27 May 2014

Bath sketch


Bath Abbey is probably the most important historic building in the famous World Heritage City, and it's about to experience some of the most exciting times of its entire history!

The present Abbey, dating from 1499, is undoubtedly one of the finest perpendicular medieval Gothic buildings in the world. Sitting directly atop a Norman Cathedral it has also been the spiritual centre of the city since time immemorial (indeed it’s thought the remains of a Roman ‘tholos’ tomb sits directly beneath the Abbey’s font!).  The Abbey is also crammed full of craftsmanship – indeed it’s second only to Westminster Cathedral in having more carved memorials than any other church in England!

The Abbey’s £19m Footprint Project, which has been developed by our creative re-use studio at FCBStudios, will provide new and much-needed facilities for the Abbey and its 400,000 annual visitors. Many of the new spaces will be developed by creating new spaces underground including a new Song School, interpretation spaces, meeting rooms and a refectory. These works will include excavation down to Roman levels of archaeology and so reveal and interpret new layers of history in the city as part of the scheme.

But it’s perhaps inside the church that the most important and remarkable changes of all are planned as part of the Footprint project…

Within the church a huge repair project is underway for the historic floor which contains the bodies of an estimated 6,000 burials. Few people know that the floor surface of Bath Abbey is completely paved with beautiful carved memorial stones which have been hidden from view by the pews since they were installed in the 1860s. However as part of the repair process this magnificent carpet of life stories is being revealed for the first time in over 150 years. The repair project will uncover a treasure trove of life stories of those laid to rest in the Abbey, including many of those who lived during the heyday of the Georgian city.

But if that’s not exciting enough, perhaps the most remarkable proposal comes as part of a future environmental solution. The project will see the Abbey heated by a revolutionary new under floor heating system that will draw its primary heat from the UK’s only naturally occurring thermal hot water – in the 2,000 year old drain of the Roman Baths next door!

The Roman hot spring water currently runs into the River Avon at around 37 degrees Celsius, with enough water to fill a bath every 8 seconds! The Footprint project will reclaim this heat in a new vaults space as part of a new visitor experience, and as part of the new solution will save the Abbey thousands of pounds on its annual fuel bills and carbon emissions for the future.

Of course this design solution isn’t rocket science – and the Romans probably would have sorted it out 1,500 years ago had they still been around – but it’s a unique and particularly fitting way to make a public statement about sustainable development for the largest medieval building at the centre of a World Heritage City!

Geoff Rich