‘York council chamber would make a great comedy club’

13 May 2012 @ 10.30 pm
| Opinion

York Guildhall. Could it be a money-spinner?

Architect of this parish Matthew Laverack argues that a competition to decide the future of the Guildhall is a waste of time and money

York may soon ask architects to submit plans to reshape the Guildhall when the council move out. The plan is to launch a competition to find new ideas for the ancient hall, council chamber, meeting rooms and more.

This is a nonsense – a waste of time and a waste of £35,000 of taxpayers’ money.

The listed status of these buildings means that there is no scope for any significant redevelopment. Even if Richard Rodgers or some other high flying architect came up with a visionary scheme (like putting it all under glass for example, similar to the British Museum central courtyard) it would never get the support of conservation officers here in York who are not progressive and very difficult to deal with at the best of times. Moreover, who would pay for it all?

No, the solution to the Guildhall future is a functional one and not an architectural one. There is no fantastic architectural “grand design” that is somehow going to provide an answer as to what to do with the Guildhall when the council move out. It is a question of finding the right use for the existing spaces. A use that will generate an income to provide funds for renovation and future maintenance.

Office use is hopeless. The city is full of empty office space of all types and sizes. The building must be used for something where there is a definite demand, and preferably an under supply.

Housing is one such use. Many people would love to have an apartment in that location. The problem here is that the “blackmail” conditions of any planning consent would most likely render it a non-viable project. The costs of doing the conversion would probably not be supported by the rental income.

My suggestion would be to explore the building for hotel/leisure use catering to tourism and entertainment. The offices could become hotel rooms or mini-holiday apartments to rent out at a premium rate. The Guildhall would make a perfect venue for medieval banquets – complete with buxom wenches and hearty ales, hogroast, jesters and jugglers etc.

If well run it could be a money spinner. Plenty of American and Japanese tourists would pay good money to be fed and entertained in the style of “Ye Olde Merrie England”. Some would say this is a bit naff but it could be fun and if it brings in money to save the building then so what!

The council chamber itself could be a performance space. The arrangement of seats in the round would make it a great venue for a comedy club. Stand up performers could do their stuff. Tickets could be sold to watch them.

Of course the stand up comics could never match the spectacle of the clowns who currently perform in that chamber and who have entertained us for decades. They will be moving their entire circus up the road to Station Rise. The council chamber would then be the home of professional comedians – or aspiring amateurs on some nights.

  • Matthew Laverack is co-founder of The Architect Shop, based in Lord Mayor’s Walk, York