York Guildhall Square Visual

As many architects know, projects can fall by the wayside for a multitude of reasons, never to be seen again. This is a great shame- a huge amount of work often goes into unrealised projects, and they can be a rich resoure for lessons learnt and creative solutions- benefitting future projects. OMA, (or rather AMO) specifically refer to this, and Haworth Tomkins have their very own website Dumpster!

Recently two colleagues and I entered the call for ideas for York’s Guildhall. The proposal wasn’t shortlisted, but this blog seems like a good forum to share one that got away.

Re-Imagining York’s Guildhall: An assembly of ideas

A cradle of commerce and culture

A place of coming together

York is a city that nurtures its industries and workers, as is evident from the history of the Guildhall, through to the legacy of the Rowntrees. The project is the next step within that rich tradition, connecting the city with the river and York’s citizens with its industry.

The proposals will bring together small scale creative industries within a range of accommodation that nurtures growing business. A high quality working environment, set within the historic fabric, will be complimented by a rolling programme of arts and events within new public spaces.

A collage city

A rich patchwork of urban elements


The Guildhall site is a chronological and cultural palimpsest- a patchwork of stories and storeys. By carefully “editing” those buildings that surround it, the Guildhall complex will be revealed ensuring it is better framed by less significant neighbours.

Public routes across the site provide real opportunities to connect every day parts of York with the city’s historic fabric. The connections would be incidental in their nature, recalling the snickelways that crisscross the city. They would be punctuated by landscaped spaces that frame historic buildings, archaeology, and the river. As a series of “outside rooms” these spaces would provide surprising and delightful counterpoints to the new snickelways. They would refer to the civility of the Guildhall rooms, and form a distinctly urban connection between the river and the city.

We propose a new development at the north of the site which reads as an ensemble of smaller buildings of multiple scales, responding to the varying characteristics of the site. These new buildings and spaces will engage with the rich language of surfaces within York, from fine masonry, to textured brick, to rooms which continue the tradition of timber lined, finely crafted interiors.

A beacon of sustainable development

Longevity and flexibility

Our proposals focus on producing a network of high quality, well connected spaces (both inside and out), within a beautiful, well built and long lasting architectural proposal. New rooms will be designed to embrace modification and adaptation in anticipation of rapid change in modern day business. Our proposals aspire to the long life, loose fit architecture that has served the Guildhall so well over the last five centuries.

The proposal is to create a variety of indoor and out door spaces that compliment the existing historic fabric of the Guildhall. Inhabited by a mix of small enterprises, the building acts as a business hub where resources and ideas can be shared.

Public routes and spaces provide opportunities for commerce, and a new cafe, facing Lendal Bridge acts as a social hub inviting public interaction.


York Guildhall Axo

 York Guildhall Ground Floor York Guildhall First Floor    York Guildhall Second FloorNW2184 Guildhall Section_AK-ModelYork Guildhall Section


7 thoughts on “The Ones That Got Away

  1. I have only just managed to find some time to write out my thoughts on this scheme. Being a resident of York and an architecture student- who has for a few years had a particular interest in FCBS’s work- I thought it would be fun to comment and see what you think of my ideas.

    Your scheme looks really interesting. The site looks like it has some quite complex problems to deal with. I like the new snickleways and the enclosed outside spaces you propose. The perspective view of the public square in front of the Guild Hall is very well drawn, though I’m not entirely sure why Leonardo’s flying machine or a Chinese dragon are relevant to York.

    The problem is that within this drawing, your interventions- though they look carefully placed- look at odds with their surroundings. The stairway looks out of place in the square- how many people are going to back away from a crowd and fall down those? The square box pavilion building in the distance does look very carefully considered, its scale and placement compliment the historic Guild Hall, which maintains a presence and stature on the site. A very simple improvement would be to have a pitched roof.

    This could be said for the rest of the scheme. York has a particular predilection for pitched roofs; close to every building of any worth (ignore the 60s carbuncles) in York has a pitched roof. It would have been nice if you had harked back to the true ‘snickelways’ where a narrow passageway is punctuated by a complex arrangement of roofs coming together above head. Or have taken the pitched-roof-parapet combination used in the Guild Hall itself and proposed a contemporary version of this (as Robert loader did). This would also make the axo much more convincing. Every building appears to have a flat roof. A quick looks at bing maps tells us otherwise. The river elevation seems to be at odds with that of the guild hall, where your building appears to be little more than a dreary extension.

    Besides this, I think that the thing the scheme lacks, is integration with Lendal Bridge, this surely is the main way that the public would experience the building- if not as a route from, but as a viewing point. The Robert Loader proposal has a view taken from the bridge. The bridge’s omission from all but your first context plan does nothing to convince us of the proposal’s integration into the immediate context.

    These points above are however, are very minor (despite my ability to make them appear like a condemning rant). The drawings are very well executed and I like the style you have adopted with your plans- like an old map. I also appreciate that where I would probably spend as a whole eight weeks on a project like this, you guys probably did it in one.

