Castle Court, Sheffield

They say every good story has a beginning a middle and an end, but the intriguing story of Castle Court, a 1960’s residential tower block in Sheffield, is still far from being concluded.

The then Hyde Park flats were built near the Park Hill development (made famous by Yorkshire artist Richard O’Neill’s iconic modernist print), in the mid 1960’s, and were seen as the next phase of the remaking of post-war Sheffield.

But, like many of the high-rise housing developments built and celebrated at that time, by the early 1980s Hyde Park had become so run-down it had gained local notoriety for poor quality housing, crime and social deprivation.

But in 1990 the developments slide was arrested, when two of the dilapidated towers at Hyde Park, were earmarked for regeneration, providing athlete accommodation for the World Student Games, to be hosted by Sheffield the following year.

Beyond the Student Games, the residential blocks would then also deliver much needed, quality social housing managed by the then North Counties Housing Association (now The Guinness Partnership).

As a result, Castle Court became the North of England’s first ever high-rise over-cladding project, and the first large scale project in the North to incorporate NorDan’s StormGuard, double-glazed Tilt and Turn windows – around 400 in total.

Over thirty years on, and the building has developed a cult status amongst architects.

This is not only due to the significance of the ground breaking design, but because Castle Court has become a living embodiment of the benefit of aspirational design and specification, while also being a poignant epitaph to tragic consequences of future false economies.

So to the beginning, and the coming together of a visionary architect Pater Bell, and a soon to be over-cladding specialist, Peter Hillyard.

Peter Bell explains: “By the late 1980’s I’d become something of an authority on the over-cladding of older high-rise buildings on the UK, not least because I was the only architect in the country who had done it.

“Prior to Castle Court I’d refurbished the iconic Parson’s Tower in Westminster, and Millbank House in Southampton.

“Sheffield City Council ran a design competition to regenerate the then Hyde Park tower, which was won by the city’s own team of architects.

“The winning design was based on over-cladding, and as the leading (and only) expert in this field, the Council’s architects turned to me to handle the project.

“Europe’s leading specialist manufacturers tendered for two contracts, including Allscots (now D&B Fabrication), led by Peter Hillyard, who won the tender to re-clad what is now Castle Court.

“A German company won the contract for the adjacent smaller building, making it a 45 week race to completion.”

Norwegian window and door manufacturer NorDan partnered with Allscott on the project, and for Pete Hillyard, Castle Court was the transformative ‘sliding doors’ moment in his career: “The level of design and specification quality on that project set a standard that I endeavoured to maintain from that day forwards explains,” Pete.

“I didn’t realise it at the time, but the unique circumstances surrounding that project meant that, thirty years on, it’s still a shining example of how to regenerate high-rise residential buildings the right way.”

So why is that?

Peter Bell explains: “Due the World Student Games coming to Sheffield, this was a special project, and because of the unique knowledge I’d built from regenerating high-rise projects in London and Southampton, I simply specified what I understood to be sensible and safe at that time.

“I’d seen NorDan’s high performance windows in action whilst in Norway, and had been impressed by the company’s capacity to deliver timber windows and doors for big scale projects like Castle Court – plus NorDan’s aluminium clad timber fitted well with the building’s aluminium facade.”

Pete Hillyard explains further: “What I gained from Peter Bell and that project is that longevity is the best way to achieve value, so if you build to last, and surpass current standards, you can meet increased standards and expectations in the future.

“If you go high-end, and specify good quality products with great aesthetics, yes the capital expenditure will be higher, but the payback will be tenfold over the long-term.

“Castle Court is standing, empirical evidence of the wisdom of the investment made in 1990, because thirty years on not a single window has required replacement or maintenance, all the tilt-and-turn mechanisms still work.

“But most importantly, the homes are cosy, air and water tight, with windows that achieve 1.6w/m2C, which still meet today’s refurbishment standards.

“I don’t know of another brand of window that would still be there after more than a generation with no issues with closing, and no need for maintenance. It’s remarkable.

“To this day these homes remain sought after, not least because they are warm, water-tight and energy efficient.”

Pete continues: “Sadly, history has taught us that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing this sort of regeneration,

and the right over-cladding facades are high end, long lasting, stay clean, highly insulated, and non-combustible.

“The right windows are also long lasting, air and water tight, and highly thermally and acoustically insulated.

“Get all of these things right, and you end up with a building that delivers truly sustainable regeneration.

“Get any of them wrong, and you have to disrupt residents by spending time and money replacing the facade and windows after 15 years or so, or worse, you could end up with tragic consequences, as was seen at Grenfell.”

Peter Bell agrees: “It’s quite sad really when you think about it, because the design and build formula at Castle Court was excellent.

“But rather than becoming a blueprint for regenerating all the leaky, draughty 1960s tower blocks across the country, people chipped away at the quality of the specification to lower the cost, when in reality they are just delaying that cost and more.”

Pete Hillyard concludes: “Local authorities and social landlords have a lot of boxes to tick these days, not least providing people with high-quality, low-carbon and energy efficient homes that are easy to maintain.

“In my experience, windows such as PVCu and aluminium would have needed to be replaced after fifteen years, having leaked air and water, and been difficult to operate for much of that period.

“NorDan’s windows will still be performing in all respects in 2030!

“There are lots of ways people have got high-rise recladding wrong over the years, but In my opinion there’s only one way to get it right, and I urge any specifier or architect considering a high-rise retrofit or new build project to review Castle Court or visit Sheffield, and discover the true value of good engineering.”


Pater Bell, architects & Peter Hillyard, D&B Facades

Jun 07, 2022
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