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SouthGate Bath by Chapman Taylor

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DESIGN DETAIL: Kaye Alexander considers SouthGate Bath, Chapman Taylor’s ‘traditional’ revamp of Bath’s retail centre

The first of six buildings making up Chapman Taylor’s SouthGate Bath development is now complete. Block B fronts SouthGate, the main street after which the development is named, and houses 18 retail units, some of which have residential above.

Chapman Taylor first became involved in the retail-led, mixed-use scheme in 1996, but it was not until 2003 that planning permission for the project, which is situated within a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a local conservation area, was granted. Construction started in 2006, with the demolition of Owen Luder’s single-storey shopping centre (1971, and also called SouthGate), concrete multi-storey car park and bus station. The project is scheduled for completion in 2010.

‘The strategy supported by Bath City Council was to replace the existing centre with a new urban design, rather than an enclosed shopping machine,’ says Chapman Taylor director, Roger Wilson.

This strategy is also in evidence at BDP’s designs for Liverpool One and Victoria Square, Belfast, and developer Hammerson’s Sevenstone retail quarter in Sheffield.

‘In proposing this design approach, we actually preceded and, to an extent, pre-empted the planning changes which emerged in the mid-1990s and promoted a new urban agenda approach to city centre redevelopment. We were then ahead of the game in designing SouthGate as an open street scheme,’ says Wilson.

Chapman Taylor’s open street scheme creates a dog-leg diagonal route through the new Central Square to the railway station, which is also being developed as part of the regeneration scheme. Wilkinson Eyre is designing
a new transport interchange, which is scheduled to open in the autumn.

The decision for the scheme to be given a Georgian architectural aesthetic was supported by the original client (now replaced by Morley Fund Management and Multi Development) and CABE predecessor The Royal Fine Arts Committee. Wilson explains: ‘It is not a ‘mod’ aesthetic, but a traditional interpretation of Bath’s Georgian heritage in terms of scale and proportion. The presence of the classical architecture expert, Robert Chitham, on the design team also helped to boost confidence in the scheme.’

‘Bath is one of the most homogeneous neo-classical towns in England,’ says Chitham, who was lead architect on the project from its inception but has now retired from Chapman Taylor. ‘Additions to places as significant as Bath need to be self-effacing. You should need to do a double-take before realising it is new; but I know this is not a fashionable view.’

Local street widths and building heights are respected with due proportions at the boundaries of the scheme, while still providing the sizeable retail units Bath currently lacks. The scale increases towards the centre of the scheme, building up to Block G in the south-east corner, which will house the anchor department store, Debenhams. A three-storey underground car park undercuts about a third of the site beneath blocks E, F, G and D, and is accessed under Block C from St James’ Parade.

‘The scheme had to be buildable to modern standards while at the same time being “Georgian”,’ says Wilson. Detail drawings were turned into fabrication drawings to divide the facade into panels, sized to be easily transportable through Bath’s streets. The local authority was adamant that Bath Stone, the cream-coloured oolitic limestone which gives Bath its distinctive appearance, was used. The architects negotiated a stucco and render compromise for some of the subsidiary buildings.

Window reveal and building corner details, which often betray panelised construction because of visible seams, have been carefully designed to give the impression of solid stone. To disguise panel seams on the facades, Chapman Taylor has used neo-classical devices such as string courses, columns and pilasters so that, Wilson says, ‘you’d have to be an expert to spot it’.

Project timeline: SouthGate Bath 1996-2010

1996 Initial scheme designed by Chapman Taylor
June 2001 Planning submission
May 2002 Planning approval
2004 Start date for Chapman Taylor
2007/2008 Sir Robert McAlpine and HBG appointed contractors
February 2007 Briefings with local community
Dec 2009 Completion of retail units along SouthGate and new transport interchange
Spring 2010 Completion of Phase 2 (shops, restaurants, cafés, and basement car park)
2010 Completion of Phase 3, including the Debenhams anchor store, along with the remaining shops

Area provisions Site 5.2ha comprising: retail 35,000m²; leisure 3,500m²; residential (92 flats, 25 per ²cent affordable) 6,000m²; restaurants 2,400m; car park comprising 720 covered spaces

Start on site date January 2007
Completion date September 2010
Gross external floor area 5 hectares (site area)
Gross internal floor area Building 54,000m²
Form of contract Design and build
Total cost £136 million (excl. residential and station)
Cost per m² £1,489
Client Morley Fund Management and Multi Development
Architect Chapman Taylor
Structural engineer Beattie Watkinson/Arup
Services engineer Arup/Hoare Lea and Partners
Quantity surveyor Gardiner and Theobald
Planning supervisor Capita Symonds
Design and build contractor Sir Robert McAlpine
Town planning consultant Drivers Jonas

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