Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Vacant Lot Becomes a Tower of 'Disruptive' Interdisciplinary Power: News

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Vacant Lot Becomes a Tower of 'Disruptive' Interdisciplinary Power: News

Article excerpt

Matthew Reisz reports on Furnace Park, Sheffield scholars' community initiative on a brownfield site.

The University of Sheffield is about to open a site that will serve as a "disruptive laboratory" for "strange encounters between researchers and creative practitioners".

It started, said Amanda Crawley Jackson, a lecturer in French at Sheffield, when she and a group of artists, writers, researchers and students began going for Sunday walks in a derelict area about 10 minutes' walk from the city centre, and noticed an acre and a half of scrubland on the site of the Doncaster and Sons foundry established in 1778.

Keen to put the site to use, Dr Jackson assembled a team of academics and former architectural students involved in regeneration projects to secure a three-year lease from the council for a peppercorn rent. They then cleared the site, which was given the name Furnace Park, and built a network of partners for what Dr Jackson called "a co-production between the university and the local community".

"The involvement of local companies and their expertise has been crucial," she explained, "and lots of people have been involved as part of the design process." Builders were brought in to repair walls and fill in holes; an engineering company donated a shipping container; and furnishings have been made from found and recycled material provided by a skip company.

Although there are many challenges in renovating a brownfield site, Dr Jackson was able to draw on university-wide expertise in legal, engineering and health and safety issues where necessary. To encourage similar projects, they are putting online all they have learned on subjects such as conducting environmental surveys and taking over abandoned spaces legally and safely.

While observing that "we all have to make better cities together", Dr Jackson noted that the contribution from those in the arts and humanities often amounts to little more than "putting poems on the sides of buildings". …

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