As part of the Residents Festival we were invited to have a nosy around West Offices, our new council HQ, before its official opening later this year. This seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. It may be more difficult to properly gawp at the architecture when the building is in use, full of busy staff and people coming in to complain about their bin collections.
Here’s the front of the building, on the Tanner Row side. In the old days, when this was the station, I guess the Victorian traveller would have entered the building by the same entrance we used today.
The older part of the building is a U shape, with two ‘arms’ off the back of the Station Rise frontage. The railway lines and platforms had once been in the gap between. Now in that space is a massive atrium, which I’ve viewed many times from the city wall nearby, as it took shape. So now we’re inside that modern central part. It’s very nice. We were genuinely impressed.
Here’s that central part, looking upwards to the massive metal and glass roof.
On the parts of the floors visible above was a lot of furniture, still wrapped, clearly being put into place ready for the staff who are relocating here in a couple of months time.
The particularly groovy bit is seeing exterior walls inside this building, walls from the original station. These photos were taken inside the atrium. The black drainpipes are rather dominant, and are presumably bringing water from the roof, as I deduced from hearing melted snow trickling down them. This was strangely disconcerting, but in a good way. Probably a good thing to be reminded of the weather and the world outside while stuck inside in the office.
Though according to my dad’s stories of this building they also got reminded of the weather outside quite frequently, as in the BR days it wasn’t quite so smart, and a bit leaky in places, with rain coming in and running down walls, rather than being encased in pipe.
On the ground floor, surrounding a central space at present filled with display boards, are many small glass-walled rooms. All very transparent, and presumably designed to be reassuring. Around the outside, in the older bit, I assume the offices have kept the more traditional non see-through wall, so staff have somewhere to go when they feel like banging their heads against one, or crying. It must be difficult working for the council, and getting moaned at and complained about all the time.
Beyond the atrium, at the open end of the older buildings, the part most people seem most pleased about. The reconstructed canopy from the old station, carefully dismantled and rebuilt, now a very posh bikeshed. I like the way so many railway lines have been turned into cycle tracks, and this is another interesting example of a railway-related structure turning into a bike-related structure.
Beyond it, to one side the also recently-built hotel, and across car park the old (mid-20th century) Hudson House, looking even grubbier than usual next to this elegant pale ironwork.
As we left, I stopped by the back of the building for a moment, near the elegant canopy, looking back in through the windows into the main building, and suddenly felt quite moved and a bit tearful. And quite surprised at this emotional moment. It’s probably quite normal to feel emotional if you walk into a sunlit chapel and the organist is playing beautiful music and it makes you think of someone you’ve lost. But feeling emotional about the new council headquarters?
Partly because I’ve always felt a connection to this place, though I’d never been inside it. But thirty years ago, during a particularly difficult part of my troubled adolescence, I was living with my father, rather than with my mother, and many days, after school, used to stand on the pavement outside West Offices, waiting for him as he left work, then we’d walk to get the car from the car park on Leeman Road.
There’s a lot of talk about the building’s history as a station, long ago before any of us were born, but for many of us it’s the recent history here that’s more important, ours, our parents and grandparents.
It could I guess have been sold off as another hotel, or to some other wealthy commercial concern. And thereby taken away from us, as the railway HQ opposite has been, somehow removed from my fondly-remembered ‘railway city’ landscape.
Whereas this way it’s still ‘ours’, isn’t it.
There’s been a lot of moaning about this new HQ. But it now seems so completely right that it’s here in this building. So much so that it seems odd that any other place (eg the Hungate new build) was ever considered.
Clever people working together have remodelled the place, adding modern parts to its old brick walls and curved-top timber-framed windows, reinstating its iron columns, and, most importantly, putting it back into use as a proper working building again. I really appreciate that.
Though I’ve lived here in York all my life I sometimes feel I don’t belong anymore, and I know I’m not alone in that. It has changed almost beyond recognition in so many ways in the last 40 years, with the increasing reliance on the ‘cultural offer’ and the ‘visitor offer’. We don’t want to keep endlessly offering. We want some things for ourselves, keeping, safeguarding, for people who live here.
Daft as it sounds, in this case I feel like the local authority took something really important to me and gave it a big hug. Them and everyone else involved in the project. A big group hug even.
Hence my brief emotional moment at the back of West Offices. Civic pride, almost, you might call it. Crikey.
I hope everyone’s seen the photo of Station Rise (gated private road part), taken from West Offices, when it was briefly opened to through traffic in January 1982, during the floods.
Following the West Offices development:
West Offices work completed (Dec 2012) and wandering about around the West Offices building site (Aug 2011)