For its birthday, Bath’s famous Royal Crescent traces its classical heritage in models – as far back as Rome
In celebrating the 250 years of the Royal Crescent, Bath Preservation Trust has turned its own slices of the building over to models of its classical antecedents. It might seem predictable, but in it lies a prescription for the future of the city that Bath Spa University’s chancellor Jeremy Irons has accused of becoming an ‘unused antique’, while others protest at the chipping away of one of only two World Heritage cities in Europe.
With model maker Timothy Richards based in the city, this is the moment architectural curator Amy Frost has been waiting for. Richards’ work shares the rich warm materiality of plaster with some of the world’s most famous classical buildings. His models are presented in the two small exhibition rooms in one of the most visited tourist spots in Bath. The show traces classicism from the large-scale urban project of the Pantheon, though Palladio’s Villa Rotonda to its adoption by Britain’s upper classes following their Grand Tours. The country house style which stemmed from the cradle of democracy moved on to the town house, with the same columnar pomp but less space. Homes in nearby Queen’s Square were the first to be finished that were united by a single palatial composition.
This display of classicism’s adaption to more constrained circumstances doesn’t go beyond the cluster of miniature Royal Crescent models. This popularisation of an elite style seems naturally continued in those 1970s estates with white columns alongside the garage and front lawn. But this exhibition thinks far beyond the application of classical symbols.
From his base on one of the city’s hills, Richards looks towards Royal Crescent, the serried ranks of Georgian terraces and occasional lofty spires. But below it is the industrial strip and ‘enterprise zone’ that snakes alongside the River Avon. From here new flats, by Studio Egret West among others, are building into his view, and the consciousness of many in the city. More are to be added at South Quay, by Penoyre and Prasad, also at height.
Richards has been absorbed mastering the intricate details of classical architecture and looks up to see that scale lost in the new buildings around him. Like Frost – who as part of Bath Preservation Trust is an authoritative voice in the city – he wants something better for Bath; one that would do well to be informed by the principles of scale, composition and attention to the materiality of classicism. He believes that, like a surgeon, architects and planners should be guided by a dissection of what works. The beauty and joy of Bath’s historic buildings should be demanded for those of the future. ‘A city like this should demand the highest quality of design, craftsmanship and materials,’ says Frost.
Plans alongside the exhibition include talks to engage those beyond the tourists who are likely to be drawn to this simply captioned exhibition; like Professor Robert Tavernor on the country house as a city. If councillors, planners and developers don’t come then some of their voters and consumers surely will, and those of the future. ‘You only see things once for the first time,’ says Frost, gesturing to the beautiful model of the Pantheon at the exhibition entrance. With careful study perhaps the impression left might be enough to inform the future of this city.
From Rome to the Royal Crescent, 1 Royal Crescent, Bath until June 4
Other events to celebrate 250 years of the Royal Crescent include an exhibition of artists’ responses to the Royal Crescent and an exhibition on the Smithsons in Bath. Through this runs 'Architecture Is…', a series of talks, debates, discussions and workshops looking at urbanism, new design in historic settings and modern classicism. See museumofbatharchitecture.org.uk