Sunday, 17 October 2010

Visit to Bath University - 4 October 2010


On 4th August, the splendid Martin Gledhill asked me to give a lecture to his Diploma Year architecture and structural engineering students at Bath University - a super gig in every way. The subject was cinema architecture, one of my pet topics, as the students' project is to design a new National Film Theatre (notionally to be located by the docks in Bristol).

I flew to Heathrow, then took a bus to Reading, where I had a half-hour to wait for my train. So, I went on a little exploration, firstly finding a rather nifty 1970s office block (above), complete with matching gatehouse, albeit augmented with nasty security railings (below left). I also found a classic NCP car park, with some dodgy extensions - exactly the sort of building one would hope to find in Reading and I was not disappointed (below right):


What a heavy price we pay for our public neglect of aesthetic matters!


Reading Victoriana (above) - the town does owe much to the old Great Western Railway's presence - and the Hexagon Theatre - an interesting building, but where else but Britain would they put the scene dock right next to the (somewhat buried) main entrance?


Whizzy pre-cast curtain walling on an adjacent car park, brutalist planters and 1970s tile work.

The ever-so-glamorous Thames Valley Suite. And so to Bath...


I stayed overnight in Bath and next morning got up bright and early to walk up the hill to the University's slightly out-of-town campus. The main ensemble was designed by Robert Matthew (RMJM) and consists of two large blocks 'bookending' two- and three-storey buildings around a series of spacious piazzas. On a sunny early-autumn day, it had a nearly-utopian quality. Alas, as with so many 1960s HE complexes, subsequent extensions, interventions and supposed 'improvements' have begun to eat away at the coherence and coolness of the original (rather beautiful) concept. Concrete has been augmented by various types of rainscreen cladding - undermining the understated elegance of the original conception.


The Architecture and Engineering building was designed by Alison and Peter Smithson and, although not particularly demonstrative, it works very well as a series of effective and 'buzzy' teaching spaces - with a typically Smithsonian 'promenade' along the main facade. Here are the students, (with Martin giving the project introduction - dig that shirt!)

Me doing my lecture (blurred - it was a darkened room) and some signs on the campus. Everything is coded with a serial number.


The exclusive Claverton Rooms, where I had luncheon (the food was very good indeed - but I'd have fitted the room with Werner Panton chandeliers and Pantonova furniture - it was crying out for it).


Some afternoon views of the campus. Below left is the kind of junction between materials only a university estates department could devise. The image below right shows how things should appear (Eventually, I managed to find an angle not showing any unsympathetic subsequent additions).


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