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Bath Abbey Footprint Project, Bath

Words:
Regional Awards Jury

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios takes a 2024 RIBA South West & Wessex Conservation Award for its complex, 12 year programme of works, including the repair and remodelling of the abbey interior and creation of new learning and music spaces beneath pedestrian pavements

Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: Hufton + Crow

2024 RIBA South West & Wessex Award
2024 RIBA South West & Wessex Conservation Award

Bath Abbey Footprint Project, Bath
Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios for Bath Abbey
Contract value: £10,050,000
GIA: 3294m2
Cost per m2: £3,051

Setting out to improve the experience for worshippers, visitors and performers, the brief for Bath Abbey’s Footprint Project was incredibly ambitious. As well as repairing and remodelling the interior of the Abbey, it involved creating new learning and music spaces beneath the pedestrian pavements of Kingston Parade. Led by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, a multidisciplinary team has spent 12 years painstakingly surveying, planning, and implementing a highly complex programme of work. Particular challenges included taking up the Abbey floor, serious surgery to a Georgian terrace opposite, and excavation of a whole street in between.

  • Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
    Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
    Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: James Newton
  • Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
    Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
    Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: Hufton + Crow
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Perhaps the project’s most radical aspect is the new underfloor heating system, supplied with geothermal heat from beneath the city, and contributing to the Church of England’s target to achieve net-zero by 2030.

It is an epic undertaking, yet you would not know it had happened from the outside. When you enter the Abbey though, the space feels completely different. This impression is most obviously due to the removal of the dark, fixed pews installed in the 1860s, which allows the space to be used more flexibly and makes it more accessible. Removal of the pews revealed 891 carved memorial ‘ledger’ stones commemorating some of the people interred there between 1625 and 1845 when burials under the Abbey ceased. It also revealed how much the floor had subsided due to decomposition of at least 7,000 graves beneath the church. The floor was excavated to a depth of one metre, ground which had been churned up in Victorian times. A new concrete floor was laid, with underfloor heating and then the memorial stones were relaid on top. Remarkably, the floor was repaired in three phases so the Abbey could remain open throughout. The workmanship is immaculate, with no apparent compromises on the basis of time or cost, and this quality is apparent through the whole of the project.

  • Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
    Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
    Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: Hufton + Crow
  • Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
    Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: James Newton
  • Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
    Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: Anna Barclay courtesy of The Abbey
  • Bath Abbey Footprint Project.
    Bath Abbey Footprint Project. Credit: Anna Barclay courtesy of The Abbey
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A 2,000 year old Roman drain runs past the Abbey, taking geothermally heated water from the spring under the Baths to the river. Heat exchangers have been installed in the drain that can provide water at 20–25°C to a heat pump which in turn raises the temperature to 50–55°C, delivering up to 200 kW of energy to heat the buildings.

The Abbey shop occupies a 1920s addition adjacent to the nave. The architects have inserted a new stair that leads down from here into an interpretation centre in the vaults, telling the history of the site. Beyond that is an education space, archive and a double-height rehearsal space for the choir that pushes up into the buildings of Kingston Parade. The detailing in these areas is distinctly new, harmonising very well with the exposed historic fabric. Particularly fine is the way elegant Y-shaped concrete structural frames have been inserted to make new openings in the vaults, finished in a tone and texture that express their symbiotic relationship with the stone arches.

Even though the work was all inward-facing, the changes have transformed how the Abbey relates to the city. The scale, complexity, and vision of this project are exemplary.

Read the RIBA Journal feature on Bath Abbey’s Footprint Project.

See the rest of the RIBA South West & Wessex winners hereAnd all the RIBA Regional Awards here.

To see the whole RIBA Awards process visit architecture.com.

RIBA Regional Awards 2024 sponsored by EH Smith and Autodesk

Credits

Contractor Emery Contractors

Structural engineer Mann Williams (structures)

Environmental/M&E engineer Buro Happold

Quantity surveyor/cost consultant Synergy

Landscape architect LT Studio

Lighting design Michael Grubb Studio

Project management Synergy

Services engineer Buro Happold

Archaeological consultant Cambrian Archaeology

Conservation contractor SSH Conservation

 

Credit: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Credit: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Credit: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Credit: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

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