New Public Spaces Open Brief: Revisions and Additions

Following the draft Open Brief we tested it and refined it online, using social media and through targeted discussions with specific groups and people. The blog below sets out the additions and revisions we made based on people’s feedback.

We then created a final draft that was commented on by the Castle Gateway Advisory Group, which led to a final round of changes.

You can read the final version of the New Public Space Open Brief here – this is now being used to create draft design approaches.

Additions for the final brief


Under design challenges we have clarified elements related to the structure and navigation of the space. These additions were based on a workshop with MySight and a meeting with Make it York.

  • The open spaces should be structured to make movement intuitive and easy (the paths in Museum Gardens is a good example).
  • It is important that tactile routes are never crossed by stalls or other temporary structures.
  • These include tactile paths, well-structured space and landmarks that can be used for navigation.
  • National standards for tactile paving should be used.
  • Ways of improving the crossing of Coppergate at different points should be carefully considered.

Flexibility of Use

Under design challenges we have spelt out more specifically uses related to arts, theatre and music – with technical input from Bronzehead Theatre, York Dance Space, Friends of Rowntree Park and Make it York.

  • Spaces should be designed to allow for flexibility of use. There should be built in, tiered seating that can be used formally for performances and for causally sitting and spending time. The seating should be directed to make use of the views in the area.

The spaces should enable:-

  • Small activities without people feeling lost or drowned in space – for example a school group having a picnic.
  • Medium size community performances (200 people)
  • Large scales activities such as a performances such as Mystery Plays (500+)
  • A space that can be purposed as a stage needs to be built in. This should be able to be used for lots of different uses and just needs to have flat and non-slippery surface. A back to the stage might be useful to help with acoustics or it might be that space for a temporary back to the stage to be easily installed and reinstalled is designed in.
  • The question of shelter and of possible cover of the tiered seating needs careful consideration. A reference point is Bath Spa Ampitheatre is one example that creates a stage, has built in seating and can be covered as well.  You can see a range of images here. 
  • Lighting and sound need to be considered. There needs to be multiple sockets that are easy to make available (and don’t cost to turn on). The power supply needs to copy with large demand for more complex performances.
  • A Green Room /backstage facilities need to be repurposed from spaces used for other things at other times (e.g. the museum). Toilets need to be able to be designated for performances to comply with safeguarding.


We have changed the original section heading ‘commerce’ to ‘activity’ to reflect the emphasis on economic inclusivity within the area. These suggestions come from conversations at Red Tower, Bronzehead Theatre and Zoo Skatepark.

Under uses we have now included:

People are feeling very welcome to the area if they don’t want to spend much, or any, money. There is a pay-as-you-feel streetfood and people are sitting and eating homemade sandwiches. #GatheringPlace

A community theatre group rehearses in public – and passers by see a poster for the performance and buy tickets. #GatheringPlace

In the early evening skaters are drawn to the area – as are young people of all kinds – to hang out and spend time and ensuring the area is full of life. #GatheringPlace

Easily finding accessible and clean toilets – and enough that can cope with high demand. #GatheringPlace #GatheringAccessibly

Under design challenges:

  • People felt that this was an area that didn’t need to focus on shops …but it was also accepted that commercial activity can bring life to outdoor space. New commercial units should be designed to bring economic diversity to the area. Power supplies for stalls – both profit and not-for-profit – needs to be designed into the public spaces.
  • The seating and energy infrastructure should be designed to minimise costs for community-led performances (see Flexibility of Use)
  • The public space should be designed to provide “skateable architecture” for skaters and skateboarders. Here, steps, ramps, edging treatments and protection for soft landscaping should be robust, with suitable edge treatments and absence of skate-stopping. Layout should allow use without conflict with movement routes.

Castle Car Park

Under design challenges we add more on the Foss based on responses from Environment Agency and My Sight.

  • It needs to allow direct access to The Foss. At a minimum this should enable use of the river for canoeing/kayaking and other non-motorised use. Ideally it should provide a wider access, allowing people to get close to or actually into the water safely and without risk of falling, and should also make visible the natural variation in the level of the river. Guidance on design is available here.

Eye of York

We added a slight clarification in uses:

Coming together for amplified music and theatre performances against the backdrop of Clifford’s Tower and the Court and Prison buildings. #GatheringPlace

Leave a comment