Virtual reality return for Sheffield’s ‘Hole in the Road’

Castle Square known as Hole in the Road. 8 Sept 1992.
Castle Square known as Hole in the Road. 8 Sept 1992.
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Sheffield’s underground ‘Hole in the Road’ is to be brought back to life after 20 years in virtual reality form.

The complex of walkways and shops, created beneath a roundabout in Castle Square and open to the sky in its centre, was concreted over in the mid-1990s when the trams came, but its memory has lived on among Sheffield residents as a unique place - albeit one with a somewhat mixed reputation.

How the virtual Hole in the Road will look

How the virtual Hole in the Road will look

As part of Sheffield University’s Festival of the Mind from September 17 to 25, Park Hill-based creative agency Human has been commissioned to design a virtual reality experience based on the landmark.

Visitors to the Millennium Gallery will wear headsets and headphones, and use computer joysticks, to explore a ‘video game standard’ recreation of the city centre site, complete with its unusual glass fish tank.

The Hole was created in 1967 when streets damaged by wartime bombing were finally cleared to make way for the Arundel Gate dual carriageway.

However, its condition deteriorated over the years, and it became a magnet for muggers and vandals, particularly at night.

Sheffield's iconic Hole In The Road shopping complex.

Sheffield's iconic Hole In The Road shopping complex.

Nick Bax, Human’s founder, said: “There was nothing else like it. People took it for granted but you couldn’t avoid it - it was the main route and conduit into the city. All walks of life used it. We thought it would be a fun thing to experience - people will be able to relive something, or experience it for the first time.”

Mr Bax said the project was not simply about ‘recreating the ’80s’.

“The concept is that the Hole in the Road is still there, looked after and lovingly restored. We’ve got the inspiration from Park Hill and the way that’s been cleaned up.”

The commission follows a similar venture in 2014, when Human designed a virtual gallery at Castle House for some of the university’s collections.

“A massive range of people were really interested in it - retired people, schoolchildren. We realised it wasn’t just for people who play video games.”

For the new project, Nick and his colleague Michaela Mckone have worked with academics and experts at the university, including staff from the English, computer science and architecture departments. Chris Smith - an enthusiast who runs a Hole in the Road Twitter account - has helped out, and the council has provided plans for the roundabout from the 1960s.

The university’s Storying Sheffield team are gathering people’s memories about the landmark, which will be weaved into the virtual design. Some contributors will be asked to record their tales to be played over visitors’ headphones.

“Everyone seems to have a story about the Hole in the Road,” said Nick.

Email with recollections.