Yorks Historic Guildhall + Riverside

RIBA International Competition, York

‘To be honest second in such a big competition is a heart breaker. Its not the memory of the late nights and early mornings of hard work fueled with takeaway food that hurt so much, more the fact that a scheme we all really believed in will probably never make it off the drawing board.

Life is often bittersweet and although it’s sad to see our vision for York’s Historic Guildhall slip away, upon reflection the overwhelming emotion from this experience is one of pride. Proud to be shortlisted amongst so many for such a prestigious RIBA led international competition, to win the Architects Journal online vote from our peers, to be labeled an ’emerging’ practice in the press coverage and to get the opportunity to present to such an established jury panel. More than all of those its immense pride in the young talent in our studio and what we achieved in such a short period of time. Thank you Nedzad, Lorenzo and Francesco, the future is bright and although our scheme almost certainly won’t see the light of day it will live on in our hearts and minds.’

Jacob Low – Partner Dec 2012

After so many weeks of confidentiality it’s nice to finally be able to share our baby with everybody.

A Million Voices;
York city is essentially a multicultural story as modern as it is old. In many ways it’s no different now than it was back at the beginning of the first millennium when the first settlers gathered together on the banks of the Ouse to cultivate and shelter against a harsh climate through empires, invasions, conquests, wars and economic crisis. Like all cities it’s is an interwoven collective of human stories with hopes for the future. Our concept to bring the York riverfront back to life is rooted in the human story of millions of voices.
We started with the ground itself – the moors, the dales and coastline – the rugged, hardy yet beautiful soil that so many travellers decided to inhabit. Swaths of wild grass, natural rock faces and clusters of stones scatter the site as a timely reminder of the ground beneath our feet and the environment around us.
When the romans settled in this outpost of their empire, they were still keen to establish some of the rigor and grandeur of Rome. To echo this we cleared the open ground around the guildhall and reclaimed two large plazzas cascading down to river providing unique and accessible public spaces with direct relationships to the river. A central promenade walkway with a stone marker at each end reconnects the bridge with the central hub and guildhall courtyard as the main access of pedestrian flow.

To re-engage the Guildhall buildings with the river are modular pontoons inspired by the iconic Viking coastal trader. These create not only a boat docking jetty but a pedestrian link along the river from West to East and as public spaces providing visitors unique views of the Guildhall. The pontoons are designed in such a way that they can also be re-arranged to accommodate different events. For example, they can be clustered together for an outdoor performance platform or pulled apart to form an outdoor lido.
With reclaimed public spaces surrounding the Guildhall, the historic buildings have again become the focal point of the riverside – a Medieval citadel perched on the banks of the Ouse animated by river boats. With its mixed use and linked conference and innovation centre, the buildings have been re-energized. Several reclaimed narrow medieval alleyways now allow visitors to permeate down to the riverside plazzas from the surrounding north pedestrian flows.

Strategically located behind the North side of the Guildhall lies an innovation centre for creative and high-tech companies – an environmentally conscious development powered by a mixture of sustainable energy from solar panels through to ground source heating. The ‘pixel box’ clad in LED modular panels addresses the public market square with every pixel an opportunity for a voice to be heard – a digital speakers corner for the free-thinkers and the dreamers.

The vision for the future? Well any vision of the future is really just a reflection of the past and our aspirations for the days ahead. As the historian Robert Fisk once wrote, the present and future are nothing but the ‘echo chamber’ of time. Our proposed vision is a human one rather than a grand utopian gesture: to respect the past, experience the present and embrace the future.