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Bath’s architecture old and new

Fred Barnett has been working for SRA for 18 months as an Architectural Assistant. We appreciate his forward thinking and socially thoughtful approach to architecture. In a recent Q&A session with Bath Life Magazine, he shared his views on Bath’s architecture - old and new.

Here’s Fred's perspective on the matter:

The Thermae Bath Spa from Beau Street

The Thermae Bath Spa from Beau Street

Many consider Bath to be a cultural and historical icon. Do you think the design of new spaces in the city should remain traditional, or reflect more modern architectural styles?

It is important for a city to recognise, celebrate and preserve its unique architectural inheritance.  However, Bath perhaps achieves this too well.  There is an intrinsic human desire to evolve with one’s surroundings and I believe that Bath must positively embrace progressive change to further enhance its world-renowned urban landscape.

Architecture in Bath seems to cause a level of controversy. Why do you think this is the case?

Since Bath is a World Heritage Site, all proposed developments are correctly contested and thoroughly challenged to ensure they do not compromise the existing architectural language of the city.

What are your views on architecture in Bath remaining ‘old’ in style and appearance?

If Bath were to exist as a reflection of its past, its architecture would forever remain as a snapshot in time confined to an idyllic era.  However, it is essential to move forward in all aspects of life and I believe architecture cannot be detached from the natural evolution of its modern society.

What are your views on architecture in Bath being modernised?

Bath is a city full of ambitious individuals with well-established links in fashion, engineering, architecture, and the performing arts.  Through an open-minded approach to future developments, modernising Bath could create innovative buildings and spaces that do not devalue or diminish the surrounding environment. 

The Thermae Bath Spa

The Thermae Bath Spa

New Southgate are with umbrella art instalation

New Southgate are with umbrella art instalation

Can you tell us about your favourite historic building in Bath?

Considering historical buildings in Bath, I will always be fascinated by Bath Abbey and the almost incomprehensible layers of history that have been embedded within its walls through the centuries. 

What is your preferred modern building in Bath?

Specifically considering the city centre; The Thermae Bath Spa by Grimshaw Architects (completed 2006) resonates as a building that pushed the boundaries of architectural design in Bath. It redefined itself as a landmark amongst its surroundings in which the old complements the new.

What are your thoughts on new buildings being built in the style of a by-gone era? Some people describe these as ‘mock Bath’.

Whilst the contemporary imitation of classicism provides the urban landscape with a degree of coherency, I believe that this form of architectural representation raises questions as to whether we value aestheticism over depth of substance. 

How well do you think Bath mixes old and new architecture?

With reference to The Thermae Bath Spa, there is great potential in central Bath for both old and new to co-exist in a way that does not undermine the city’s architectural heritage.

Bath Abbey viewed through art installation

Bath Abbey viewed through art installation

I believe it’s important to look into the future with a certain optimism and belief; well-considered contemporary design can stimulate positive progressive change within the city.