Cole Brothers Barkers Pool
Image © David Johnson

HHB very much welcomes the listing of the former Cole Brothers/John Lewis building.

Historic England’s listing calls it “a rare example of a post-war department store designed by a leading architects’ firm to an accomplished modernist design using strict geometry and proportionality to create a statement building”.

You can read the listing here:

The building was listed not just for its great architectural merit but also for its relationship with the Grade 2* listed War Memorial and City Hall. Many people have admired its design. The Twentieth Century Society almost succeeded in getting it listed in 2001. It is HHB’s first campaign to save a Modernist building and we are delighted with the news.

For a detailed analysis of the merits of the building you can read our submission to Historic England here.

For a short discussion of the merits of listing the building read Howard Greaves’ (HHB Chair) letter published in local press here

The listing decision was triggered by Sheffield City Council’s application for a certificate of immunity from listing. It may be the case that Sheffield Council needed clarification on whether it would be listed or not, but ultimately the application for immunity from listing shows the council knew the building had architectural merit whilst underlining a clear possibility of demolition.

Historic England reviewed available information and updated research and decided the building should be Grade 2 listed. DDCMS agreed, and listed the building on 10th August 2022.

Concerned at the Council’s apparent preference for demolition, several eminent Sheffield organisations got behind the call to protect the building.You can read their joint press statement/letter, which also stresses the environmental impact of demolition, here.

Environmental impact matters more than ever. Responsible councils must pursue re-use and repurposing rather than demolition and rebuilding, which always has a worse environmental impact.  HHB and Sheffield Society of Architects wrote about the building’s history and the carbon impact of demolition here.

Sheffield City Council’s consultation seemed to push the demolition option, stressing the asbestos issue for re-use but ignoring it for demolition while making questionable claims of carbon benefits. It is clear now that the Council did not know whether they would be able to deliver these options. You can read our criticisms of the consultation here.

New buildings in Sheffield today give little hope that any replacement would come close to the standards set by this building.

Some at Sheffield Council claim the listing decision was ‘landed’ on the city, when in truth they have watched it coming in slow motion.  Senior councillors have welcomed the decision, recognising it as confirmation and celebration of the high quality of some of the city’s survivng architecture – something for Sheffield people and visitors alike to value in this city.  We certainly think that is the better informed response.

To clear up some misunderstandings:

* Grade 2 listing does not place huge constraints or cause planning delays. Developers know that Grade 2 listed buildings can be adapted. The more strictly protected Grade 2* Leah’s Yards and Park Hill Flats were heavily adapted,

* There is asbestos, but this will incur the same cost, whether the building is retained or demolished.

* The car park needs repairs, but has not been condemned. Sheffield can benefit by restoring this existing car park for a clean and green future where electric cars can be parked and charged, bicycles secured, with more disabled parking in a truly central location.

* Re-use and replacement both need money to come mostly from investors or central Government, but a replacement of the same size – as outlined in the Council’s invitation to developers – will cost substantially more than refurbishment.

There is a brilliant potential use for the building

Sheffield needs an expanded Graves Art Gallery that takes Sheffield’s art treasures out of storage for the people to see.  Currently Graves is on the top floor of the Central Library building and a popular idea is that the library needs to relocate.  We think the Coles building would be the ideal new location for a fully up to date New Central Library. This is a civic use, in a very fitting civic location, that will attract funds whilst freeing up space for a major Northern Art Gallery.

Image © David Johnson. The listing notes: ‘..skilful incorporation of YRM’s signature uncut white-glazed tiles that provide a clean, crisp image to the principal elevations, enhanced by the rhythm of rectangular brown mosaic window panels that cleverly balanced the client’s requirement for daylit shop floors with the need for wall space for internal displays and limiting of solar gain’. We are very keen to so those white tiles given a good clean!

Further reading:

This article about the listing by the Twentieth Century Society provides a good overview.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage are campaigning to save the M&S building on London’s Oxford Street.  The surrounding discussion has brought to focus the fact that due to the climate emergency demolition must now be considered the last resort. Read more here

Listing of the former Coles/John Lewis building, Sheffield

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