What to do with the Guildhall?

RIBA Open Ideas Competition


City of York Council and its partners invite architectural submissions in response to this RIBA open ideas competition brief to re-imagine the City's historic Guildhall complex for the C21st and demonstrate how connecting river and City will facilitate a commercially viable renaissance of this unique site in a world class City.

The Guildhall has been at the heart of City governance since its construction in the mid fifteenth century. Over time, and through various phases of building the complex has expanded and evolved. It is currently occupied by the local authority, City of York Council, but in 2013 the council will move from 16 separate offices across the City, including the Guildhall into a new headquarters building. This new HQ has secured the future of York's first railway station, a grade II* listed building, through a sensitive conversion scheme requiring significant contemporary additions to create the necessary accommodation.

The City is now keen to ensure that the future of the complex is similarly secured. This is important, because very soon a large part of the complex will no longer be in active use and the significance of these heritage assets is such that identifying new uses is a priority. The Council has committed to this competition process to explore the future potential of the complex and is calling for fresh and innovative thinking. The council appreciates that new ideas can very often highlight previously unseen potential. Furthermore, the City of York Council is committed to positive change and seeing the ideas which emerge taken forward to deliver a new range of viable new uses for the complex.

The City of York Council and its partners are therefore seeking exceptional competition entries that are able to demonstrate that these historic assets will thrive economically in the long term brought about through application of creativity and innovation to unlock economic potential.

History / Background

The Guildhall stands on the riverside behind the Mansion House and forms an important element in the view from the river and from Lendal Bridge. From St Helen's Square, however, it is only visible through the archway under the mansion house. York certainly had a guildhall by 1256, but the present structure represents a major rebuilding of 1449- 59. It is an aisled hall with walls of Magnesian limestone and timber columns supporting the roof. In April 1942 the Guildhall was seriously damaged in a German 'Baedeker' bombing raid. The building was eventually fully restored and re-opened in 1960. The Guildhall is listed at grade I and the remainder of the complex at grade II (see definitive detail in background information). Several phases of additions were made in the 19th and 20th centuries to accommodate the council offices and include:

The former upper and lower council chambers dating from 1811 and designed by Peter Atkinson the younger, City Steward (now committee rooms) and later additions including the wonderful 1891 Victorian Gothic Council Chamber by E.G Mawbey, the City Surveyor. All of these elements are of considerable significance to the City; less so is the rather more mundane C20th office annex. A notable hidden feature is Common Hall Lane, one of the oldest of York's water lanes, which lies beneath the Guildhall.

The Guildhall is hugely significant for the City and will remain as the 'seat of Governance' with use of the council chamber for full council meetings. However, when the council moves to its new headquarters new uses are needed for the majority of the complex.

York has recently undertaken significant work to better understand its outstanding and world class heritage and better define its ambitions. All the documents referenced below can be accessed via the links on this website:

A Heritage Topic Paper identifies the City's key characteristics: A Compact City with Strong Urban Form, and an important Landscape setting. Architectural Diversity, Archaeological Complexity, and Landmark monuments; including the Guildhall itself.

A Conservation Area character appraisal and views analysis has captured the special character of the City's historic core.

York New City Beautiful Toward an Economic Vision by Prof. Alan Simpson et al 2010 urged the City to value its riverside and to create a visible C21st layer equal in quality to those that have gone before.

[Guildhall] Statement of heritage significance, views analysis and options appraisal undertaken in 2011 by Purcell Miller Tritton specifically for the guildhall complex. This is the key background document to the competition because it highlights the scope for intervention. The statement of significance and views analysis are endorsed by the council and English Heritage. The options appraisal indicates an approach to the site which acknowledges this, but should not inhibit the further exploration sought through the competition process.