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Chesham House

With exclusive access throughout the design process of what would have been Yorkshire's tallest building we look at the evolution of a building that gets progressively more ambitious before reaching a frustrating anti-climax.

Sheffield is a famous city, famous for it's steel, male strippers doing the Full Monty and an 80s band called Def Leppard. Despite being one of the leading cities in the U.K (and having the fifth largest population) it has seriously lagged behind other regional centers since the 1980s hurt it with a massive downturn in employment there. Only lately have things been changing.

The Development.
Recently Sheffield has seen the embryonic start of a property market similar to Manchester in the early 90s and companies are realising that thanks to low rents, superb transport system and cheap land prices there is money to be made there once more. The center of this is termed 'high-rise alley' that lies just off West Street.

With plans for a nearby 19 storey tower (now increased to 21) designed by Broadway Malayan on St Mary's Gate, and a 17 floor tower on the abandoned Mercedes garage across the road.

It was on this pivotal spot of Chesham House that the developers Manor Property Group decided to build a landmark as the center point of what will be the new retail quarter of Sheffield, a massive development of the surrounding area with the aim to rival Manchester as a successful example of inner-city living.

Project Details.
Chesham House was originally conceived as a 14 floor medium-rise back in 2002 and designed by Bond Bryan Architects. The developer however wasn't pleased with the small number of apartments, which totaled only 150, and looked to nearby West One and the seemingly insatiable demand for such units in Sheffield, thinking that the sky was literally the limit.

It was this logic that saw Bond Bryan work on gradually increasing the the size the only way it could be, given the limited plot, by it getting taller.

By December 2002 design number 2 had been reached incorporating many more apartments and a wedge-like design similar to Ian Simpson's work in Manchester.

By February the project size had gone up again, with the height hitting 110m and 25 floors including plant ones, which is massive by Sheffield standards as can be seen from the massing images which feature this design.

The same design traits as design number 2 were still present, the cladding shows some of the advantages a wedge-shaped residential tower can provide such as more roof terraces and flats that are properly open to the outside.

With the increasing size of the wedge a number of design problems became apparent, the more pressing of which was fire regulations. The larger and taller the wedge got the further away some apartments were from fire escapes and so specially fire-proofed corridors had to be added which knocked the cost up.

Building a tall building adds cost for every meter of height you reach anyway so this with the necessary extra safety additions made the third design uneconomical with the budget coming in at just over £30 million.

The major problem was not so much these costs as the income compared to them which is less in Sheffield than cities such as Leeds per unit thanks to Sheffield's relatively low house prices and so the planning application that should have been filed in late February for this design never went ahead.

Faced with finding a new way to make the project cost effective a twin tower solution was reached, the taller tower which was residential would have none of the extra costs incurred thanks to fire regulations whilst the shorter building would provide office space for a client creating a mixed use scheme and alternative income for the developer that was still a landmark scheme.

The design this time was radically different to the wedges with an attempt to do something different. Anyone who has walked down West Street will see the samey architecture on new developments and this was an attempt to inject some variety and move away from the brick and glass that is commonly used.

Sadly the problem came up again that the project was simply too expensive and wouldn't provide the necessary return and the developer wanted it scaled down to 17 floors. It was at this point that it was put on hold where it remains today having come within a week of going ahead.

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