2013, Sheffield

Waterfall was one of the 15 shortlisted projects for Artangel Open 2013.

Waterfall was a proposal for 'flooding' a wall of the Green Lane Works building in Sheffield and turning it into a huge, urban waterfall. The project would return part of the city to the forces of nature. It would also call to mind the historical catastrophes when the city was severely flooded.

Waterfall represents a cycle of violence. For over 200 years, the building has violated the river by its constraining presence, by using its resources and by depositing the waste. Occasionally the river takes its revenge on the building by flooding it and depositing contaminated, stinking sludge. The cycle closes.

Green Lane Works is between Green Lane and the River Don, opposite Kelham Island, in Sheffield. Historically, the whole area was heavily industrialised, the river being used as a source of power, for cooling and for carrying away waste. Green Lane Works was originally constructed in 1795 for Hoole & Co., manufacturers of ornamental stoves, grates and fenders. The works underwent major alterations in 1860, just 4 years before the Great Sheffield Flood. When the new Loxley reservoir's dam burst on the night of 11th March 1864, three million cubic metres of water rushed down the valley killing 238 people and 700 animals, destroying 130 buildings and damaging 500 others.

“The Green Lane Works, the property of Messrs. H. E. Hoole and Co., were damaged considerably. A large room, filled with stoves, fenders, and so forth, was flooded to a depth of four feet. Trunks of trees were washed into the grinding wheel, the engine and boiler were covered with debris, and a great quantity of miscellaneous property was destroyed.” Other reports from the area: “In Messrs. Butchers' works the body of a woman, perfectly naked, was found after the flood.” “Inexplicable sounds were heard from the garden during the night, and when day dawned the garden was found to be covered over with a deep bed of mud, in which was a horse in a half erect position. It had been carried on the crest of the wave over the wall. It was found to be alive, though in a greatly exhausted state. Some food was given to it, and after a time it recovered.”

The buildings were acquired by W. A. Tyzack in 1948, and used for the manufacture of agricultural tools and farm machinery. During the Sheffield Flood of 2007, the area was again flooded when the river burst its banks, causing extensive damage to commercial property. Two years later, Tyzack left the site and the buildings have been partially demolished. They are now due to be developed as flats. The free-standing wall that used to be part of the Green Lane Works building faces the river Don. Water would be pumped to the top of the structure and the base of the windows so that it flows in a huge, wide stream both from the top of the wall and through the windows. It is probably enough to pump the water from the river, so that it comes back to where it came from, back into the river.

My intention was for this project to be permanent, so I anticipated the walls becoming overgrown with vegetation after some time. Part of the project would be to secure its future by an agreement with the Sheffield city council that the wall will be kept in a state of ruin, even if it collapses. It should be safe for people and the neighbouring buildings but nonetheless not repaired or renovated.

Sheffield is a post-industrial city, with many derelict factory buildings and industrial spaces falling apart and rotting. But the urge to develop, build and rebuild, look forward rather than backward, the blind force of progress is very palpable here. Waterfall was a reminder of the dangers of such an approach. It anticipated the moment when nature will repossess the cities, towns and villages, as it is not a benevolent force, but a mighty, uncontrollable power that can kill and destroy.
Proposal for Artangel Open 2013