The vanishing castle

Architecture students are helping Sheffield connect with its past and its future, as well as gaining vital experience of the working world, thanks to our pioneering Live Projects programme.

An architect's measuring device

From stronghold to bowling green

It was one of the largest castles in medieval England. A vast stone fortress that dominated the landscape for almost four centuries; home to the powerful and prison to Mary, Queen of Scots for 14 years.

Then it was razed to the ground.

Having been a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, on 13 July 1647, Parliament ordered the destruction of Sheffield Castle. The site was used as a bowling green and as a venue for outdoor political meetings. By the 19th century, the site was covered in a mixture of pubs, steel works, and slaughterhouses, the remains of the castle lost amid the demands of industry and leisure.

The castle returns

It took the building of a branch of the Co-op in 1927 to bring it to light once more. In the course of construction, archaeologists discovered the base of one of the gatehouse towers and the encircling moat. Further excavations in the 1950s found more evidence of this imposing entrance complex. These were preserved beneath the city’s Castle Market. Then, in 2014, Sheffield City Council announced ambitious redevelopment plans for the Castlegate area. And that’s where our Architecture Live Projects team enters the picture.

Living architecture

The Live Projects programme has been an integral part of the Sheffield School of Architecture (SSoA) course for over 20 years. Since 1999, over 2200 students have successfully engaged with 235 Live Projects across 16 countries. Masters architecture students work on real briefs with a range of community clients including volunteer groups, charities, arts organisations and local authorities.

There are many types of Live Project, from growing algae to absorb pollution in a disused school near the M1 to improving short-term housing for homeless families, but at their heart they all share a social and collaborative ethos. They’re also a perfect bridge between the theoretical and the practical. These are real projects with real clients, real timescales and real budgets. It’s an invaluable experience for our students and one that helps ready them for the working world. In fact, many employers recognise Live Projects as a key asset to our graduates’ employability:

“The Live Projects programme at Sheffield is a unique and highly relevant aspect of the course. The skills of listening, consultation and iterative working are usually gained in a steep learning curve once in practice. For the Live Projects to provide this within the course structure at Sheffield is a significant achievement.”

Greg Penoyre

Penoyre and Prasad Architects

The transformation of the historic Castlegate area was too good an opportunity to pass up. But it was also extremely sensitive. Local people were still mourning the demolition of the much-loved Castle Market and there was suspicion over what would take its place. Sensing the importance of the project and the role that the School of Architecture could play, Carolyn Butterworth, Senior University Teacher and the director of Live Projects, moved her entire design studio to Castlegate and began a hugely productive engagement with the area, local people and the city council that continues to this day.

Past meets future

Sheffield’s lost castle was at the heart of this. Collaborating with Friends of Sheffield Castle (FoSC), the Department of Archaeology and community groups, the students’ first project in 2016 was ‘Revealing the Castle’, an ambitious vision for the regeneration of the castle site. This was so successful that it has been incorporated by FoSC into their own blueprint for the site’s future.

Other projects have included a stunning design for a double pier that would overlook the castle remains, and an exciting collaboration with the University of Sheffield’s Computer Science and Archaeology departments at 2018’s Festival of the Mind. The collaboration used Augmented Reality technology to bring a new 3D digital model of the Castle to life, on a scale model of contemporary Castlegate. Offering people such an exciting view of the past has proven to be a powerful way to engage people in future ideas for the site.

Beyond the castle site, perhaps the most exciting project of all is Harmony Works, a plan to transform a historic building in Castlegate into an exciting new centre for music education and performance aimed at children and young people in the Sheffield city region from all backgrounds.

As Emily Pieters from Sheffield Music Academy says: “Live Projects essentially kickstarted a project that previously existed as a ‘maybe one day’ dream.” That project is about to secure ownership of the building with significant funding in place to create a fantastic new space in Castlegate.

It’s this focus on the past and the future that has defined the project. Sheffield Castle may have been lost for almost 300 years, but Sheffield University’s architecture department is determined to put it back on the map.

Our vision

We are the University of Sheffield. And this is our vision.