25 January 2019

We've recently been appointed by Regather to carry out an initial feasibility strategy for a food hub in Sheffield and we've also installed the first of the concrete structures for Danni Kerr's University of Sheffield based PhD research at Bloc Projects now, with the next due on a small island over the coming weeks.

Our TINGAS project (in collaboration with Sheffield City Council), continues, setting up sustainable community facility and workspace in the former infants school in Tinsley. We have secured over £14,000 in grant funding for the initiaves in the building over the last year (see project site here ) and worked with students from the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield on projects to monitor and test pollution reduction strategies using green walls and aglae this autumn.

Finally, we recently secured Arts Council Funding for our ds2 project, working with artists Sally Labern and Sally Barker as well as two Sheffield graduates. The ds2 is an agile kit of parts designed to be assembed in a number of configurations by artists/users and to move between different groups. Our first workshops are taking place in Tinsley.

Experimental Residential Newspaper

Experimental Residential: How could short-term shared living be introduced into UK city centres? is a newspaper published by Studio Polpo. It contains practical and professional advice, case studies and research for groups looking to set up short term shared living in non-residential buildings.

The newspaper was commissioned by a group attempting to turn 121 Eyre Street, a mid-20th century former funeral parlour and college in Sheffield, into a co-operatively managed shared house. The project changed focus when we discovered that the building could not be used as intended for legal reasons, and we broadened the scope of the project to include collecting and analysing relevant case-studies; instigating round-table discussions with planners, housing officers and developers (to explore barriers and opportunities for short term shared living); and prototyping and testing a demountable and low-cost secondary glazing system. For the latter we worked with acoustic specialists from the University of Sheffield and built on previous student work.

The findings have been made freely available both online and in print. This project was featured in the RIBA publication Demystifying Architectural Research, selected as a practice-based research exemplar.

The interest in low-cost and adaptable secondary glazing continues in the practice with new prototypes being developed and installed.

OPERA Sleepover Performances

Open / Public / Experimental / Residential / Activity. OPERA is a series of overnight performances, initiated by Studio Polpo exploring performance, architecture and living.

During OPERA events Studio Polpo installs temporary eating, living and sleeping facilities into vacant or underused buildings, and opens an experimental domestic space to invited guests and members of the public. Evening guests are invited to cook and share a meal, host evening activities and stay the night. We believe that this live activity leads to valuable and lasting dialogues about housing, shared living and empty buildings.

OPERA #1 (Sept 2014) took place in Castle House, an empty department store, as part of the Festival of the Mind Bazaar and lasted ten days.

OPERA #2 (March – July 2015) was based at Theatre Delicatessen North, a meanwhile space for creative arts and immersive theatre, and took place once a month.

OPERA is an experiment with no set outcome and we welcome ideas for the space and programme. We are currently planning OPERA #3.

Filmmaker Ian Nesbitt of Out/Side/Film was commissioned to make a film about OPERA

Loadhog Chair

Studio Polpo worked with Gripple and Loadhog to test how products and waste streams could be used to create an engaging set of exhibition furniture.

Our playful explorations resulted in Loadhog Chair, made from waste plywood, Loadhog strap off-cuts and the company's innovative 'Pally' wheeled pallets. The distinctive straps hold the CNC-cut plywood elements in place and the whole chair self-tightens when in use, removing the need for screws.

The Gripple chair featured in Sheffield Design Week 2015.


Stagehands was a lottery-funded project developed by Studio Polpo to engage young people in digital design and manufacturing. We undertook a number of workshops to collaboratively design, prototype and fabricate a mobile stage set, taking design cues from a shared meal hosted & documented by Studio Polpo, and attended by representatives from local theatre makers/commissioners including Theatre Deli North, Point Blank and The Bear Project.

Throughout the project we worked with young people from Sharrow and Page Hall, using simple design tools such as Sketchup and cardboard models. As the ideas took shape, we worked with Chopshop CNC to prototype and test the modular design - initially at Sheffield Tramlines festival, and subsequently at Sheffield Peddler Market.

Two final versions have now been produced: one is based at the Page Hall youth centre, where a number of workshops took place and the second is being used at 121 Eyre Street, a waste food cafe and event space. The second set can be booked for one-off performances including theatre, spoken word and music. The prototypes also continue to pop-up in Sheffield to support independent cafes, musicians and shops.

