Cooling The Towers.
2006 – 2008

Once upon a time, two disused cooling towers stood on the edge of Sheffield, next to the M1 motorway. They were landmarks for the city, but pretty ambigious ones: beautiful structures in their own right, but also reminiscent of Sheffield’s heavy industrial past, now long gone.

We had the idea to reuse them, to turn them into literal symbols of Sheffield’s rebirth, as a green and creative city. What started as just an idea in GO, rapidly spread out of control. We won a place on Channel 4’s Big Art Project, Antony Gormley declared the towers ‘cathedrals of the industrial age’, and the national press went mad.

Alas the owners of the towers, Eon, didn’t share our enthusiasm, and declared that they wanted to knock the towers down. Thus began a two-year campaign to try to convince Eon and the council that turning them into new spaces for public art, a Tate Modern for the north, would be a good thing. We spoke at a lot of events, made many appearances on local radio, and even commissioned a temporary artwork from Anish Kapoor. In the end, Eon offered the council 500 grand for a new work of art, in place of the towers, and that was that. You can read a good account of it in the Guardian, here.

So we changed tack. We decided to celebrate the towers as they were, as icons for the city, by opening a temporary giftshop in their honour: the Cooling Towers Collectibles Co. We commissioned a variety of talented designers and artists to produce all the things you’d normally find in a gift shop – plates, mugs, tea-towels, jigsaw puzzles – and sold them at a stall in Sheffield’s Millennium Galleries. Intended to last for two weeks, we sold clean out of everything in four hours.

The towers were demolished by Eon in the early hours of the 24th August, 2008.

Too long, didn’t read? We wanted to turn Sheffield’s disused cooling towers into works of art, but the council wouldn’t let us, so we blew them up.

In partnership with Tom Keeley.
Photos by Andy Brown.