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Vitruvius, Palladio, Inigo Jones and John Wood the elder made Bath what it is today

No matter where they hail from, architects need to focus on reviving Bath’s heritage, says Eric Parry

In 2007, I wrote an article for the AJ entitled My Holburne extension in Bath has unleashed violent and surreal feelings, commenting on the extraordinary attention the museum project was attracting. Two years on, and 10 years since the original competition, the project has topped out, but not without further drama.

It has been a tortured route to achieving the preferred mix of glazes for the ceramic cladding, which is neither the butter beige wanted by Bath Heritage Watchdog, nor the blue reported mischievously in Private Eye in June 2007. The museum trustees were forced into a full planning application, which was granted on 18 November, for mottled French grey over a dark brown underglaze.

On my first professional visit to Bath, it struck me that the real issue was the neglect of Georgian architect John Wood the elder’s vision for the city: ‘I proposed to make a grand place of assembly, to be called the Royal Forum of Bath; another place, no less magnificent, for the exhibition of sports, to be called the Grand Circus; and a third place, of equal state with either of the former, for the practice of medicinal exercises, to be called the Imperial Gymnasium of the City, from a work of that kind, taking its rise at first in Bath, during the time of the Roman emperors.’

In other words, a place where the inhabitants could have a sense of celebration and enjoyment. Looking down from the upper gallery of the Holbourne into Sydney Gardens, the view of the wash of asphalt through the trees was more reminiscent of a Formula One track than a ghost of the 18th century pleasure gardens.

Ten years on, my view is unchanged. On the 23 November, I spoke at a public debate on the city’s architecture, ‘Our future in whose hands?’ Richard MacCormac and I were opposing the motion that ‘Bath’s heritage was created by Bath architects and the city does not need architects of international reputation to create its future heritage’.

Our day ended with a sense of hope and optimism, and the support of two thirds of the debate audience. We clearly demonstrated how architects from outside Bath have influenced its form – a line from Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, Andrea Palladio, Inigo Jones and Colen Campbell to Wood’s visionary speculation blended the wonderful topography. About the only things truly indigenous to the city are its water and stone.

What the people of Bath clearly recognise is the need for more joie de vivre in the city’s architecture to keep its heritage alive. The focus should not be on the origin of architects, but how to find the best contemporary talent (and there is plenty), in order to return Bath to the place of celebration that it was originally designed as.

Eric Parry is founder and principal of Eric Parry Architects

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