Drab. Depressing. Repulsive. Eyesore. Embarrassment. Soulless. Put it out of its misery. Tear it down. Tear it all down. York's Stonebow House puts up with a lot of abuse.
Few love it, many hate it. Just a few steps from the picturesque Shambles, all cobbles and beams, this brutalist tower does seem a little at odds with its surroundings. All that concrete just doesn't seem very York, or so the critics would sniffily tell you.
I used to be one of those sniffilers, turning my nose up at this office block/job centre/car park thing whenever I walked by. And then one day – I don't know why exactly – it struck me. It's beautiful. Stonebow House is an Eliza Doolittle of a building, its common-as-muck appearance hiding so much soul and untapped potential.
No, it doesn't "fit". But so what? All these other historical buildings were erected decades, centuries apart. They didn't fit either. But they endeared themselves to the story of the city, earning their place through some kind of urban-evolutionary architectural selection.
What this dilapidated 1960s modernist clunk needs is the same TLC afforded to so many other buildings around here. In the lower levels, a couple of gig venues deliver some after-hours culture, as if the council have solved a soundproofing problem by burying music under tonnes of concrete. Above ground, it's home to the Job Centre, a couple of small businesses and perpetually empty office space.
It's all a bit sad really.
But it doesn't have to be this way. As with most brutalist architecture, this concrete monolith is a blank canvas. It can stay looking miserable and alone, or it could be … anything.
Look at London's South Bank. Not that long ago, it too was a bleak slab nothingness. And then something changed. It started to make an effort. Shops, restaurants, culture, colour arrived. And people followed. It's not hard to imagine something similar working in York. Turn that plateau car park into an open air performance space, turn the abandoned offices into a much-needed contemporary art gallery, the ground floor units into pop-up shops. All it takes is a developer with vision and a bit of bravery from the council.
So don't dismiss Stonebow House just yet, no matter how unhappy it looks. It doesn't need to be put out of its misery, it needs to be awoken. Nothing happens here. But so much could. And should.
Written for Herb Lester Associates.