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2016 St Leonard’s Place Public Conveniences and Retail Unit

The tremendous diversity of the projects entered into the York Design Awards is one of the key reasons why the awards programme stays fresh every year and continues to fascinate.

Whilst every project entered has something interesting and noteworthy to offer, whether they win or not, some projects are undoubtedly quirkier than others. One such entry in 2016, and a winner in the Commercial, Public and Community category, was a development next to Bootham Bar and the City Walls by Healthmatic. This project involved the creation of a C-shaped building to provide new public conveniences, initiated as part of a city-wide programme of improvements, and a retail unit which is now occupied by independent café business ‘Croque Monsieur’.

St Leonards Place C

Set within the City Wall and adjacent to Bootham Bar, its design is both minimal and contemporary to create a contrast with the historic context. Copper strips to the roof are designed so that rainwater falls away from the historic fabric, with the three sides of the central ‘well’ treated with large rooflights that turn down into windows to abstractly resemble falling water. This is also a play on the function of the building as a public convenience!

Internally, one of the key decisions was to include a glass floor that would expose a 2000 year old Roman Wall that had been covered for several decades. The interior fittings, furniture, graphics etc. were completed by tenant Croque Monsieur. It’s a café with a difference, with Croque Monsieur boasting of it being “probably the world’s only coffee house with a 1700 year old Roman wall running directly through the shop”.

St Leonards Place D

The key moves were to limit the height of the new building below that of the City Wall and to create an elegant roofscape. This was important as the building is viewed from above when people climb onto the City Wall and cross through Bootham Bar. The social context was also a consideration with anti-social behaviour being a very real issue. This led to the installation of very robust santiaryware fittings and a roller shutter.

The choice of materials throughout was in keeping with its context. The chocolate brown copper cladding, to the roof and walls, complements the range of tones found in the limestone of the City Wall. The aim was to set a strong, solid and continuous colour against the patchwork of stone blocks, rather than attempt to match them.

St Leonards Place E

Sustainability is consistent throughout the project. The retail unit is naturally ventilated, apart from below the glass floor, which needs air movement through it to protect the Roman wall. Low energy LED’s/compact fluorescents have been used throughout too and natural light has been maximised to both the café and toilets. Finally, the sanitaryware to the toilets minimises water usage for flushing and controls water for hand washing.

A large proportion of the materials can be recycled, such as the copper cladding, steel frame and aluminium window frames. Elsewhere, timber studwork and FSC plywood sheets have been used to line out the City Walls or walls of adjacent buildings.

The Chair of the York Design Awards Judging Panel, Julian Bicknell, singled out the project for its ‘surprise factor’ which was an acknowledgement of the creativity and effort the developer and architects put into this project.

St Leonards Place B

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