School of Architecture, Planning & Landscape

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One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth

This art installation, led by Dr Julia Heslop, at Shieldfield Art Works (SAW) is part of the 'Dwellbeing' project

This work has been created by Planning students working on a Linked Research project, the students bought the titles for every plot of land developed into student accommodation in the neighbourhood of Shieldfield - showing the amount paid and the owner/investor. The sum of this was £130,195,678. In the exhibition this data is presented through an installation of 500 bricks, forming every student block in the neighbourhood. 

Between 2011 and 2015 Shieldfield’s Ward saw a 467% increase in student housing numbers. After the 2008 financial crisis, student housing was seen as a ‘sure profit’ for developers and investors alike, and this created a boom in the student accommodation market which has been replicated around the UK. For some residents, the estate of Shieldfield has become an island, leaving people feeling ‘hemmed in’ by new developments that are physically and socially disconnected from the wider neighbourhood. One hundred and thirty million pounds of earth tells a story of a neighbourhood caught in the middle of a global land and development market. 

Each of the new student accommodation buildings has been recreated for this exhibition using handmade bricks. The size of each model corresponds to the amount paid for the land, with each brick worth £250,000. This money, ‘invested’ into the area to build the new developments, is international in nature, often lying offshore, and has little relationship to the local or regional economy. The work lays bare the vast sums of money flowing through the neighbourhood. This money barely touches the estate.

One hundred and thirty million pounds of earth highlights the uneven value of land transactions in the area and prompts questions about the role of international capital in local development. Who decides how the value of land is calculated? Who has a say in urban planning and development processes? What is the true value of the land beneath our feet?

This work has been made as part of Dwellbeing, a group of people that live or work in Shieldfield who have come together in response to the impacts of rapid urban development in the neighbourhood. Dwellbeing organises conversations, events, art activities, newsletters and trips to build knowledge about the issues that affect the local area.

The exhibition runs until July 6 and the building is open every Tuesday to Friday, 11am to 4pm (also Saturday, June 22, 1-4pm). Find details online at or tel. 0191 4476811.

Chronicle article

£130 million of earth

published on: 17 June 2019