The designs can be used as a simple stage or arranged into bespoke theatre sets, seating or displays. The modular design can hold scaffold tubes, be fixed together using ratchet straps and be altered with bespoke plug-in elements such as feet and castor wheels. We also developed a plugin table tennis top for the Page Hall youth club.

For more images of the design process, visit the stagehands blog.

The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home

Following an open-call, Studio Polpo were invited to makeover The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home.

The Institute is run by Gary Anderson, Lena Simic and their three sons, and operates from the spare bedroom of their family house in Anfield, Liverpool. The Institute hosts workshops, reading groups and performances to investigate art and culture, family and activism, capitalism and domestic life.

Our makeover proposal included the addition of playful, modular, multi-functional blocks into The Institute. We used a stop motion animation to engage the whole family in the project and demonstrate how our ideas would provide storage for books and documentation as well as reconfigurable seating and staging for events.

Studio Polpo’s makeover for The Institute also hosts the Live Art Development Agency’s Study Room in Exile - a satellite of their London resource room containing free, open access, Live Art videos, DVDs and publications.

The design was manufactured by Chopshop CNC and assembled by us in-situ.

Is there a Playground out there? Here is an Invitation to Explore

Work exhibited in the The Tetley, a contemporary art gallery in Leeds, as part of Think Play Do, an exhibition of play-sculpture proposals.

Studio Polpo introduced two moveable objects into The Tetley gallery: a sofa and a TV. These objects, typically associated with private interior activity (sitting on a sofa watching TV) were adapted to encourage a shared production of images, ideas and space – in an immediate and live way.

The objects were designed to interrogate and interrupt ideas of domestic and urban, or individual and collective, suggesting that sites of shared play can result from the troubling of these boundaries and through the introduction of the absurd or foolish.

The Sofa and TV were not intended as scale models for a real life play sculpture, but instead presented as a device for finding new forms, places and invitations for play within existing urban conditions. The objects have been designed to travel beyond The Tetley, allowing groups to inhabit spaces differently and focus on behaviours and surroundings that would otherwise go unnoticed.

The TV, built as a portable camera obscura, has recently been borrowed by a local Sheffield school as part of their work around lenses and light.

Bloc Objects

The Bloc Objects are a series of furniture pieces designed for Sheffield's Bloc Projects. The three units (desk/bar, storage, display) can fit together in different configurations depending on how the gallery space is being used, enabling Bloc Projects to run their space as office, gallery and event space.

The objects were made by Preston's We Are Limitless (WALL) and use a high degree of craftsmanship and detail to challenge perceptions about what is smooth/expensive/man-made, and rough/cheap/natural.

We were particularly keen to test fabrication methods for solid surface materials with Bloc Projects, and visited the workshops of WALL to understand how the material is formed. Our design plays with the ability to invisibly join the solid surface material, but also reveals a supporting timber structure which is conventionally hidden by fabricators. Altering the configuration of the three objects allows different functional and aesthetic requirements to be met.

The project addresses the need for functionality, flexibility and simplicity within gallery spaces but incorporates also an aspect of investigation and surprise.

The HI-MACS Solid surface was provided by James Latham, who provided sponsorship through reduced material costs.

Bloc Projects

A feasibility study for Bloc Projects, an artist-led project space in Sheffield, in 2014. The study investigated how the current gallery space might expand into the rest of the industrial building it currently occupies and functional in a flexible manner to offer exhibition, artist and administrative space. The study explored fabric, fit-out and funding strategies.

In 2015 the first phase of this expansion and renovation was completed, including the creation of a new shop/reception space (housing the Bloc Objects), on-street gallery access and a new larger exhibition space.

Chopshop CNC

Studio Polpo are part of ChopShop, a CNC fabrication and design enterprise based in Kelham Island. Studio Polpo have used the Chopshop facility to deliver bespoke fabrications for our clients and commissions.

Chopshop was set up as a collaboration between CADS (studio space provider), Wavelab (community digital media centre), SKINN (alternative development agency) and Studio Polpo. ChopShop has produced fit-outs for Birds Yard shop, Moonko and Site Gallery in Sheffield. It has also provided prototyping and cutting services for Wikihouse, and will be making four of these houses for South Yorkshire Housing Association.

ChopShop can act as a facility for makers, designers, professionals and students, as well as operating as a design company in its own right.

Works in progress can be followed on the ChopShop Instagram site.

