Sheffield by design...

Deborah Egan and Johnny Douglas
Deborah Egan and Johnny Douglas

THE new cutting edge of Sheffield – in everything from manufacture and digital industries to music and film – is to be proclaimed to the rest of the world.

An official bid is being submitted for Sheffield to become a UNESCO City of Design, which would see it rubbing shoulders with Berlin, Montreal and Buenos Aires and eight other cities.

It’s an attempt to seek recognition for a hallmark of creative quality that can be traced back to 1380 when the strengths of a Sheffield blade were highlighted in one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, bringing it bang up to date by highlighting the talents of artist Pete McKee, Warp Films, DJ and producer Toddla-T and street artist Kid Acne.

Designed in Sheffield, which has a membership of 460 design practitioners in the city, is leading the bid, which is backed by the council, Creative Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield.

Board member Deborah Egan said: “When we talk about design we’re talking about everything from industrial to architecture, graphics, web, digital, fashion and even theatre. This is a city which is – and has always been – at the cutting edge of all those things.

“The only problem is we’re not great at shouting about it. Well, this is what we want to change. When people around the world think of Sheffield from now on we don’t just want them to think of steel, we also want them to think of great design.”

Another board member, Johnny Douglas, said that, although the title is purely honorary, the experience of the other 11 cities suggested it would represent a huge economic shot in the arm.

“We have spoken to Seoul and Berlin about their experiences and the feedback we get is that becoming a City of Design leads to more work for firms in the city, which in turn leads to new practices being established. They say the results have been absolutely tangible.”

A document will be drawn up over the next 18 months to submit next year to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

It will showcase infrastructure projects involving local companies, such as the work of the SCX Group in Wincobank, which engineered the retractable roof at Wimbledon’s Centre Court, and Outo Kumpu in Attercliffe, which provided the steel for the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, once the tallest skyscraper in the world.

It will point to Surelight of Millhouses, which created the neon lights used by Coldplay at Glastonbury, and the work of 3D design agency Click Design, whose range of accessories for the iPhone and iPad were featured at the 2011 Gadget Show.

Historical references will not only include the city’s steel heritage, but also the Sheffield School of Design being one of the first in the world, and David Mellor designing the UK traffic light system 40 years ago. His co-designer and graduate of Sheffield School of Art, Brian Asquith, has left his mark with the bronze fountains in the Peace Garden.

“If we were a French or Italian city we would have statues dotted around the landscape dedicated to the big names – but not in Sheffield despite a reputation that stretches back to the 1300s!” said Deborah.

She added: “The message we’re promoting is that design is no longer just about drawing and metal beating but about intelligently utilising – just like the medieval cutler – the tools at our disposal. Digital communication, software and remote fabrication play a key role in what we produce now and design is not defined by a hand-crafted metal but intelligence, humour and design integrity. Today design spans the worlds of music, film, theatre, publishing and architecture and some its best protagonists are in Sheffield.”

The other UNESCO Cities of Design are Santa Fe in the USA, Bueno Aires in Argentina, Nagoya and Kobe both in Japan, Shenzhen and Shanghai in China, Saint-Etienne in France and Graz in Austria.