Sheffield Design Week: Beauty and the Brutalist

Daniel Dylan Wray

The first ever Sheffield Design Week takes place across the city this month, bringing together both the brutal and the beautiful.

“Sheffield, I suppose, could justly claim to be called the ugliest town in the Old World” – so goes the now famous George Orwell quote. Orwell felt that Sheffield, “has a population of half a million and it contains fewer decent buildings than the average East Anglian village of five hundred”. Ouch. Sheffield’s relationship to design and architecture has always been an interesting – and often contradictory – one. The city itself is something of a mish-mash of leftover, often crumbling Brutalism and ambitious modernism, with its buildings now housing burgeoning young artists and designers. It is a city in something of a state of aesthetic flux; so, it seems that “a citywide celebration of design in all its forms” could not be more suitably homed than in Sheffield.

An expansive programme of exhibitions, talks & films – even a Beat the Architect lego competition

Taking place at various venues across the city, the inaugural Sheffield Design Week will run from 23-29 June and see an expansive programme of exhibitions, talks, conferences, events and films – even a Beat the Architect LEGO competition. The line-up will showcase many areas of design, including advanced manufacturing, technology and fashion, alongside the perhaps more obvious areas of graphic design and architecture. Explore the city with the HCD Sheffield Architreck tour, or settle in somewhere for a film. This strand of the festival is entirely free, screening a broad range of documentaries in venues including Site Gallery and Sheffield University: Microtopia, for instance, looks at bizarre and inventive alternatives to traditional housing.

The MADE NORTH Conference is the central event at the festival, with a rich variety of speakers and industry-leading creatives present. These include Antony Burrill, whose best-known works will also be on display in an exhibition called I like it. What is it? at MADE NORTH Gallery. Sheffield’s Millenium Gallery is hosting Yorkshire in Yellow as part of the Grand Depart, and, of course, there couldn’t be a design festival in the city without including the infamous, monolithic Park Hill housing estate. The estate is hosting the English Heritage-led show, Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century. The exhibition looks at listed buildings from the post-war era, exploring a love-hate relationship with England’s more recent architecture. One suspects George Orwell might have had a slightly different view of Sheffield in 2014.

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