Lawrence House, Lower Bristol Road, Twerton, Bath
Lawrence House is a late 20th century office block, now converted to residential apartments, situated along the A36 on Bath’s city periphery, although it remains within both the Bath conservation area as well as the indicative townscape setting of the World Heritage Site. Its prominent roadside position and heavy, five storey massing makes it a visually dominant building for visitors entering Bath, although of a neutral architectural contribution to the conservation area. There is further office-style development of a similar grain immediately to the east at Minerva House, and there has been an increased build-up of the area with the development of the Carrswood View residential site and increasing industrial land usage to the west along the roadside. However, the site remains indicative of Bath’s sharp transition between its urban periphery to the south and south-west into open, agricultural countryside. Despite development, the roadside of Lower Bristol Road is characteristic of this change and has retained well-developed planting and grassy verges that serve to visually ‘break up’ and partially obscure the built environment. The site remains visually significant as part of the main gateway into Bath and the historic city core from the west, and as such has an important opportunity to incorporate locally distinctive design and material usage to sustain and enhance Bath’s peripheral built environment and the character and appearance of the conservation area.
BPT previously commented on refused application 19/02767/FUL, and encouraged the efficient use of brownfield sites to provide housing where appropriate. We therefore maintain that the principle of development on this site is acceptable, and the four storey height of the building would remain subservient in size and massing to Lawrence House.
We commend the generous size of the apartments which exceed the National Space Standard. We are pleased to see the inclusion of on-site cycle parking provision, although we query whether this could be relocated towards the rear of the site to minimise perceived ‘clutter’ along the roadside and reduce the required loss of existing green landscaping.
From the Proposed Site Plan, it appears that adequate space would be retained between the new development and Lawrence House to ensure the continued visual transparency of the site, but we recommend that existing and proposed context elevations are submitted to better illustrate the proposed development’s architectural and spatial relationship with Lawrence House as part of the wider streetscape and conservation area.
We are resistant to the use of render on prominent or principle street-facing elevations, particularly within the setting of the conservation area. Whilst we acknowledge that the existing buildings within the vicinity of the site demonstrate some variety in materials, we emphasise the site’s visual significance as a gateway into the Bath conservation area and the city core of the World Heritage Site. We therefore maintain that the use of render is not locally distinctive, nor would it be congruous with Bath’s city-wide vernacular use of Bath stone. BPT maintains a preference for the use of natural Bath stone ashlar or potentially another material that does not try to imitate Bath stone in form or colour, where this would appropriately preserve and enhance the appearance and character of the conservation area.
We similarly do not consider the proposed use of timber cladding to be locally distinctive or contribute to local townscape character. Considering the visibility and prominence of the site along a major thoroughfare through the conservation area, we are adverse to the introduction of materials alien to Bath’s established vernacular. Furthermore, we note that the type and finish of timber cladding proposed has not been specified. Typically, we are not supportive of a timber that has been treated, resulting in an over-bright and strident appearance which would sit incongruously within the semi-rural character of the streetscape and would not preserve or enhance the appearance and character of the conservation area.
We have some concerns regarding the design of the proposal, in particular the inconsistency and visual disconnect between the varying storeys as principally viewed from the south and east. There is an odd contrast between the balance of bays (articulated by window and door openings) across the west elevation, and the asymmetrical placement of the timber-clad projecting elements. A simplified form and profile, drawing on either traditional or modern contextual examples, may be more effective at communicating a legible hierarchy between storeys.
We consider that the treatment across the west elevation needs to be further refined, and highlight its significance in views for those coming into the city along the A36 from Bristol Road. It appears bland in comparison with the east elevation and needs to be considered as one of the principal elevations of the building with a design treatment to match.
We maintain that the principle of development on this site is acceptable, with an existing planning permission for development (see 18/00385/FUL). However, we continue to emphasise the need for design sensitivity in relation to the site’s significance on a gateway route into Bath city centre, and a transition between Bath’s built environment and landscape setting. We encourage consideration of a more locally distinctive use of materials, and strongly recommend that further contextual drawings and details are submitted in relation to the development’s appearance in its wider streetscape context.