About Us

We Shape Better Places

Founded in 1996, Design West is a centre of excellence for design & placemaking. Our mission is to inspire the public, politicians & professionals across the built environment to design, better, healthier, places to live, work & relax. We learn from our heritage to build our future. A registered charity we put design & social value at our heart. Design West is the new name for The Architecture Centre & Creating Excellence.

Our History

Located on Bristol harbourside our beautiful home is steeped in history

Design West began life as The Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture a group of architects, engineers, academics & passionate citizens who cared deeply about the impact of good design on society.

In the 1990s the charity raised funds to purchase a prominent site on the quayside in Bristol, an 18th century warehouse & former sail loft, that had suffered two serious fires & was standing in disrepair. Preserving its sturdy maritime character, Architects Niall Phillips turned the space into a gallery & office space.

Opening its doors to the public on 11 September 1996, 16 Narrow Quay became home to The Architecture Centre, the first architecture centre outside London & a place where anyone could find out about the built world around them. Sasha Lubetkin, daughter of RIBA Gold Medal-winning architect Berthold Lubetkin, its inaugural director.

In 2018 new director Dr Anna Rutherford & chair Nick Childs began raising funds to regenerate the building again. Always a regional base with international reach, in 2021 the charity joined forces with respected place-maker, Creating Excellence, to extend our work across the South West.

In 2021 Design West launches as a lively new venue for Design & Placemaking on the dockside. Home to talks, events, education programmes & the co-ordinating hub for Bristol Open Doors.

Learning from our heritage to build our future, Design West shapes better, healthier, places to live work & relax. On the ground floor, The Architect café-bar will welcome visitors into the building, the charred timber beams of the old sail loft a nod to the past.

The charity would like to thank David Mellor, the late Peter Ware & Ken Brown for leading the establishment of the organisation, Timothy Cantell & all the trustees, donors, staff & volunteers who have supported our journey.

Our timeline

  1. 2021

    Design West

    In its 25th year The Architecture Centre joins forces with Creating Excellence to become Design West, championing better design & placemaking across the South West.

  2. 2020

    Placemaking Charter

    Commissioned to develop the first placemaking charter for the West of England.

  3. 2019

    Homes for Heroes 100

    A lead partner celebrating the Addison Act & 100 years of Social Housing with Bristol Festival of Ideas, Heritage Lottery & The Bartlett UCL.

  4. 2019

    Design Review Services

    Design Review expanded to West of England Combined Authority.

  5. 2018

    Stirling Prize Lectures

    Established annual RIBA Stirling Prize Lecture.

  6. 2016

    UWE Partnership

    Longterm partership with University of the West of England is forged.

  7. 2014

    Shape My City

    A diverse talent development programme for 15-18 year olds from across the region is set up, taking inspiration from aspiring architect Stephen Lawrence.

  8. 2014

    Bristol Open Doors

    The Architecture Centre takes on Bristol Open Doors (launched in 1993) to open up the citys architecture & heritage to wider audiences.

  9. 2007

    Design Review

    Bristol Urban Design Forum established in partnership with Bristol City Council to improve the quality of design & placemaking in the city.

  10. 2001

    Architecture Centre Network

    The Architecture Centre Director Mark Pearson Chairs national Architecture Centre Network.

  11. 1998


    Education programme begins.

  12. 1996

    The Architecture Centre

    The Architecture Centre opens its doors to the public on 11 September 1996, becoming the first architecture centre in the UK outside London.

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