Signage and Bespoke Fabrication

Studio Polpo have delivered a number of one-off bespoke fabrications. This has included signage for shops and art galleries, leaflet stands and exhibition designs. With Chopshop we can provide a service from design through to assembly.

SSoA photo by Ralph Mackinder

Shirle Hill Cohousing

Studio Polpo and Architype are working with the Shirle Hill co-housing group to turn a site near the centre of Sheffield into a shared housing community. The Shirle Hill site was formerly a large house and grounds and more recently used by the NHS. The scheme includes self-contained houses and flats as well as a large number of shared spaces and facilities, both internal and external, to facilitate collective cooking, growing and living.

The project involves the retrofit and refurbishment of the old building, which is being undertaken by the co-housing group themselves, and the creation of five low-energy and environmentally sustainable new dwellings (targeting the AECB Silver Standard) designed by us with the group. A site landscape strategy, designed to be developed over time, is also part of the proposals.

The scheme is now on site.

Sheffield CLT

Studio Polpo have been involved in a range of collective and community led projects in Sheffield as well as academic and practice-based research around housing and collective action. We have decided to start the process of setting up a Sheffield Community Land Trust (CLT) because we believe in the potential of this model to deliver housing other facilities in a fair, accessible, sustainable and equitable way.

A Community Land Trust is a non-profit organisation, set up to democratically steward land on behalf of a community. CLT's protect land from financial speculation and remove incentives to land bank.

CADS Building 2 Feasibility

Detailed pre-feasibility studies for Sheffield based CADS (Creative Arts Development Space), investigating how they might occupy a currently disused industrial building and create new opportunities for arts based enterprises in the Shalesmoor area.

Our studies included a variety of re-use strategies which made the most of the structure and layout of the existing building; opportunities for funding and phasing; suitable use types.

The architectural feasibility studies formed part of a wider document produced by SKINN, with financial modelling by Integreat Plus, both Sheffield based not-for-profit organisations.

The Drawing Shed

The Drawing Shed project was conceived by artists Sally Barker and Sally Labern, as part of the Be Creative Be Well programme in Waltham Forest, funded by Arts Council England.

Studio Polpo designed a low-cost, mobile space for drawing, to support a programme of workshops instigated by the artists. The Drawing Shed fits through a typical domestic door and can be wheeled between venues, yet unfolds to create a large, covered and wheelchair accessible space. The Drawing Shed can also operate as a bar, shop or information point.

The collective activity of moving the shed unit between venues has proved a focus of interest and an engagement tool in itself.

A film showing The Drawing Shed in use and a short interview with artists Sally Barker and Sally Labern can be viewed here.

Healthcare Projects

Studio Polpo have worked on a number of projects for healthcare related charities and organisations in Sheffield. Our work has often focused on improving clinical and institutional spaces through the introduction of natural materials and daylight.

We have worked with the Cancer Support Centre to revitalise and refurbish the entrance spaces and well other parts of the building such as treatment rooms.

The Centre, which offers counselling, therapies and information to cancer patients and their relatives, is a charity that looks to offer its services in a domestic and warm environment, distinct from the more clinical atmosphere of the hospital. We worked closely with the client and to implement a strategy that enhanced this feeling by introducing natural materials, including UK-grown timber for new joinery; a greater degree of daylight and transparency in foyer areas; low-energy light fittings and a new colour scheme. Existing doors, fixtures and fittings were re-used and adapted wherever possible and works were carried out whilst the centre was in use.

We have also worked with staff at the Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity to re-plan their offices, previously housed within a dark, cluttered space within the hospital.

Our fit-out scheme opened up the space, allowing staff views to the outside & increased opportunities for natural ventilation, as well as creating a meeting room, small reception area and built-in storage, with natural materials and non-toxic finishes. We also designed and fitted a series of bespoke desks and external signage for the space, made at Chopshop CNC.

Most recently, Studio Polpo carried out a feasibility study for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals for a potential extension to the Palliative Care Unit, at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital site. We worked closely with staff to investigate how visitor facilities (including overnight stay space) might be improved, as well as how a garden room and other ancillary spaces for use by both staff and patients might work.

Portland Works Activist Research

Portland Works is an integrated metal works on the outskirts of Sheffield city centre. It was the birthplace of stainless steel cutlery, making it one of the outstanding examples of Sheffield’s industrial heritage. Today it is home to a mix of artists, musicians, small scale craftspeople as well as metalworkers, continuing a tradition of innovative manufacture. In 2009 an application to turn it into studio flats placed Portland Works' tenants under theat.

