YORK'S famous Red Tower on Foss Islands Road is thought to be named for the colour of its bricks rather than any particularly notorious history.

Yet, according to legend, there was at least one bloody incident in its past.

When it was being built, in the 1490s, the city fathers couldn't afford stone, so ordered the tower's upper levels to be built from brick instead. This didn't go down well with local stonemasons. They first tried to sabotage the building of the tower - then, in 1491, two leading masons, William Hindley and Christopher Homer, were charged with murdering tiler John Patrick, who had been working on it. Neither Hindley or Homer were ever charged, however, so the tower's murder mystery remains unsolved to this day.

Throughout its 500 years of history, the tower has withstood sieges (during the civil war) and has reputedly been used as the lodging for the watchman of the King's Pool - the huge marshy lake which once covered this area of eastern York - and as a gunpowder store.

At the end of 2015, it survived a siege of another kind - when floodwaters inside the tower rose to shoulder height.

When the floodwaters receded, it was quickly pressed into use by locals as a distribution centre for flood relief goods.

"At the beginning of 2016 you couldn't move in here for bottles of water and cleaning fluid!" says Imelda Havers.

Now, having lain empty and unused for years, the tower has been brought back to life as a community café and meeting centre - largely through the efforts of Imelda and other local volunteers.

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The 'tented roof' in The Red Tower's ceiling

Light and power have been installed on the ground floor, along with a miniature kitchen, and the floor above has been turned into a meeting and exhibition room, with an interesting canvas tented roof installed in the high ceiling by architect Geoffrey Holland.

Local pride in the tower is clear. "We had 200 people through at the weekend!" said Imelda to the panel of four judges from the York Design Awards who visited it this week.

The tower was just one of almost 30 projects visited earlier in the week by the design awards judges Geoff Rich, David Heath, Nicola Rutt and Andy Davey.

In a hectic two-day jaunt around the city the four judges - all well-known architects - took in everything from the revamped Mansion House, the Cosy Club restaurant in what used to be a furniture store (and before that was the Electric Cinema) on Fossgate, York Minster's restored Great East Window, Stonebow House, the Assembly Rooms - and the new skate park at Rowntree Park.

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The front of The Cosy Club - once MacDonald's furniture store, and before that a cinema

It was the sheer range of projects that impressed the judges.

"There is such a wide range of design projects in such a small geographical area," said Geoff Rich, the chair of this year's judging panel. "It's really uplifting to see."

The new-look Stonebow House won't be everyone's cup of tea. But the work that has been done on the brutalist concrete building impressed Andy Davey. Floor-to-ceiling windows and bronze-coloured aluminium panelling have softened the building's appearance - and the 17 apartments inside will have spectacular views across York.

The food hall and market on the ground floor - which according to plans submitted this week will have 14 kitchen units around the outside and communal seating in the middle - might even make this a place to visit one day, rather than a place to avoid.

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The Design Awards judges enjoy the view from one of the apartments at the refurbished Stonebow House

Mr Davey used to pass the building regularly when he himself was working on the revamp of York Art Gallery. "I could see how tired it was," he said. "I'm encouraged that people are prepared to take on challenges like this and bring them back to life."

At the Mansion House, judges were impressed by the way the house's collection of civic gold and silver had been brought out of storage and put on display behind secure glass panels for everyone to see and enjoy.

"It looks lovely. Well done!" Mr Rich said, looking up at the city mace displayed behind glass in the dining room.

There was praise, too, for the colour scheme inside the Cosy Club - what was, until recently, MacDonalds furniture store on Fossgate. This building started life as the Electric Cinema (later the Scala) in 1911: York's first purpose-built cinema. The designers had wanted to pick up on a colour scheme that might have been part of the original cinema, architect Sue Sparling explained.

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Cinematic colours: the interior of The Cosy Club

Often it was the smaller schemes that contained the best surprises, however.

A new snickleway has been built running back off Fossgate beside the former Electric Cinema. It leads through to a tiny courtyard - named Scala Yard - containing four tall townhouses built from white brick, each with a balcony looking out over the roof of the former cinema next door and back over Morrell Yard behind.

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The white brick townhouses of Scala Yard

There there is Nelson's Yard, tucked away off Piccadilly behind Spark:York. Developers Northminster have turned the former Nelson's Pub on Walmgate into two sumptuous houses - and in the quiet courtyard behind, stretching across towards Piccadilly, have built a terrace of six tall, modern townhouses.

It is a tight space, surrounded by clusters of buildings. The first thing they did was lift up a camera on a tall pole to get a good idea of the roofscapes the houses would look out over, explained architect Robin Parker. And sure enough, each house has a roof terrace with a view out across a jumble of other rooftops.

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New townhouses at Nelson's Yard

Over coffee back at the Cosy Club, design awards judge David Heath said it was great to see such a wide range of development projects, all trying to 'work with the grain of York'.

Some were more successful than others, he said. "But the best are making a real contribution to York."

As are the design awards themselves, said chair of the judging panel Geoff Rich.

The awards are almost unique in being independent, and in having a panel of judges visit every entry. And there is no doubt that they are helping to drive up the standard of building design in York, Mr Rich said.

"They are very valuable awards - and because they are transparently independent, they really do mean something."

The York Design Awards

The York Design Awards, held every year, aim to 'celebrate and encourage good design in the city' - whether it be a new housing development, hotel or office complex, the restoration or refurbishment of an existing building, or an imaginative new public space. To find out more visit yorkdesignawards.org/

The winners of this year's awards will be announced at an awards ceremony at the Ron Cooke Hub at the University of York on June 25.

Most categories will be decided by the judges. But as usual, readers of The Press will be able to choose their own favourite project to receive the prestigious Press People's Award.

An exhibition of all the entries will be held at York Explore central library from June 4-10. Members of the public will be able to cast their vote for the Press People's Award there. You'll also be able to vote through The Press and on our website thepress.co.uk. Watch this space for more details in June.