If anyone asks you where the Snow Hill development is you can just point to that familiar patch of green roofs on the Bath skyline.
This postwar development of eight low rise blocks – with a single tower block at its centre – took place between 1952 and 1968 when the local authority decided to clear an area of Georgian and Victorian terraces deemed unfit for habitation.
Scandinavian architecture was popular at the time. Sweden was viewed as a model of what a welfare state could achieve. It’s use of pre-fabrication, sensitive detail and,even when not particularly distinguished, the placement of the buildings within schemes together with considered landscaping all provided inspiration.
The new blocks at Snow Hill were designed to echo the 18th-century terraces that had been bulldozed away.With the Berkley House tower – still the tallest domestic building in the city – adding an eleven-storey block at its centre. It was a clearance that would never have happened if it had been proposed today.
Like it or loath it – it was the development’s roofs that proved – in the long run – to be its most outstanding feature. The low pitch design wasn’t suitable for tiles and, with a shortage of post-war materials, they were looking for a low-weight, sheet material that would give long-lasting weather protection.
They chose copper. The architects Snailum, Huggins and Lefevre, already had experience of using the material on other projects – like at King Edwards School on the opposite side of the valley.
At today’s prices, it would not have been cost-effective but it was then. A durable material that – of course – has ‘aged’ (oxidised) to its familiar green patina colour.
The buildings beneath them have provided continuous social housing for over 60 years and have been a city landmark with the rows of green roofs. The development passed from Council ownership in 1999 to the newly formed Somer Community Housing Trust Association – renamed Curo in 2012.
Seems the copper cladding has reached the end of its life – it’s not so much the covering as its support which has led to the failure of the roofs.
Curo has started a programme to replace them with a different material. They’ve consulted Bath Preservation Trust and Snow Hill residents and agreed upon a grey zinc which they say ‘ is affordable and in keeping with the surrounding architecture. The new roofing will have a 60-100 year lifespan. While the scaffolding is up, we’re also redecorating the outside of each block.’
A planning application is now in for B&NES to give permission for contractors to replace the copper roofs of Dover and Walcot houses which – ironically – won a RIBA Bronze Medal in 1957 for design as the first two blocks to be erected.
Curo produced a report on the history of the Snow Hill development in 2016 as they set out their case for the new roofs. It was called a ‘Statement of Historical Significance’ and contained the following quote:
‘The move to a grey colour will sit the roofs more congruently into their surrounds and blend the scheme more respectfully into its hillside setting.’
and further on:
‘The cultural significance will be affected as the ‘green roofs’ have served as a landmark in Bath for over 60 years and will be lost for the lifetime of the proposed new coverings. However, the scheme will remain a clear 20th Century modernist design that reflects the social change of that era.
Its use will not change and therefore the cultural significance, and importantly what the buildings stand for, will not be adversely impacted as a result of the proposal.’
Bath Newseum would love to hear your Snow Hill stories.