We worked with the Little Sheffield Development Trust and other organisations to consolidate, share and transfer knowledge about the strategies, tools and tactics available to safeguard Portland Works (and other similar organisations). This collaboration helped the local community to imagine a future that was environmentally, socially and economically sustainable for Portland Works.

The project (funded by a Knowledge Transfer Rapid Response grant) facilitated the exploration and appraisal of organisation types, business models, legal structures, ownership and management options that are available to small business communities based in industrial heritage (or historical) sites. It also resulted in a resource pack (downloadable here) that not only documents the futures planning and options appraisal processes undertaken with the Portland Works tenants, but also provides a concise and accessible guide for other groups undergoing similar processes. The report pack was designed by Sheffield based graphic designers Eleven.

Following this process, social enterprise Portland Works Little Sheffield was formed that was able to raise community share capital and buy the building. Portland Works is now owned and managed by the community.

Portland Works Cold Spots Report

A report for Portland Works, a community-owned heritage building which provides space for small scale making and manufacture. Our report has assisted tenants, volunteers and shareholders with the management and renovation of the Works, focusing on collective and co-operative approaches. It makes information that already exists about the Portland Works visual and easy to use, comments on what has been learnt and identifies areas where there are gaps or unknowns.

The report aims to make information about the building's fabric, tenants, and heritage visible to steering groups and decision-making bodies. It also contributes new work and research to suggest how Portland Works might develop to maintain its character as a lively, creative and innovative space for small scale making.

The report includes a range of costed retrofit strategies and recommendations of how and where these could be implemented, and references these to the conservation management study being developed by Wessex Archaeology.

Tenant issues (including use patterns and rental costs) have also been mapped onto future aspirations for the continuing use of the works as a place of making and innovation.

As well as being a snapshot of the Works at the end of 2013 a number of live documents will allow the client group to update and add information over the coming months.

The report was funded by a Cold Spots grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund and can be read here.

River Commons

River Commons was initiated by Studio Polpo to catalyse, support, implement and disseminate initiatives that make Sheffield Rivers more Accessible. This project develops our entry for the Forgotten Spaces Sheffield 2011 competition.

One aspect of the project includes mapping initiatives, skills and aspirations of actors with an interest in Sheffield Rivers. In parallel to this we are working on identifying and implementing interventions and actions. Initial activities included photographer Eric Winnert's photo series, and a tie in with the Masters in Architecture Urban Design students at the Sheffield University who have looked at the area in detail as part of their project work.

A launch event co-ordinated by Studio Polpo and SKINN, followed by an afternoon and evening of talks and workshops with the city council's head of planning, the Riverside pub/theatre, CADS and many others, has started to bring together a number of interested parties. The proceedings from this were collated and are available here.

Architype Collaborations

Studio Polpo have collaborated with Architype, an award-winning London based architectural practice specialising in sustainable buildings and self-build housing on a number of larger projects.

Ongoing and previous collaborations include Shirle Hill Cohousing and Christ Church Central, both located in Sheffield, as well as Swillington Primary School, a passivhaus building outside Leeds.


Refurbishment and redesign of ‘The Enterprise Zone’, an office and drop-in centre for The University of Sheffield Enterprise (USE). The works to the Enterprise Zone use non-toxic and renewable materials where possible and the design brings increased levels of natural light to internal spaces, as well as ensuring that new facilities are accessible to all. Additionally a bespoke suspended cedar-slatted ceiling was developed in conjunction with the contractor.

As part of this project Studio Polpo designed and delivered of the Ideas Box, a mobile office to allow The University of Sheffield Enterprise to occupy empty business units within the University's Student Union. The mobile unit can be used in a variety of configurations and folds down to fit through a domestic door, using specialist hinges. Once opened the Ideas Box provides a reception counter/screen with hatch and leaflet rack, a bench with integral storage, and central core with adjustable shelving.

The project also involved creating a visual identity and branding, from concept to production, for an associated business planning competition. This was applied to banners and graphics in a variety of media.

Portland Works Beach Hut

Portland Works were asked by Metal to provide content for one of five 'Northern Powerhouse' beach huts as part of Metal's "waterfront encounter between business and alternative thinking" in the 2016 International Festival of Business in Liverpool, and we worked to design, deliver and install the beach hut fit out. The hut (one of a number along the Albert Dock) was clad in a yellow-coated plywood shell (CNC cut with images of the Works), and contained a display of objects currently made at the Works, documents detailing it's change to a social enterprise, and projections, all curated by studio Polpo.

