Bath’s new roof-top light box!

Bath isn’t exactly blessed with much in the way of contemporary architecture. The extension to the Holburne Museum and the Thermae Bath Spa are the only two ‘combinations’ that have managed to battle their way through the arena of planning and public taste.

That’s not counting  – of course – a sizeable skirmish over the fly tower on top of Bath’s Theatre Royal.

Well, gird your loins and choose your sides you modernists and traditionalists, because there’s another – albeit rather smaller -architectural intervention being planned for your Georgian sky-line.

A three-dimensional model of the new Centre with the roof-top “box” room in situ.

I was one of quite a crowd of people who braved the bad acoustics of the former Victorian concert room –  now grand ticket office for the Roman Baths – to hear two architects  describe proposals for the conversion of under-used and dilapidated former industrial buildings into a state-of-the-art educational facility.

Some of the people who gathered to hear more about the Archway Centre project. Roman Bath’s Manager Stephen Clews is talking while Matt Somerville from Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios listens.

They are working with the locally based but widely feted Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios as lead designers on this project involving property owned by the local council.

To quote from the Bath and North East Somerset Council blurb: “The project will create a state-of-the-art Roman Baths Learning Centre above the former city laundry in Swallow Street and a World Heritage Site Visitor Centre in 10 York Street.

Visitors will also be able to walk through spaces beneath York Street excavated by City Architect, Major Davis in the 1880s, and see parts of the Roman Baths that have never before been open to regular public access.”

Cross-section of the new Archway Centre Project showing how it links under York Street with the Roman Baths

Major Davies is the man who also designed the laundry and created a fanciful and elaborately carved arched ‘bridge’ over York Street through which – it’s believed – thermal water was piped from the spring to the laundry.

He also made its chimney – in view of its closeness to the newly excavated Roman remains – the most elaborately decorated piece of industrial hardware in the city!

Close up view of the laundry chimney.

B&NES have already been given a Heritage Lottery grant to enable them to help develop the project – which is expected to cost an estimated 5 million pounds. They’ll be submitting a ’round two’ application for capital funding early this year.

If things go to plan the whole Archway Centre project could get its official opening in the autumn of 2018.

Illustration showing larger windows and the ‘box’like’ room structure on the roof behind the chimney.

“The Archway Centre will transform the visitor experience at the Baths and dramatically improve the site’s learning offer. An existing tunnel under York Street will give school groups direct access into the heart of the Baths”, says the online website.

Click on the following link to view it.

It will certainly replace one cramped school room with  more extensive facilities for learning, dressing up, hands-on stuff, storing clothing, loos and having lunch!

There will be room for adult education too and a link through to the York Street undercroft and its Roman relics – rarely seen as yet by the public.

The World Heritage site information centre will explain how Bath got its UNESCO accolade and encourage visitors to go out and explore all of the city’s heritage.

Most of the work is going to be inside these buildings but it is an external and  contemporary take on the past that fascinates me most. There used to be a Victorian water tank on the roof – near the chimney – which has since been removed.

However, in the development plans, there is an idea to have a roof-top room – which will be used by children – and one that will provide a somewhat reduced echo of what was there before.

The old laundry chimney from the Great Bath

Not only that but the chimney may also be called upon to have a new role.

Do click on the following interview to find out more.