Narrating the key sites around the Steelworks    



Central St Martins, London – 2018 

A graph using code to visualise and represent the qualities of Margam, Port Talbot

This project primarily explored the effect of a sporadic political climate and The Shrinking State on integral British heavy industry, in particular the steel industry. With 3 sprawling hills to the north and streets of terraced houses hemmed by the M4 motorway and sea, Port Talbot is easily dominated by the iconic, fire breathing Abbey Steelworks. One of the few remaining fully operative steelworks in the country, Abbey Steelworks is now owned by an international giant, TATA steel.

The project aimed to address the volatility of the differing governmental approaches to the steel industry and seek a resolution to the ongoing anxiety steelworkers face every day - waking up and not knowing whether in 1, 5, 10 or 20 years they’ll still have the job they have devoted their entire life to.  Through analysing the patterns and ‘isms’ of organisations in the reach of Port Talbot, such as the British Legion and Freemasons, and case studies such as Port Sunlight and Bournville, the project focussed on implementing specific idiosyncracies to create a safe paradise for these workers.

Through the Fiction Based on Fact approach the project takes the myths of Port Talbot, from story to scheme, and manifests the key users in Margam, architecturally. The overarching theme is an Industry Owned Institutional Infrastructure which will self-promulgate, and create the profit needed for TATA Steel’s promise on investment over the next 10 years - whilst also creating a community cohesion and looking out for the most vulnerable in society; OAPs.

The site is located on the foundation of The Sport and Social Club where a number of programmes already exist, aiding the design proposal further as it is already a destination for many people from across the UK. The pairing of long term housing with a community hub allows the retiring steelworker to continue to be independent whilst facilitating the growth of students and other social club users - this proposal acts as a pilot for the wider TATA Town scheme.

The City of Steel

In the 1950s, the Steel Company of Wales unveiled a new advertising campaign. Bearing an image of their new flagship steelworks at Port Talbot, the advert’s caption read, ‘The City of Steel’. The construction of Port Talbot’s Abbey Steelworks began in 1947, and it transformed Port Talbot into a largely monoindustrial economy. The day the Works opened local newpaper headlines described it as ‘the most important day in Port Talbot’s history’.

After the Second World War the steelworks experienced an unprecedented expansion. The demand should have decreased after contracts during the War ended, however the number of employees rose to 18,000 in 1961 from 4,000 in 1948. This was commented on being ‘the greatest single success story of the postwar Welsh economy’.

Local newpaper headlines described it as ‘the most important day in Port Talbot’s history’. The Abbey Works became an icon of Wales and renewed prosperity amongst the communities surrounding it and Port Talbot became a ‘boom town’ as workers from beyond moved to the area for jobs available at the plant. 

Aerial views of the Steelworks under construction

With a new economy comes new workers and the need for housing. Between 1939 and 1961, the town’s population increased by 10,000 and, alas, at the steelworks’ command, the council planned to build 1,000 new homes.

Most of these new houses were built on Sandfields Estate, an archetypal post-war housing development that grew to be one of the largest in Wales. Before construction, the area consisted of vast sand dunes but by 1960, almost 4,000 steelworks employees moved in. It became a symbol of the way in which the steel industry was transforming the town.

The Iron Woman

Even in its Victorian heyday, the industry in the UK was stuck with obsolescent technology and was overtaken by that of the US. Fastforward to 1945, the Labour Party come to power, and in 1946 it put the first steel development plan into practice with the aim of increasing capacity. It passed the Iron and Steel Act 1949 which meant nationalisation of the industry and creation of the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain.

American aid in 1948–50 reinforced modernisation efforts and provided funding for them, but before the steel industry could be saved, the nationalisation was reversed by the Conservative government in 1952.

The industry was again nationalised in 1967 under Labour, becoming British Steel Corporation (BSC). However, years of political manipulation had left companies such as British Steel with serious problems: a complacency with equipment, plants operating with low efficiency and outdated technology.

By the 1970’s the Labour government’s main goal for the declining industry was to keep employment high. But then came Thatcher’s government in 1979 who reprivatised the industry with focus on capital investment and restructuring.

