By Harry Mottram: First things first – Bath Rugby Club and in particular its stadium or rather ground at Bath’s Recreation Ground is not just for the preserve of the club and its supporters. The landmark site and the club itself are of far wider importance – indeed many in the city feel an ownership of the site and the team that goes far beyond buying a ticket for a match. Bath is after all a World Heritage City and is viewed by a global audience along with the Rec and the rugby club. The club is supported by fans across Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, South Gloucestershire and even into Devon and Cornwall. On match day supporters stream off the Paddington train from the capital – such is the pull. So it is important to remind ourselves that any changes to the ground will be viewed with interest across Britain and indeed the rugby playing nations of Europe and yes the world. Which is why the new design must get it right and not be something that is regretted in a few short years time.
I write this as there has been considerable interest in the ideas put forward in a thoughtful article by the London based architects Apollodorus Architecture who specialise in classical and traditional design. Their director Mark Wilson Jones has put his name to ‘a different vision: a counter-project developed independently by our architectural practice, funded by nothing other than conviction.’ The main picture above is what the architects believe the proposed ground would look like from the air – a rectangle which has less appeal to their colosseum design.
After demolishing the proposals made public by Bath Rugby in May of this year as being essentially ‘not bad for an expedient budget solution, but one that will sit ill in the setting and age poorly.’ His argument is that Bath ‘deserves much better’. The critique of the current plans on the table are that it would essentially look ugly from above, fails to match the Bath skyline of Abbey, church spires, Georgian crescents and the sweep of the Avon by Pulteney Bridge and does not sit well next to the Leisure Centre and the river side.
Instead Apollodorus Architecture offer up a colosseum – an oval shaped stadium that reflects the city’s Roman past, compliments the Georgian aspect of Bath and is an addition to the architecture of the city rather than a detraction. The practice cites for example the Hilton Hotel as to how not to design a building for Bath and makes criticisms of the current leisure centre which ideally would be rebuilt to blend into the new building so there was a unified structure.
The comments online have so far been very positive – unlike some of the negative comments about Bath Rugby’s plans which have not been so explicit in detail as those from Apollodorus Architecture. There is of course a major question mark over the London practice’s ideas: the cost. Who would pay for the colosseum stadium and its adjoining Leisure Centre to be built? And with the considerable debt the club already has and the shrunk size of the rugby’s top flight league due to bankruptcies last season meaning less gate money and funds from hospitality it’s a pertinent question.
For a reality check Reading’s Madejski stadium cost around £80m to construct while Huddersfield’s John Smith’s Stadium had a £72.8m price tag and others in Hull, Cardiff and Leicester were all over £50m. Those eye watering figures are likely to have influenced the current design on offer as the plans would suggest a much lower figure to fund – one the club feels it can afford. That said, seen in a wider context there is scope to include a more ambitious creation – which could attract more partners with deeper pockets. And in a world of shared stadiums other clubs and teams could be interested in a colosseum fit for a Roman Emperor and perhaps upwards of 50,00 spectators.
Plenty of food for thought. Letters by email to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read the whole article and see more details proposed by Apollodorus Architecture visit https://www.apollodorus.uk/
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