A ‘Brutal’ vision for Bath!

Genteel Bath brutal?! Surely not!! Well if you are a student of Architecture you will know that the word  – aka Brutalism – describes a 20th century architectural style where exposed rough concrete finishes and chunky, blocky forms co-exist in a plain and undecorated whole.

The Brutal Bath exhibition.
The Brutal Bath exhibition. (click on images to enlarge)

It was heavily influenced by the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier who thought buildings should be  practically constructed as a modern machine.

He saw architecture as a play of masses brought together in light and advocated  a Utopian city – conforming to his aesthetics –  which could provide the basis for new or re-built European towns as Second World War damage was addressed.

Autonomous blocks in which people could live high above the shops and workplaces below with aerial walk-ways – lifting them above the noise and congestion of the super-highways beneath them.

Nearby Bristol still has the remnants of these pedestrian lanes in the sky around the old Broadmead area but here in Bath such raw concrete structures would not be so easily hidden as there was no Bristol-like screen of mixed architectural styles.

The 'gathering' at the Museum of Bath at Work.
The ‘gathering’ at the Museum of Bath at Work.

Last night there was a reception at the Building of Bath Collection to introduce members, friends and volunteers associated with Bath Preservation Trust, to a current exhibition at the museum – opposite The Paragon – which looks at the effect of ‘Brutalism’ on post-war redevelopment in Bath.

The exhibition runs until November 26th this year. Guests then went up to the Museum of Bath at Work to look at another special exhibition which examines post-Second World War development in exploring the social history of council housing in Bath from 1945 through to 2013.

Guests inspecting the Brutal Bath exhibition.
Guests inspecting the Brutal Bath exhibition.

It was an excuse to pour over information panels reminding everyone of how the new architectural styles of the 1950’s through to the 1970’s  blended the passion and idealism of young architectural visionaries with the pre-war Modernism of the likes of Corbusier.

Liked or loathed the buildings of this nature in Bath certainly stand out. Just look at the Hilton – formerly the Beaufort Hotel – in Walcot Street. Or the towering housing block at Snow Hill and also various office and factory blocks.

The Beaufort Hotel - now better known as The Hilton.
The Beaufort Hotel – now better known as The Hilton.

There were reminders too of the ‘vision’ architect and planner Sir Patrick Abercrombie had devised for post-war Bath. His description of the city sitting in a ‘green belt’ that should be preserved.

However, within the existing Georgian heart, he wanted new shopping precincts, open plazas, five more bridges across the Avon, a new hospital and technical college, a grand concert hall and a major redevelopment of the riverside at Walcot.

Bath would have had its own embankment long before Western Riverside! At least someone back then saw potential for the River Avon.

The tower block at Snow Hill.
The tower block at Snow Hill.

Then there was Colin Buchanan ands his Planning and Transport Study of Bath in the 1960’s. Once more Walcot was in the news but this time as the location for the entrance to a proposed  tunnel that would take all the city’s clogging through-traffic underneath the very Georgian streets it was and is busy choking. Maybe the tunnel should go back on  the planning agenda again?

Thought provoking and informative. Well worth a look.