Pamphlets from the early 1970’s

Steel declined during Thatcher’s reign, as the industry proved unable to compete with other countries in these areas. A major strike took place in the industry in 1980 over the issues of pay and proposed plant closures.

The strike lasted for nearly 14 weeks and a return to work was eventually agreed with an enhanced pay offer. Further restructuring and plant closures took place in subsequent years and in 1988 the Thatcher government fully privatised British Steel.

A demonstration by the Scunthorpe Steel Action Committee during the 1980 steel-strike


18+ years

Zara is  worried about her future, in particular there is no creative opportunity in Port Talbot for when she finally finishes. However there is a public art programme which showcases art by Foundation students. Participation in the arts by young people is rapidly decreasing thanks to government cuts.

Architectural Manfiestation

The Co-Working Space

Retiring Steelworker

50+ years

Ken has worked at the steelworks since he was 18. He is scared that TATA’s new pension deal is going to leave him penniless or homeless. He may not be able to afford his mortage but the £10,000 promise from TATA could give him the opportunity to repurpose his skills and set up his own business and make some profit.

Architectural Manfiestation

The Home

Young Steelworker

18+ years

After speaking to a young steelworker on Aberavon beach and he told me of his worries about the future of Port Talbot Steel. I felt that the Young Steelworker could be grouped with The Student as they still have their future ahead of them.


30+ years

Louise wants to remedy the lack of cultural sites in Port Talbot that highlight the town’s history and draw investment through exhibitions and events. She negotiated the fictional deal of TATA buying Ladybird.

Architectural Manfiestation

The Gallery & Archive

Social Club Musician

5+ years

Ben is a user of the Social Club site. After speaking to a brass band on a visit to the site it seems that locals don’t use the practice room whereas he, a Bristolian, uses it to practice for the musical competitions that the South Wales mining community is renowned for. He is worried that funding and upkeep of the club will be lost if TATA leave Port Talbot.

Architectural Manfiestation

The Existing Social Club

Fiction Based on Fact

The users needs offer a response to TATA’s need of earning £200m profit EBITDA to guarantee their investments in Port Talbot. The next phase involves the stories of each user and analysing the patterns and ism’s of spaces that share commonalities.

Creating a Pilot for an Urban Strategy

TATA Town is a profit-driven response by TATA to austerity, and uncertain futures of Port Talbot locals. The focus will involved a zoom in on one site where a pilot scheme is proposed, to respond to the needs of the population with the guarantee of changing the international conglomerate’s stained repetoir to a positive one, throughout the Welsh

Showing potential sites for TATA Library, TATA Veterinary Clinic, TATA Dentist, TATA College, TATA Retirement Village, TATA Hostel

Out of the 7 identified social sites, The Sports and Social Club was the most straight forward, characteristically, to zoom in on. The site is publicly accessible, whilst also being owned by TATA.

The site was made up of traditional block work and occasional render covering parts of the facade and the patina gives the impression that it hasn't been looked after. The site shared many similarities to the rest of the Port Talbot, Margam area. The proposal should take the stereotypical materials of Port Talbot into account whilst using contrasting colours to direct focus.

Zone 1 - Existing Programme The building is home to the Sports and Social Club, adjoined to the caretakers house - a space for events and socialising. Existing building has gone into disrepair so poses an opportunity for renovation or demolition.

Zone 2 - Community Cohesion The site is on the preriphery of an area of housing known as Abbot’s Close. It allows an opportunity to bridge a gap between the local community and the site.

Zone 3 - Existing Programme Football and rugby pitches are still in use so this will have to be considered and exaggerated in the proposal.

Zone 4 - Misuse Facilities such as tennis courts and outhouses have been left to decay, potentially allowing extensive use of this zone for the design proposal. 

Zone 5 - Existing Programme The golf course is used extensively by the older users of the site, it is already very well kept so is an opportunity for an added programme to the design.

Zone 6 - A Barrier Isolating the site from the rest of the community, the mass of greenery poses an opportunity to open up the area and promote public access.

Conceptual Programmatic Design

Precedents for Urban Concepts

full portfolio available on request