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It was gala dinner time at Aspire in Leeds for the region’s architects and clients last night and whilst the fizz flowed and wine was quaffed, Sheffield trounced upon its bullish neighbour, Leeds, in the annual battle to become the architectural Capital of Yorkshire.

The first blow was struck by the students who, for the first time, were recognised alongside their more senior design brethren in the awards ceremony. Five of the seven student award winners were from schools of architecture in Sheffield. In the main award categories, Sheffield Cathedral scooped the top ‘Yorkshire Building of the Year’ award along with the Conservation Award. Equally impressive was the Sum Studios scheme in Sheffield, which scooped the ‘Sustainable Project of the Year’ gong amongst its two prizes. It was a pleasure to sit on the table with the winning team from Healey Development Trust team who all showed genuine passion for the Sum Studios project – a well-deserved winner.

There was one shining light for Leeds with the Small Project award going to Darnton EGS for the Leeds College of Music works, but that was merely a consolation goal after a poor Leeds showing all round. In a desperate and tired final lunge to score a last minute success, the Leeds Arena was trotted out yet again.  A sheepish and rather embarrassed John Thorpe trudged up to the stage to collect the award with the team to a polite, embarrassed and questioning ripple of applause. Is that really still the best Leeds can offer?

So a big congratulations to all of the Sheffield winners. Well done to you all. It is great to see so many people who are passionate about their City.

The question to the Leeds architectural community, however, has to be……. What is the plan to turn this result around? Surely between us we can muster something better than was offered up last night? Where is the passion and drive towards a better architecture in Leeds? Are we lacking visionary clients with the appetite to break new ground? I don’t think so. One such client said to me recently that he ‘has given up trying to develop in Leeds because the Local Authority is so closed to new ideas and stifles creativity.’ Has the life really been drained out of us by this negative attitude towards design excellence? Surely not.

In readiness for the return fixture next year, let’s make sure that the architecture in Leeds starts to reflect a greater ambition and passion for our City. Clients; excellent design does not have to cost the earth and enhances values and the quality of our City. Architects; can we challenge ourselves to go beyond the mediocre, standard responses? Leeds City Council; can you champion great architecture? Can you demand that our City only gets the best instead of the adequate? Come on Leeds!! It is only half time in this particular match. Time for a rousing comeback ……… oh, and can we consign the Leeds Arena to the history books now? We are all bored to death of it.

Nick Baker.


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