While Fragrance – the Singapore-based hotel group – gets on with the job of securing the future of Bath’s historic Mineral Water Hospital’s, there’s a group of locals very keen to ensure that no one forgets the building’s amazing medical past.
This former Georgian hospital for the poor was transformed into a centre of excellence for the study and treatment of rheumatology.
It’s destined to become a 160 bed hotel and – with its Grade 2* listing – will ensure the future of a building designed – in part – by John Wood the Elder.
The Min’s facilities transferred to a new purpose-built centre at the RUH but, the hospital’s closure left one of its former occupants – Bath Medical Museum – without a home to call its own.
While that may be a long-term aim, in the meantime the museum and its band of dedicated volunteers is concentrating on developing an online presence.
This is where Harry Wyatt – an architecture graduate from the University of Bath – comes in.
He has undertaken the task of creating a digital model of the building as it stood at the time of opening.
Harry’s just completed the exterior and will be moving on – hopefully, with the financial help of the people of Bath – to create the interior and produce – eventually – a guided virtual tour.
Harry has kindly written an article for Bath Newseum about his work, and includes his own thoughts about ensuring the useful preservation of historic buildings like the Min.
Here it is:
“Most of you will be familiar with the Royal Mineral Water Hospital building at the end of Old Bond Street.
John Wood’s four engaged Ionic columns have stood through nearly 280 years of continuous operation as a hospital. Founded as a hospital for the poor, one of the first of its kind, it was in many ways a foundation of the NHS.
Through the centuries it has evolved behind its stoic Georgian facade to accommodate changing healthcare requirements and practices.
Now the patients and doctors have moved to a new site at the RUH and the building is set to begin a new chapter in its life as a hotel, pending further planning.
Former patient Paul Thomas is leading a project with Bath medical Museum and myself, an architecture graduate from the University of Bath, to create a digital model of this fantastic building, as it stood at the time of opening.
The model will, when finished, hold a library of vignettes and stories from its past in an accessible online format. Stage 1, modelling the exterior, is complete, and I will shortly be moving on to the interior.
Paul Thomas is still seeking funding for further stages, which will be the production of a guided virtual tour, short videos and integration into a website as an interactive video.
From my time in Bath as an architecture student I have come to love this city. The buildings have a uniquely engrained presence in the already beautiful landscape and their endurance is a reminder of the value of preserving historic buildings and cityscape.
Bath is as vibrant today as it ever was. When Paul Thomas approached my university seeking help in creating this virtual model I jumped at the chance.
I think it is extremely important today that we seek to preserve the architecture that we already have so that it continues to be useful, and when we do build anew to consider the long term impact of the building and its materials.
The modernist Tabula Rasa (clean slate) approach popularised in the 20th C. is simply not sustainable in a todays world where energy, materials and virgin land are becoming more scarce.
I believe architects of the future must learn to design with, not over, the buildings we already have and work to ensure they continue to be useful.
I have now been accepted into a masters in architecture program at Yale University and, should I be able to find funding, I hope to use my time there to study the intersection between time and architecture, exploring how buildings and materials can endure through multiple eras and uses – like the Royal Mineral Hospital.
Can you imagine a modern hospital building being in use for so long? Can you imagine it being considered high enough quality architecture to convert into a hotel?
Bath has the perfect architectural baseline for endurance and adaptability. Buildings are fronted with an ordered facade yet backed by a tangle of rooms that can adapt to changing functions and demands. A Bath townhouse makes for a wonderful single family house, but also works as a shop, as offices or as apartments.
In this city we are acutely aware of the value of historic buildings and also of the their vulnerability; central Bath came close to being demolished in the mid 20th century to make way for the new.
Evolution is inevitable, but destruction need not be. The four ionic columns on Wood’s original hospital still stand after hundreds of years serving rooms, operations and people who shift behind the scenes.
For a single building to provide treatments over so many years is nothing short of remarkable, even if it is sadly time for its use to change. The Min. should be a lesson to us all in creating enduring architecture. May this building be enjoyed for centuries to come and it’s important past be remembered.”
© Harry Wyatt
The stage 1 model is available for viewing here (https://3dwarehouse.sketchu
Stage 2 will complete the interior of the model and stage 3 and 4 will transform the model into an easily accessible online viewing experience, as an interactive video tour, and embed vignettes reenacting the building’s stories.
If you would like to support the project please contact Paul Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org The website will have a specific section ( by the weekend) for anyone who wants to donate money to help with creating this interactive experience. It will be under the section ‘local giving’.