A proposal to fill Bath with the sound and sight of water, through a network of water features across the city.
Healing waters were discovered on the site that became known as Aquae Sulis (‘The Waters of Sulis’). This place evolved into the city we now know as Bath, an evocative name that is famous around the world. Water is the city’s whole reason for being. You would therefore expect this association with water to be visible throughout the city. But surprisingly, it isn’t.
Imagine instead, if public spaces around the city celebrated this unique connection. Last year an idea titled ‘Waters of Bath’ proposed exactly this and was voted winner of a city-wide public competition called Imagine Bath*. The downloadable report on this website explores in more detail what the proposal is, why it could be great for the city and how it could be put into action.
* Organised by the RIBA in 2015
From its origins as a place of healing to the relatively recently opened natural Thermae Spa, the city has been trading on its waters for probably 3000 years. The idea of celebrating the importance of water in Bath is not new. During the 19th and 20th Centuries there were numerous schemes to introduce water features in the city. In 1850 there was even a sixty-member ‘General Committee for Promoting the Erection of Public Fountains in the City’. Today, as Bath competes with other cities to attract visitors and investment, it could be making much more if its history and unique selling point.
The Waters of Bath idea is for a network of water features around the city to celebrate the city’s historical connection to water. An international competition would be held to design the first ones and then these would be added to each year, the idea becoming better and stronger with every new feature installed. The competition would attract the best designs and designers, and would create world media interest. A map could be created by the Tourist Board so that visitors could actively seek the water features out, like the popular Bladud pigs sculpture trail a few years ago.
Introducing water features to Bath would be good for local businesses – economically, in terms of attracting more visitors by making it an even more attractive and enjoyable place to visit. And it would also good for the people who live, work and spend time in the city – as it has been shown that even small interventions of water in our urban environment can make a significant impact on our health and quality of life.
The proposal would sit very well with Bath and North East Somerset polices, which point out that there are remarkably few reminders of the presence of the water which makes the city famous. Among numerous references to water in B&NES documents, it states that the concepts of Water and Wellbeing are the foundation of the city’s attractions and says that water should be restored to become once again an integral part of the street scene in Bath.
The water features could, and should, take many different forms - some calming and soothing while others could be invigorating and exciting. These would vary according to their location. Larger, bolder and noisier ones located in busy areas could be complimented by smaller and quieter ones in intimate spaces. It would create an aquatic soundtrack to the streets… from gushing, fizzing, splashing and thundering to gurgling, tinkling, lapping, rippling…
The choice of locations of the water features needs careful consideration and should be subject of a more detailed review. Some investigation has already been undertaken on this subject in the Bath Pattern Book, identifying locations of existing fountains, locations of former hot springs and historic locations with opportunities for new interpretation. An indicative map of 30 sites has been proposed in the full report.
Although the Waters of Bath is eminently deliverable there are technical challenges that would need the support of the Council and local groups as well as the expertise of water feature design professionals to resolve. There would need to be public consultation to establish support for the idea and feedback on the proposed locations and designs. Options for funding would need to be considered. These could include business sponsorship or via Section106 financial contributions as part of new development projects in the city or via crowdfunding.
In summary – everyone! It would be important to get input from everyone who lives and works in Bath on what they think the water features should be like and where they should go. As well as the Council, other organisations that could be actively involved include those that are interested in the appearance and design of the city; organisations responsible for attracting visitors; local organisations which are associated with water in one way or other; and groups promoting arts, culture and investment in Bath.
Waters of Bath has been put together by Rob Delius who produced the Waters of Bath Imagine Bath competition-entry. As a Bath resident, architect and the Head of Sustainability for local practice Stride Treglown, he is keen for Bath to meet its full potential.