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My Holbourne extension in Bath has unleashed violent and surreal feelings

About 1,200 letters were received about our revised planning application for an extension to the Holburne Museum in Bath. There were 64 per cent in favour, and 36 per cent against.

[Bath and North East Somerset Council approved the glass and ceramic-clad Modernist scheme on 28 November.] I should have realised the depth of feeling when on my first visit to the site during the architectural competition in 2000, a passer-by approached and said: ‘You’re not thinking of doing anything to that are you?’

I have never been in doubt of the validity of our proposals, but the level of support and criticism has been extraordinary. From the ‘Halt the Holburne’ campaign in the Bath Chronicle to Stephen Bayley in the Observer asking ‘Is this the most boring city in Britain?’. Of all the arguments rallied against us, the most surreal was citing Brunel’s exemplary manners in using Bath stone for the retaining walls to the Great Western railway – which he ploughed through Sydney Gardens!

I am a supporter of the planning system because it gives time for design and a live platform for debate. The down-side is that the system is propelled down the middle of the road and gags invention.
At the debate at the Guildhall, Bath, on 28 November, those against the scheme described it as ‘the sort of thing you would see in Birmingham’ and protested that ‘Modernism is not suitable in Bath’ . The seven (out of 11) councillors who spoke in support said the proposals are ‘graceful and beautiful’, adding that ‘Bath is not about stone but about good architecture’.

Last week’s decisions in favour of both the Holburne and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ Western Riverside show that Bath can continue to champion its heritage while also demonstrating confidence in its future.

Eric Parry is founder of Eric Parry Architects

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