison block. It turned into a symbol of broken dreams and families were moved out. The estate became unused and unloved but in 1998 was listed as a Grade II building which protected it from being torn down.

'I love you will u marry me?'

Sheffield council handed Park Hill over to developers Urban Splash in 2004 to renovate the neglected estate. Glass and colourful panels were added to balance the heavy concrete in the original design and the interiors of the flats were updated. A new ‘high street’ of shops, bars and pubs was created at ground level. When the renovation team first visited Park Hill they saw the line of graffiti ‘I love you will u marry me?’ sprayed onto a concrete bridge. The declaration of love was overwritten in neon lights and used as a symbol of Park Hill’s regeneration. In January 2013 the first new residents and businesses moved into the building.

The people of Sheffield are divided on their opinion of Park Hill. Some consider it an important part of the city’s heritage while others still think of it as an ugly blot on the landscape.

Photo: Tom Parnell

What can I do?

DISCUSS: Are there any unused buildings close to your school? How could you use design to bring them back to life?

RESEARCH: Park Hill Estate is a Brutalist building. What is Brutalist architecture? Which other buildings are an example of this style?

DO: Design a building. Think about how its design could influence the way people use the space. Where would it be?

Which famous musician has worn the Park Hill slogan ‘I love you will u marry me?’ on a t-shirt?

Alex Turner, the lead singer of The Arctic Monkeys, who was born and grew up in Sheffield.

Explore other pages


What is 'Good' Design? A quick look at Dieter Rams' Ten Principles

What does "good" design look like and are there any instructions on how to create it? Dieter Rams, legendary industrial designer, who's "less but better" approach inspired a generation of products, is famed for writing the Ten Principles of Good design.


Plumen Lightbulb: Beauty in the Every Day

Most light bulbs go unnoticed, but this one's won international awards!

All Stories

Design influences our lives and can be found in every aspect of our day. Discover more stories at the core.