The interior display boards, designed to hold literature and objects, will now be used at Portland Works to showcase tenant's products, and the shell can be re-assembled as a structure in its own right.

Bubbles Foam and Co-fragilities

Installation for The University of Sheffield's interdisciplinary Achieve More programme. We used a kinetic structure to explore ideas about interior and exterior space. The project was developed with academics from a range of disciplines in response to the philosophical work of Peter Sloterdijk.

Projected artwork by Lizzy Jordan was used to create a 'shared interior'.

Set for Epiphany VR Theatre

Epiphany VR are an art collective who fuse virtual reality technology with immersive theatre. Their performances take place between physical and digital spaces and Studio Polpo were commissioned as set designers for EVR's New Template performance, an Arts Council funded virtual reality performance about sentience and artificial intelligence.

We designed and assembled a 3m cube using white melamine ply panels supported by a scaffold key-clamp structure. This physical set was mapped into the 3D virtual reality world, experienced through a VR headset, where it was modified, added to and exploded throughout the performance. Through cutting-edge motion tracking, the physical boundaries imposed by our set were consistent with those within the virtual sets, leading to the creation of an innovative hybrid performance.

The cube can be dismantled and assembled using a single allen key, making it easy for EVR to tour the performance across the UK. The cube will also be used as a recording and rehearsal space for Epiphany VR.

Field of Wheat Harvest Structure

We recently created a structure to mark the end of artists Anne-Marie Culhane and Ruth Levene's Field of Wheat project, designed to provide a wind and waterproof space for film projections, shared meals and talks over two days. The near zero-budget structure, primarily using straw bales from the field and found, or waste materials was designed to accomodate (and seat) around 50 people at the end of the project, in a wind-swept field in Lincolnshire and built by a four person team over three days. To hear Radio 4's " On Your Farm" programme about the project click here.

Engage Involve Empower - Preston

Engage Involve Empower is a project involving a community led social housing provider (Community Gateway Association), its staff, its tenants and residents, the Gateway Tenant Committee and socially engaged artists. The project has two key aims: to increase external interest in the Gateway Tenant Committee and encourage new people to become members, and find new ways for the Gateway Tenant Committee to communicate within itself and to a broader audience.
Studio Polpo worked with arts practitioners Edwin Pink and Dan Russell and the staff and tenants of the Gateway Tenant Committee and Community Gateway Association in an open way to explore what was possible, and what their ideas and aspirations were, and then combine our technical knowledge and expertise with the local knowledge and skills of those we are collaborating with to enable these initial ideas to be realised. Over the course of four sessions, we explored a strategies for allowing CGA tenants to meaningful engage in the areas in which they live, and mechanisms for enagament to be realised in further phases.

Our work included walking explorations, discussion of precedents, ideas workshops, including collectively creating content for the report and posters, and sheltering from the rain eating pies.

It Grows Like a Strange Flower

Studio Polpo worked with artist Ben Judd to explore structures and approaches for an event planned through Bloc Projects in the River Don in Neepsend. Having initially explored designs for rafts and floating structures, we were then asked to create a demountable geodsic dome that would be erected and dismantled over the course of 36 hours. Working within a tight budget and on a challenging site, we created a set of CNC-cut nodes, linked by cardboard tubes and lightweight cladding that was transported to the island and assembled by us along with a team of volunteers and the event participants. The event, run by Ben, whose work involves engaging the "grey area between ritual and performance, and searching for an unreachable and idealised state of community" involved people from various backgrounds coming together on the island, eating locally sourced food and staying in the structure overnight. Although the timescale and topography of the island meant the the pure geometry of the dome could not be fully completed, a solution using willow from the island resulted in an interesting, and site specific hybrid structure. Images from the event are here.

CORK Coworking

We worked with client Business Launchpad on the design of the CORK co-working space at the Trident Centre in Tooting, designing furniture and a fit-out that could be made by young people working with Volunteer It Yourself. All drawings linked cutting templates (reducing wastage) to assembly drawings, with all materials specied from (and supplied by) Wickes. The finished project enhances existing positive elements and provides better lighting, flexible meeting spaces, a number of desk spaces and more accessible kitchen space.