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York St. John University - De Grey Court

Completed: November 2008
Cladding: Western Red Cedar and Iroko
Designed by: Rivington Street Studio Architects
Photography: courtesy of Rivington Street Studio


An award winning project within sight of York Minster.


This award winning project close to the City Walls and York Minster, at the junction of three historic routes, involved extensive consultation with The City of York Council, English Heritage and local conservation groups.

York St John University's decision to build on a brownfield site close to the ancient City Walls, within sight of the Minster was a great architectural challenge. The University was keen to have an exciting contemporary building that reflected the local context, but without pandering to notions of pastiche or historicism.


There were key functional requirements of the new building. It had to house more than 100 academic spaces ranging from lecture theatres and teaching rooms to a specialist work space. It had to sit against a listed Georgian terrace and it had to enhance a critical corner site within the City.

The curved wall that formed the main street elevation (which was 'defensive' in the sense that it protected the academic areas from the excessive noise and pollution of the street) is local hand-made brick with deep window reveals and a relatively small number of random openings. This retains the sense of it being a large, strong and permanent 'City wall'.

To complement the brick, Iroko and Western Red Cedar was used to soften the appearance of the building and provide additional texture. The versatility of timber has allowed it to be used expressively in different ways. It is used as a solid rainscreen cladding and a soffit. Vertical boards are spaced apart on the bridge links to afford views out. It provides solar shading over windows and at low level, it is detailed as part of a joinery screen around openings.

A green roof covers the main areas of the building which contributes to the insulation, to the local biodiversity and to the management of rainwater outflow. Sustainability and reducing the need for energy use were guiding themes for this project. The BREEAM bespoke methodology was used to benchmark performance and ensure all the various aspects of environmental sustainability were addressed with the project achieving a “Very Good” rating.