I don’t usually think twice about car parks, but there’s one in Sheffield that I am very fond of. The Q-Park car park in the city centre’s Charles Street was built in 2008 when I was living and working there, and it quickly won me over with its striking and unusual exterior. It was soon, understandably, nicknamed ‘the cheese grater’ because of the angled metallic blocks stuck to its outside. It makes me happy when I look at it.
To me, this building represents ‘fun’ – not an emotion you would normally associate with a car park! This feeling was enhanced by the fact that I once attended a party there, which celebrated design in the region. That was a great night – people parked their cars on the lower floors and walked up to the top three storeys where luxury supercars were on display, and where a business networking event was happening. Wayne Hemingway talked about his experience of setting up Red or Dead, there was a fashion show, fire eaters and models handing out canapés. I seem to remember that ‘A Stig’ (if not ‘The Stig’) was also there, playing Scalextric across a large parking area, in his full driving suit and helmet.
As well as being stunning and surprising on the outside, this building works brilliantly on the inside. Parking there entails a smooth drive up a satisfyingly continuously white curving arc, and parking without having to avoid any annoying internal supporting columns. The car park has won national and European awards for safety, because this lack of columns means that you can see clearly all around, from your car to the lifts, stairs and exits. It feels like a safe and welcoming place to park.
I’m not alone in my affection for this building, which was designed by architects Allies and Morrison. It has won a RIBA Award, came third in a 2013 competition to find the ‘world’s coolest car park’ (it was ranked best in the UK), and won the Sheffield Design Award’s ‘Citizen’s Award’ back in 2009. It is now one of the most iconic buildings in a city which has plenty of inspiring modern architecture – including the Winter Gardens, Sheffield University’s Information Commons and Soundhouse – as well as some award-winning city-centre public spaces.
Every time I visit Sheffield, I walk across to the cheese grater, look up at its glinting metal panels, and break out into a big smile. This is the power of design. It shows how a structure built for utilitarian needs can not only serve its purpose perfectly – but do more than that. The joy that I get looking at the Q-Park is an unexpected feeling to get from a car park, but it gets me – and plenty of others – every time.
Helen Rana is Senior Research & Business Development Manager - Arts, Creative Industries & Education at UWE'
Image by Jake Jennings.