Garfunkels, Orange Grove, City Centre
The Empire Hotel is a Grade II 1900-1901 hotel by Major CE Davis, now converted into retirement apartments with a commercial ground floor, situated within the historic core of the Bath conservation area and World Heritage Site. The building is noted as a grand and complete example of hotel development in the Free Renaissance style, and is unusual in being a distinctive and visually prominent late Victorian addition to what has otherwise been sustained as Bath’s Georgian core. Due to its 6-7 storey height and well-viewed position on the corner of Grand Parade overlooking the River Avon, it is of high visibility from a number of local mid- to long-range viewpoints and is a recognisable local landmark. As summarised in its Grade II listing, the Empire is considered “an integral part of the city centre and possesses very strong group value with the surrounding listed buildings, a number of which are also by Major Davis” including the Grade II 1-7 Orange Grove. However, it is worth highlighting that the Empire retains a ‘standalone’ quality due to its scale, unusual architectural reference within a largely Palladian setting, and origin as a much later addition to the city centre.
The ground floor conservatory on the southern elevation, previously used as the frontage for Garfunkels, is a late 20th century addition over the top of the original stone façade and is therefore of little material or historic value. However, it is considered that further additions or alterations should seek to better complement and reflect the special interest of the listed building and the visual amenities of the conservation area. Changes are well-placed to potentially address and mitigate existing harm.
The proposed reuse of the existing projecting fascia sign on the 1990s conservatory roof is considered acceptable, but we strongly recommend that further details are provided regarding the proposed material and finish of the new signage, which from the proposed visual montages would appear to be individually-applied lettering. Should this signage approach be considered acceptable, we maintain a preference for materials compatible with the appearance and integrity of a listed building, such as timber or metal of an appropriate finish.
Further details are strongly recommended regarding the treatment of the cast iron canopy over the principal entrance. It is proposed to replace the existing multi-pane glazing on the canopy returns with “clear glass with black veins”, which likely refers to the use of integral glazing bars. It is difficult to properly assess whether this approach is acceptable without more detailed reference to the existing condition and appearance of the canopy and further assessment as to how works would specifically impact on historic fabric.
Considering the ground floor unit is intended to be opened and run as a pub, within this context the use of a pub sign would be appropriate in principle. However, we continue to emphasise the need for the design of the proposed signage to appropriately reference its historic context in its scale, means of fixing, design, and finish. Hanging signs in this area should utilise a traditional-style construction, eg. hand-painted timber, and should be proportionate in scale to the host building. We have some reservations regarding the proposed scale of the sign and the requirement for a free-standing pole to support it, and wonder whether this could be more sensitively integrated into the existing frontage.
We have some concerns regarding the proposed volume of illuminated signage across the frontage, although we recognise that the Empire is a building which already visually stands out from its built context. However, we strongly encourage that a reduced amount of more sensitively integrated illumination is considered to better reflect the ‘low illumination’ character of the conservation area.