Tuesday, September 19, 2006


From 1991-99, I studied in the Department of Biblical Studies at The University of Sheffield. Yesterday I visited the department, on the eleventh floor of the Arts Tower, for the first time in many years. The building was opened, by the Queen Mother, in 1965; and I was always led to believe that it was a temporary measure, created with a twenty-year lifespan. But somewhere along the line some officious committee burdened the edifice – the tallest building in Sheffield, and the tallest university building in the UK, apparently – with Listed status, which means that it cannot be dismantled, but is cursed to an eternal twilight of being propped-up (eventually, perhaps, quite literally). And, while building work has continued apace on the campus, none of it has been for the benefit of re-housing the Arts.

I was shocked to see how the building, already beyond its use-by date when I first crossed its threshold, was falling apart. It was like Luke Skywalker returning to Dagobah, and being shocked to see how Yoda had aged. Throughout the tower, asbestos is being removed by night, while its inhabitants work on by day; of the two columns of toilet facilities, the men’s is currently out of order on every floor, due to flooding – the women’s toilets are being co-opted on alternate floors; and the building has been without any hot water since June…

A lot goes on within that building that it would be sad to lose (as may one short-sighted day be inevitable for Arts departments in British universities, though I hope not). But, that creativity is seriously constrained by being forced, by planners external to the community who use the building, to operate within a shell that no longer meets the requirements for which it was built. I sort of understand why we List buildings; but I suspect no-one who has ever imposed such a death sentence will ever enter into the Kingdom of Heaven…

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