The Eye of York

Eye of York as explored by people on the Gathering Green: Look at Your City Walk, 12th July 2019

What is the space now?

This area is enclosed by the court building, the Debtor’s Prison and the Female Prison. It currently has a roughly-circular grass area with a tree located centrally, and a tarmac road around this providing service access to the Museum and the courts. Outside this are paved areas, raised to form plinths to the court and female prison.

What did the Castle Gateway Masterplan / York Castle Museum masterplan say?

  • The current entrance to the York Castle Museum will go and a new entrance through from the southern side of the Castle Museum will be opened up for public access
  • A wall walk of the Castle walls will enable people to make sense of the Castle area
  • A new entrance to the Debtor’s Prison will be created for museum visitor
  • The court will continue to be there, it needs to be vehicle access to the court and for there to be no loud noise during the day

In the future Eye of York, what are people doing?

Scouts and Guides are gathering for the St George’s Day parade and people with placards make their way there for as the rally point for demonstrations. #GatheringPlace

People draw on the histories of elections and protests within the area to debate and discuss current issues. #GatheringPlace

The authority of the prison and court buildings are both acknowledged and softened by people coming to the area to read, picnic and play. #GatheringPlace

Families and groups are unfurling blankets and getting out their picnics. #GatheringPlace

People sit comfortably and admire the different views of all the amazing buildings surrounding this space #GatheringPlace

Parents relax while they sit and picnic because there is space which can be clearly defined for their children as they play #GatheringPlace #GatheringPlayfully

People explore the histories of the Prisons and Court, they look at the visible graffiti from prisoners and they get a strong feeling of the specific people who were imprisoned here, were hung or were sentence to transportation. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

People on foot can easily pass through the area and onwards towards Castlegate or the Coppergate Centre, with routes being clear. #GatheringPlace #GatheringOnTheMove

Hanging out at night here is magical with subtle lighting, pop up food vans and acoustic music. #GatheringPlace #GatheringAtNight

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

Visitors to the museum easily navigate toward the entrance to the Debtor’s Prison. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

People – including people with buggies and who use wheelchairs – move along the Castle walls with views that make sense of the city defences and of the shape of the Castle. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage #GatheringOnTheMove

People enjoy the peace because electric infrastructure is built in so there is no need for pop up vans or performances to use generators. #GatheringPlace

People visit the Last Drop – the last place people in York were hung –and it acts as a place for reflection and remembering. #GatheringPlace #GatheringHeritage

The Eye of York: Design Challenges

The design of this space needs to respond to various challenges:-

  • The presence of the court imposes some restrictions on activities during operation – weekday daytimes – which don’t apply at other times. The design of the space therefore needs to allow for quieter use such as sitting or picnics and children’s play, and for the potential for larger, noisier events such as performances or background music for gatherings.
  • It is a space with various movement routes between buildings and connections to onward routes to neighbouring areas, but also a space that invites lingering and appreciation of the architecture and setting. The design needs to allow for these to coexist.
  • The single tree in the current central grass was noted by many as being “in the wrong place” and there was more support for removal of this tree than for others. However the general wish for landscaping and trees poses specific challenges here in respect of being balanced against maintaining views towards the buildings.
  • The enclosed nature of the space and the fact that it is more of a destination than a route (and this will largely remain the case even with the proposed new opening in the walls) makes it attractive as a place where children can play and hence families can spend time. The design challenge this creates is in providing appealing opportunities for play within an area that can be clearly defined, while satisfying other aspects of the brief.
  • The current perimeter road provides service access for the Museum and vehicular access for the court. This also tends to attract other vehicles which can conflict with pedestrian use of the space. Design of vehicular access should respond to wishes to increase pedestrian use while allowing vehicular access which is strictly required.