St William’s College Green, York

Client – York BID in partnership with BLOOM!                      Role – Public realm design

The project brief for this great initiative was to reinvent a tired-looking area of the city by using innovative urban and landscape design to create a public space that serves both the surrounding businesses and the local community.

R Vint Engineering Ltd. submitted an innovative, sustainable, aesthetically pleasing and sympathetic design proposal to transform this green space in York that is not fulfilling its great potential. Our pergola design was based on the architecture of the neighbouring St. Williams College building and York Minster, and so was a timber frame built upon a stone base with provision for seating at various heights for accessibility.

Through a session of creative thinking, we came upon the concept of a pergola structure that would provide a family-friendly space for residents of and visitors to York. This initial concept soon developed to reflect the neighbouring St. William’s College building’s stone base by incorporating gabion walls around the base of the pergola uprights. Given the proximity of the structure to York Minster it also seemed a logical and inspired idea to adapt the profile of the pergola to replicate the majestic stained-glass windows to York Minster. As a further nod to the St. William’s College building, sections of the pergola would have a pan tile canopy.

With the main structural design created, we then began to consider how to incorporate an accessible seating area into the pergola. We decided that the gabion baskets provided an ideal base for seating to be built upon and the wall height could vary to provide accessible spaces for wheelchair users as well as height-appropriate seating for children. The design would hark back to the battlements of the world-famous York Walls. This seating area would, by design, provide a tiered seating system that could be utilised for live music and street performances and open-air cinema events.

One of our main considerations was also how to make this space worthy of being associated with BLOOM!. The pergola structure is a traditional garden feature and lends itself naturally to having plants woven into its timber frame. A series of steel cables were added to act not just as structural bracing but as a support from which plants would drape and flow.

Innovation and sustainability were also key to the brief. Our design therefore included reclaimed timber, recycled York stone, recycled pan tiles, lighting powered by renewable energy, and a grey water irrigation system. The lighting also provided an additional design element of replicating a stained-glass window effect by placing multi-coloured LED lighting within each arch-shaped upright.

Further embellishments to our design included turrets at either end of the gabion wall, which would house a bandstand area to one end and cycle parking to the other.
As the structure would neighbour York Minster it seemed fitting that the number of pergola uprights be twelve, a very significant number for Christianity. Our twelve uprights would symbolise the twelve stations of the cross, with each creating its own stained-glass window effect, representing a station.

Whilst our design was not successful in being awarded the commission, it is one that we are incredibly proud of and we are sure that the concept could be used in similar spaces in need of regeneration on a very tight budget.

Date: July 22, 2020