The search is on once more for the best new or restored building in York. STEPHEN LEWIS joined the York Design Awards judges as they visited entries

NICK Beilby is keen to apologise for the state of Queen Victoria's nose.

It is true that it is not quite up to the standard of the rest of the West Bank Park statue, which was carved out of marble at the turn of the last century by York's foremost sculptor and stonemason of the day, George Milburn.

There's a reason why the nose doesn't quite measure up, says Nick, the York Civic Trust volunteer who was in charge of restoring the statue. At some point, the original nose carved by Milburn got broken off. Some time in the 1980s, local children got together to raise money to replace it.

The 'new' nose didn't quite fit, however, and over the years it turned a bright yellow colour, Nick says. But when restoring the rest of the statue, the civic trust conservators decided they really didn't want to undo the work the children had had done thirty years or more ago.

"So we decided that we wouldn't replace it," Nick says. "It's part of the statue's history." The team contented itself with toning down the nose's colour and leaving it at that.

York Press:

Queen Victoria's nose

The rest of the statue has come up very nicely, however.

Originally carved to stand in the Guildhall, at some point in the last century Queen Victoria clearly fell out of favour. The statue and its red sandstone plinth were moved to West Bank Park. There, it stood in a corner, neglected and almost overgrown by shrubbery. Over the years, it became stained, discoloured and hidden by undergrowth. It also picked up that broken nose.

"Then someone said: 'There's a statue of Queen Victoria in West Bank Park - get it sorted!'" Nick says.

So the Trust did, along with two other Milburn statues - one to George Leeman on Station Road and one to William Etty outside the art gallery.

Nick's team, which included conservator Alaina Schmisseur, carefully cleaned the statues with with de-ionised water and a special poultice designed to draw out discolouration. The statues were then given a special wash coating to protect them from pollution.

The three statues were among 29 projects in York visited earlier this week by a team of judges for this year's York Design Awards. Nicola Rutt, Geoff Rich and Andy Davey - all distinguished architects in their own right - spent two days in the city visiting every one of the entries.

These ranged from five Civic Trust restoration/ public space projects (the three statues, the restored Acomb War Memorial and the new Fossgate banner) to the revamped Stonebow House, a new treehouse at Robert Wilkinson Primary School dedicated to four-year-old Jake Smith, who passed away in December 2016, and the new Explore library in Tang Hall (christened the 'Centre@Burnholme').

York Press:

The Centre@Burnholme

The judges began with a visit to Acomb, where they met Nick Beilby twice - once at the Acomb War Memorial, then again in West Bank Park to see Queen Victoria.

They also saw two new houses - one, at 23a The Green, fitted into a walled garden that had belonged to the Edwardian house next door.

It was a very modern-looking building - essentially two blocks connected by a glassed 'circulation space' - which, despite the use of zinc 'up and over' strips, managed somehow to harmonise with the Edwardian building in the garden of which it stood.

Architect Charlotte Harrison of Mass Architecture took the judges across the road to look back at the building from Acomb Green, so they could see how it connected to the older building next door.

Like many of the other new houses that the judges saw, it was finished to very high sustainability standards - super-insulated, airtight and triple-glazed.

This was something the judges picked up on during a brief stop for coffee.

Because of the damage we as a species are doing to the climate and the environment, architects and builders have to start being more aware of the environmental impact of buildings, said head judge Geoff Rich.

York Press:

Design Awards head judge Geoff Rich

Building regulations are now a bit tighter, which helps, he said.

And some clients were now asking for buildings that were more environmentally sustainable.

"But it needs to be a public responsibility rather than a private indulgence," he said.

The judges were also full of praise for Nick Beilby and the work being done by the York Civic Trust.

"The work that the trust is doing is really meaningful," Mr Rich said. "What a great organisation to have in the city."

Other schemes visited by the judges included:

  • The Long House, Heslington: a new family home created through a combination of new build and the renovation of two brick barns
  • Harlequin House, Dunnington: a new, five-bedroom 'eco-tech' house in an 'infill' site on the edge of Dnnington
  • Cut & Craft steakhouse, St Sampson's Square
  • Restored benches and lantern in St Helen's Square
  • Revamped Stonebow House
  • Jake's Treehouse at Robert Wilkinson Primary, Strensall
  • The Centre@Burnholme


The York Design Awards are now in their 13th year.

Each year, they seek to celebrate the very best in architecture and building design in York. Entries are invited across a range of categories, including large and small residential development; commercial and public buildings; conservation and restoration projects; and open spaces. Projects have to have been completed in the last three years to enter.

York Press:

Design Awards chair Rebecca Thompson

Previous winners have included the York Theatre Royal; the Hiscox building in Stonebow; Derwenthorpe Phase 2 and the Rowntree Park Skate Park, amongst many others.

Each year a panel of judges visits each entry, and selects one or more winners in each category. They then pick one project - the 'best of the best' - to receive the Lord Mayor's Award.

This year's winners will be announced on awards night at the Sir Ron Cooke Hub at the University of York on June 24.

As usual, there will also one category in which the winner is chosen by readers of The Press.

Voting for The Press People's Award will open in a couple of weeks - watch this space. Readers can vote for their favourite entry using a form in The Press, online on The Press website, or using voting slips at an exhibition of entries that will run at Explore York Library for a week from June 10.

This year, for the first time, the Design Awards committee is also keen to get children involved in thinking about what makes for a good building.

A group of 30 primary school children have been invited to view the Design Awards exhibition at Explore York on the morning of June 12. They will get to speak to archivists and architects, have a look at the exhibition - and then vote for their favourite project using coloured stickers.

A sample of the children's homework on the theme of building and design will also be on show at the Sir Ron Cooke Hub on awards night.

This year, the awards committee has a new chair - Rebecca Thompson, a former Superintendent of Works at York Minster and President of the Chartered Institute of Building who now runs her own consultancy business.

She accompanied judges on their visits to this year's entries - and said she had been inspired not only the the quality of design, but also by the standard of build and finish of many of the projects.

That latter is almost as important as design quality itself, she stressed.

It is no good designing a building that looks wonderful on paper. "Excellent design has to be something that is buildable," she said.

There's a marker for future years...