All Watched Over By machines of Loving Grace is situated in Neepsend, Sheffield and concerns the transgression of societies relationship with technology. The HQ of SHED, The Sheffield Hacking and Electronics Division, inhabits the site of an old brewery – a live laboratory for technological skills. Part civic learning centre, part technological market hub.
The site is used as an urban test bed, construction through 3d printers, laser cutters, cnc mills. Everyone is part-time builder, designs evolving on the spot. SHED becomes a building that is always under construction.
One of our studios themes is that of Live, and in particular live projects. The project started with a creation of a tour linking Live Project sites in Sheffield. For me, these tasks took form as investigations into the way Electronic devices can be used as a method of altering and questioning reality and creating a new poetic interface with the city
The participants in our tour could be seen as receivers for broadcasts from the city, and in our tour they had an opportunity to broadcast themselves back. This idea was then taken forward into designing a piece of apparatus that would make this event possible, creating a network of broadcast/receivers that can be toured, a poetic technological intervention.
Anthony Dunne’s Book, “Design Noir, the secret life of electronics” states that current electronic devices in society can be seen as Hollywood technology, bland and simplified, and he proposes an alternative more reflective of the Human Condition – he calls it Design Noir – a darker and anti-capitalist kind of technology.
With this projects themes of electronic transgression and with our ethos Live Projects, the GIST live project seemed fitting as a starting point. The project involved a group of Sheffield hackers and tinkerers, concerned with questioning the technological norm, so this furthered the project and was used as a starting point.
The GIST live project revealed a huge network of digital innovators, start-ups and charities within Sheffield, such as others like Access Space and Coding Club. For this project, a scenario is devised where a section of Sheffield’s Digital Community form a new CIC called SHED – The Sheffield Hacking and Electronics Division.
A manifesto is now devised, this is the schematic, and this is the Manifesto Machine. The process behind its construction involved tracking the flow of electronic waste within the university, and also learning a little electronic skill – it is a working synthesiser.
The Manifesto Machine shows the aims of SHED, which are:
To Create a space housing an alternative technological and green revolution.
To Create a centre for decentralisation, where highly advanced technological skills are shared peer-to-peer, creating an empowered community of localised specialist innovators and tinkerers
and to Create a CIVIC creative hub of start-up innovators, providing space and hardware that is otherwise not available.
With SHEDs interest in urban renewal, this scenario proposes that SHED create links with the community within the emerging cultural centre of Neepsend, at the moment a community of manufacture, but also of small start ups and a strong creative network, such as SKINN.
Many sites were considered for this organisation, but the Cannon Brewery at the junction of Rutland Road and Neepsend Lane seemed to fit it best. Situated along the river don, It’s 150 meters long on its longest side, features a large courtyard, is very visible, and is situated near many small scale enterprises that would utilise the workshops and machinery SHED aims to provide. It is also close to several local communities who would benefit from this civic centre.
The site has lay in disrepair since 1998, However, it is not empty. The site is home to several states of illicit urban transgression.
Urban Explorers frequently gain entry to the site, finding beauty in its decay. And within the building, and the surrounding context, can be found examples of the vibrant sheffield street art scene, with Kid Acne and Phlegm both having commissioned and illicit pieces.
SHED has an ethos of transgressing and hacking social norms, so it is therefore fitting to the project to not sweep away these illicit acts, but welcome them into the building.
It is proposed that by letting illicit use of the building occur whilst SHED occupies the space, new ideas will be formed by this overlap in culture, making the work of SHED more reflective of the human condition and a true Design Noir.
This leads into the development of individual spaces.This conceptual active section of the building describes the spaces and programme of the building, taking influence from illegal architecture of Japan, scaffolding and temporary construction becoming a means to create ‘hackable spaces’ which can be designed and shifted to suit the users needs.
Now the project is fully formed, a programme is devised.
This programme takes the form of a Machine to Tinker in, an analogy for the building itself, ever growing. This programme is then explored in a series of Noir Urban Explorations. These images describe the building, its services and technology exposed, a thick atmosphere of contrasting light and darkness.
Procurement begins with the regeneration of the existing steel frame and cavity brick wall of the Brewery structure.
SHED has several programmes within the building. As part of a green initiative, SHED takes old and unused pieces of technology, such as desktop computers, refurbishes them and uses them for people to collectively learn together, for free.
This is also applied to the workshops SHED wishes to create, taking older industrial machinery, along with laser cutters, CNCs and 3d printers, to create a manufacturing space for anyone to use.
The main public FABLAB workshop is situated in the sub-ground level, also seen in this section. It is visible from outside the building via new glass portals, becoming an enticing hub of machinery and pools of light.
Above this is a mezzanine level for informal tinkering, allowing others to overlook projects occurring in the workshop.
The second floor, also illustrated in this series of visuals, houses small groups of computer terminals, for peer-to-peer learning and skill development. These bespoke plywood work stations are designed and manufactured on site, using open source software and the CNC mills in the workshop. They are put together like a construction kit, and can evolve over time. This floor also houses a messy materials lab, for learning through deconstruction of technological devices.
The 3rd floor features The Pitspace, where classes can be eavesdropped on, along with more informal forms of meeting, and at night, for mass competitive video gaming. This floor also houses a lecture theatre that can be used as an event space, and also features the humming heart of the building, its server room, which makes its glowing monolithic server stacks visible to all.
The fifth and sixth floors feature quieter open plan office spaces. On the fifth there is rentable office space for start up businesses, including a kitchen and lounge area, and on the 6th the main office and planning room for SHED itself.
During the next phase, the framework for the new build on site is implemented . This takes form of a steel frame at first, made secure and designed for addition and extension. Using the CNC mills on site, SHED utilises and adapts the open source Wikihouse principle to create small co-ops and studios for its army of electronic tinkerers.
These are fixed to the frame and made weatherproof, creating a network of spaces for visitors to explore and opportunities for tinkerers to create and sell alternative technologies.
As part of my own interests, aspects of the Sublime are woven into the building fabric, making features of the buildings infrastructure by exposing it, but also of its illicit activity and decay.
Therefore, these spaces become a space of hanging cables and dark activity, whilst the learning spaces are imbued with a feeling of gleaming science fiction, bringing a narrative into the space itself.
Over time, the regeneration programme expands over the site, creating refurbishment laboratories, private workshops and artist studio spaces. Whilst in the newly built elements, some of the studios become redundant, but due to the in-built lifecycle they are de constructed, then reconstructed as a larger, public space for SHED.
this drawing layers moments of this evolution in the buildings structure, whilst this detail explains a single stage of the buildings life. The Steel frame acts as the main load bearer, with a sub-structure of plywood forming its shape. This is then clad in polycarbonate, with a final rain screen of glass on the outer skin.
This space houses a cafe, free working space desks, meeting spaces and smaller assisted 3d printers and laser cutters, for those taking their first steps into self manufacturing.
Within the transparent skin of the building run its services, colour coded so they can be followed by enquiring minds. The polycarbonate panels on the interior of the building can be removed, allowing for additions and hacking to easily occur.
This creates a transparent building – in the day displaying its method of construction and bearing its technological innards, at night a humming machine of electronic white hot heat.