    I hope you find time to reply to my comments, which I hope you don’t consider too scorning, and don’t mind dragging this project up again for discussion even though some time has passed since.

  2. Hi Tom, thanks for taking the time to check out the scheme! I respond to your points in turn.

    I don’t think the flying machine or Chinese dragon are particularly relevant to York, rather the image simply alluded to a festival atmosphere, a place for events, spectacle. The publice realm- in particular the steps down to the river, were seen as an amphitheatre looking over to the church across the Ouse. Shared with the city screen, we thought it might have been a pretty cool place for outdoor cinema, or lectures etc. Its safety would of course have come through in the detail, but we did want a moment where the public realm made direct contact with the river.

    I think you’re right on the pitched roofs, and with more time to reflect on the detail, this is certainly something we’d have begun to look at. We did discuss how the existing parapets “feathered” the rooflines of the buildings and we liked this, but didn’t have the time to look at it further at such an early stage. The competition was a peculiar one in that it was a call for ideas, but when it came to the presentation format, rather explicit designs were called for. I think we focussed on the former, but would have benefitted from focussing more on the latter.

    Sorry you thought the extension was dreary! We were happy for the building to be a background building, with the onus on it facing three very different public realms: the less formal garden yard to the rear, the new link over and under the bridge, and the large scale river frontage. To this extent its three elevations were distinct in character and came together to define the massing as proposed. Overall, I think we focussed more on making a sequence of carefully considered and well connected rooms (both internal and external) that felt proportionally comfortable in the context of York. We were also interested here in the depth of texture we could achieve in new brick work- another key feature of York.

    I think you’re quite right that a connection with Lendal Bridge (both over and under) does not come through in the drawings. It did more so in the text that accompanied our submission, but not so graphically.

    Not a rant at all Tom- we really appreciate your comments, and I’m glad you liked the graphic style. We spoke at the beginning very much about the project being as a collage piece- a characteristic we think is very relevant to York and its collected histories.

    p.s. a week would have been bliss! We produced the scheme in three days. Thanks for your comments, and let us know your thoughts on other posts!


  3. Although precious few images of the shortlisted schemes have been published publicly, I was surpised that none of them visualised this ‘back’ of the Guildhall – which is presumably the direction in which the scheme addresses the city centre? (Not to mention a near direct line through to the Minster). I think you are absolutely right to view this as at least equally important to the river aspect, and take time to consider it through a drawing.

  4. Hi guys,

    Thankyou for taking time to reply

    I completely agree with you about the ‘back’/front (which ever way you want to look at it) of the guildhall as being how the scheme integrates with the city, and this being the best part to show off/the most important part to resolve. The omission of this from all but this scheme isn’t very impressive.
    I do think that for this competition, probably the river frontage where the ‘York Boats’ moor up is the most important, being that ‘York boats’ are a sponsor- and they presumably want a new swanky square that people can gather/wait before boarding the boats. And the council are concerned how it looks from the bridge. On the other hand this is shown reasonably well on the axo, which the other square is not, inherently.

    Your ideas for the public space down to the river sound really interesting- particularly with the integration of City Screen. Perhaps this space welcomes the inevitable flooding -with each passing flood, the heights are recorded on higher and higher amphitheatre seats?

    I only made the point of the Chinese dragon and flying machine (which I think is really besides the issue) because there is so much you could have drawn upon specifically from York; the square could become a major part of the moving mystery plays (http://www.yorkmysteryplays.org/?idno=193&a=d&item_id=392&k as it was historically) and the guildhall could become part of Illuminating York and join other buildings, including the mansion house, in being lit up in all colours for a week or what ever it is. Those ideas alone off the top of my head would make very punchy images- whilst drawing on just two of York’s rich cultural calendar.

    With regards to the ‘dreary’ comment, that was just in so much that it was far more monochrome than the guildhall, and didn’t in my opinion-at first glance-sell the new interventions strongly. Probably a point I put too much weight on given that I didn’t mention any of its positives. As was with the smaller ‘pavilion’ structure near the amphitheatre, I think it deals with the guildhall very well, and doesn’t fight for attention. Its massing appears to have been very carefully considered. An impressive high space at the end of the corridor addressing the square; The river frontage mimicking the recesses and extrusions in the Guildhall; Spaces opening onto the garden, forcing integration of this secluded, more private space at the end of the snickleways.
    Perhaps it speaks for itself and the drawing needn’t be so de-saturated? I actually thought that the Robert loader scheme looked a little big, a little like a banal office block you could find in any city.

    I think that the site and integration with the guildhall probably posed a particularly difficult task, and your scheme manages to deal with all of its problems very well, creating small, integrated and purposeful spaces- reflecting its context perfectly. In any other city, say Bath, the flat roof vs. pitched argument is probably a non-issue. I think if you had the pitched roof idea from the start then it might look slightly more like it belongs in York, and the project might have got more of a looking at. Part of me feels that the planning committee discounted it purely on this point, where the rest of the scheme beneath really shines. Or maybe I am missing the point…?


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