London-based Apollodorus Architecture has put forward a ‘counter project’ to the Stadium for Bath venture being driven by English Premiership club Bath Rugby, which repositions the Recreation Ground site as a Colosseum-like structure.
Apollodorus, which specialises in classical and traditional design, has said its proposal represents a different reality to the “open wound” of the current site of “unfortunate structures” on the bank of the River Avon and the open space of the Recreation Ground.
The company’s proposal is designed to reflect the city of Bath’s status as a World Heritage Site and is in response to the latest scheme put forward by the club. In May, Bath Rugby unveiled revised plans for a major redevelopment of the Recreation Ground.
Bath said the latest designs reflected the changing needs of the club, the city and the community. The project proposes a year-round venue that will sit alongside a redeveloped, more open and well maintained riverside.
The Stadium for Bath project proposes a new 18,000-capacity stadium to be built on the site of the Recreation Ground. The club is preparing to submit a planning application to Bath and North East Somerset Council ahead of construction work potentially starting in the second quarter of 2024.
Kay Elliott has been appointed as the architect for the project, but Apollodorus has outlined what it states is a “fresh approach to the conundrum” that the site poses in a different direction to the various proposals advanced over the last couple of decades.
Apollodorus claims recent plans for the stadium risk making the current situation worse in some respects. One reason is said to be that the stadium is being treated on its own, and not in unison with the Bath Sports and Leisure Centre.
Apollodorus admits its counter project is designed to be “a provocation” and, being unfunded, the scheme remains at a conceptual, indicative stage. It has aimed to achieve a capacity of around 18,000 spectators, which is roughly in line with the previous schemes.
In terms of architectural form, the company’s starting point for the stadium is the oval shape of ancient amphitheatres, reflecting Bath’s prominence in Roman Britain. Apollodorus claims that an oval contrives to reduce the overall bulk of a stadium by comparison with a rectangle of the same spectator capacity.
It states: “Rather than harsh straight edges confronting the waterfront on one side and the Rec on the other, the curving structure can merge more organically with its immediate context, as do Bath’s crescents, while softening the impact on critical views to and from the enclosing hills.”
To the north, as an anchor to the adjacent urban fabric, the long axis of the amphitheatre aligns with Laura Place and Johnstone Street. The scheme ‘plugs’ into the end of the latter, offering a street-level connection to the upper level of the stadium along with a view into the body of the facility, and beyond.
To the south a new leisure centre is envisioned in a contextual manner, enhancing pedestrian connections and making the most of the riverside setting. The complex is broken up into two main blocks, with a viewing to helping preserve the smaller urban grain of the traditional city with its pitched roofs and parapets.
Mediating between the stadium and leisure complexes, the curving street would be lined on both sides with shops, small cafés and reception spaces. On match days these would cater to rugby spectators. On the west side, a new terraced river front is envisioned to host a wide array of bars and restaurants.
Mark Wilson Jones, director of Apollodorus Architecture, told the Bath Echo: “The existing temporary stadium and adjacent areas have shortcomings that are obvious to anyone who knows Bath.
“Connections to the rest of the city are poor; the arbitrary and impenetrable junction between the stadium and the 1970s leisure centre thwarts access from the river to the open green of the ‘Rec’ (Recreation Ground) on the other side.
“Unsatisfactory as this situation is, Bath Rugby’s proposals threaten to make these problems worse. They would become permanent rather than temporary. Developing the stadium on its own, and not together with the leisure centre, would torpedo any possibility of a happier long-term future for the area.”
He added: “We are not anti-rugby, nor anti-development. Indeed, we are supportive of both – provided proposals do justice to the site, and its setting in a World Heritage city that is loved by many more than just its lucky inhabitants. Our Counter Project aims to secure lasting value, both for Bath Rugby and for Bath as a whole.”