Last week I had the chance to attend the official opening of Bath Spa University’s brilliant new Campus in the former Herman Miller building in Locksbrook Road. It’s a great place with lots of different spaces for creative young people to develop their skills and as one seasoned teacher beamed: “This is a proper Art School !”
There’s no question the new facility will be a huge success, but I went away with a couple of different thoughts, beyond the school itself.
First, it was amazing to see how an existing building could be re-designed for a new purpose. It adds tremendous value to the City but it only came about because of the far-sightedness and persistence of the people behind the project, who had to overcome significant planning and environmental obstacles. Lesser people would probably have given up, we would not now have the new Art School and so we’d be that much the poorer.
So, can I make a plea for much greater flexibility when it comes to getting permission to re-use existing buildings which are not suitable for modern requirements but, when altered, can continue to make a significant contribution for years to come. It might mean overturning some traditional ideas, yet surely it’s a much more sustainable option than bulldozing something down and starting from scratch ?
The second thought struck me when gawping in amazement from the new upper storey with floor to ceiling glass which offers a lovely view over the river, over the Lower Bristol Road and up the hillside beyond – not a common sighting of this part of Bath. But that wasn’t the main point, no it was the number of people walking across the little footbridge which means students can easily access their accommodation and the other facilities available across the river. If that bridge didn’t exist it would have meant a long trip around to get from one side to the other. Quite frankly, I very much doubt the University would have identified the building as suitable for their needs.
So here’s a very clear example of how connectivity makes things possible. By simply linking two areas which would otherwise have been divided by the river you create a single, much more effective neighbourhood. I expect the new footbridge which will link the Bath Quays South site to the north side of the river will do something similar, drawing the City together in a much more coherent way.
Maybe that should not be the end of our bridge building, and perhaps there are other places where river crossings could make a real difference to the way our City operates.