Aerial photo of former railway station converted into offices
New headquarters for the local authority, a converted Victorian railway station © S Harrison Developments Ltd
New headquarters for the local authority, a converted Victorian railway station © S Harrison Developments Ltd

Old Station Becomes Energy Efficient West Offices in York

A Grade II* listed former railway station in York was sustainably redeveloped into a striking new local authority headquarters, West Offices. It has achieved high energy efficiency whilst preserving its Victorian design, enhancing and giving new meaning to the city’s important railway heritage.

The West Offices complex dates from 1839-41 and lies just within York’s city walls. The site has high historical and architectural significance as one of the first generation of railway stations, with an experimental form that established a pattern for later station building. It is also understood to be the site of the world’s first integrated station hotel.

After York’s current station was completed in 1877, the West Offices site was no longer used and fell into disrepair. By the 21st century, the building had no viable future and was in danger of being added to our Heritage at Risk Register.

After City of York Council started looking for a suitable building to house its staff in one place, the West Offices site was chosen through competitive tender. Historic England (as English Heritage) advised the developers and City of York Planning department on the significance of the site and how the proposals could impact on these special qualities. Our key discussions with developers and the local authority resulted in the removal and relocation of the original train canopy and enhancing and better revealing the railway heritage of the site through the development.

As a civic building the site was required to achieve a BREEAM excellent rating, and the council had an exacting brief in terms of both energy performance and the use of energy from renewable sources. 

Working closely with English Heritage’s (now Historic England's) heritage professionals and local conservation organisations, the developers identified elements of the original structure that needed to be kept, notably the original arrivals and departures wings and the original station hotel.

The central area where tracks and platforms once stood provided space for a series of open plan floorplates which were essential in meeting the Council’s space needs, while the cellular design of the original buildings provided private meeting spaces. By making the new structure and its roof self-supporting and connecting it to the original building via bridge links, the required new floorspace was delivered without compromising the integrity of the listed structure.

West Offices incorporates multiple energy saving and energy efficiency measures to achieve a BREEAM “excellent” rating and an impressively small carbon footprint. The new offices carry a “B” EPC rating putting them in the top 9% of EPC-registered UK buildings – a remarkable achievement given that around half of the complex dates from the Victorian period.

Carbon reduction measures include solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, biomass boilers and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) units producing heat and electricity simultaneously. The building delivers a 55% carbon reduction improvement over building regulations against an original requirement by the council for 30% reduction.

The environmental design works with the existing building, using existing features to enhance comfort and reduce energy demand. It makes the most of the thermal mass of the existing structure to pre-cool incoming air and provide an efficient night-time cooling strategy.

The heavy masonry walls of the existing building that now form part of the internalised space provide the thermal mass required for the building to be largely naturally ventilated. Low carbon heating technologies such as solar PV panels also form part of the strategy, with most of the heat demand provided by biomass boilers which deliver a minimal carbon footprint.

A number of features designed into the building also help to reduce energy demand. Lower lighting levels and automatic light switching combine with recovering waste heat from computer server rooms to reduce energy demand. Rainwater harvesting and water saving controls are also integrated into the building management system.

The advice, support and input from English Heritage [now Historic England] proved invaluable throughout the process, helping the developers to ensure that the old and new elements of the development could work together in perfect harmony to provide a sustainable future for this important building. It was also important from our perspective that everything we added did not compete or detract from the quality of the original station complex which should read as crisp, modern and clean. Achieving such high standards of sustainability proves with a careful, considered approach older buildings can be adapted for modern use, without compromising our client's demanding brief for an efficient new headquarters.

Chris Hale, S Harrison Developments Ltd

Through an innovative design solution blending new work, repair and alteration and based on a sound understanding of the significance and function of historic buildings, York’s West Offices provide highly sustainable and energy-efficient office space for the 21st century while sustaining the historic and cultural values of the site for present and future generations.