Thursday, 4 January 2018

Through pit and loft

That building is of course Sheffield University's Arts Tower - and as well as seeing it from my study window and passing it on the way to the office, I forgot to mention that I've taught in its basement too. Rather churlishly, we tend not to like its windowless lecture theatres - especially as last semester they were too small for what we were trying to do.

Built in the sixties, and opened in 1966, the tower did, as the name suggests, originally house all the Arts departments. Sadly, they have outgrown it, and although Architecture and Landscape still have the privilege of occupying the upper floors (and I, once, have had the privilege of visiting them), the rest of the building is largely given over to offices now, with HR on the 5th and 6th floors being my most frequent destination (after the basement).

It's the tallest University building in England (Glasgow pips it to the British crown) and was until 2009 the tallest building in Sheffield. What it is most famous for, though, is this:

The Arts Tower Paternoster lift is reputedly the largest in the  world. It has 38 'cars' whcih can each take two people. Paternosters were popular in Europe from the early 20th century, but fell out of favour in the 1970s. In Britain, they were particularly popular in university buildings, but over the years there numbers have declined, largely, it seems, over safety concerns - which, to be honest, are understandable. Until last year there were three remaining in the UK, all in universities; now there are two - the University of Leicester have just closed theirs, and will replace it with a conventional lift, citing not safety but the impossibility of getting spare parts for it - something I guess will chime with historic boaters. Sheffield's however was completely refurbished - with added safety features - in 2009, and the university website assures readers that it will be in operation 'for many years to come'.

I confess I was quite trepidacious about using it at first, until - on that visit to Landscape - my boss said, 'I suppose it's a bit like getting on and off a boat' and I thought, I suppose it is, a bit, really - and have quite taken to it since. I was slightly disconcerted on when occasion when, after I had safely disembarked, the lift stopped, leaving my colleague in the next car coming up peeping up from below ground level. She did eventually clamber out - I'm not sure I would have dared in case it had started again.
Rather like the waterways system, it's a refreshing reminder that 'health and safety' hasn't actually gone mad (see 'most popular posts'), and we are still trusted to do slightly dangerous things (and very dangerous things, like driving cars). We even trust students to do it! So long may the Arts Tower Paternoster continue.

1 comment:

  1. In the early 70's when I first came to Sheffield as a student, it was one of the sights one had to go and see! The paternoster lift, it was famous.

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