PREFAB-Lab Bath – and some ranting about contemporary architecture

It’s been a fantastic experience working in the PREFAB-Lab down in the depths of Milsom Place (dark, cold, no natural light- a perfect secret laboratory!)

Today was particularly successful; we managed to trap one family in the lab for an hour as they took to lab coats and disposable gloves to really enter into the experience of experiment in numerous artistic forms of expression. (we also trapped some others….) And the aunt got into the whole taking pills to improve the experience. (aka smarties!)

And quite a few decided to write some post-industrial poetry as well. And tell me their stories of their first jobs. I love it when I ask a few questions and out (eventually) pours a life story or at least some fantastic anecdotes.

Tomorrow is shake up day when the work from both the first tranche and ours is put together into the exhibition. The exhibition is open from Monday to Saturday 11.30am-6pm next week, so please do come and see it.


I took the opportunity today to have a quick lunch break looking at a couple of the other exhibitions- FAB 2 and Walcot Chapel, both in Walcot Street, locally known as the “artisan quarter”! Anywhere else much of this art would not be described as fringe, or vaguely alternative- just much of it good contemporary work. Sound and light as well as the usual visual, installations as well as more conventional wall pieces, and in particular, Walcot Chapel is the most incredible, atmospheric setting. One of my colleagues at PREFAB-Lab and I are quite keen on the idea of creating an installation/event there some time…..

FAB2 is situated in an old, run down townhouse, which I coveted…. but I will be honest, I’m not quite as in love with Bath as I used to be. I used to think that I would live there if I was a singleton, but although I love the architecture, the stone, the cobbles, it’s all a bit too pretty, a bit too Jane Austen. But then we are conned by her image- apparently  we don’t really know what she looked like as her sister, Cassandra’s, painting of her, her family complained, made her look awful, so we have no way of knowing… and the pictures of her on our bank notes are based on an engraving made after her death. And Bath is a bit like that. A little too glossed over now, so we are unsure of what it really was like/could be like. It’s all a bit too preserved in aspic for my liking. The architectural thought police seem to insist on life continuing in the 21st century as if we all lived 200 years ago. Colleagues at the residency, who didn’t know the area, were amazed the area round the station is all brand new.  It is shocking. Why are we building pseudo-neo-classical buildings in the 21st century? Have we no imagination, creativity…?

However I did find some good graffiti, some derelict buildings, old garages and workshops ripe for repair, and the Tramstop (now a bar and restaurant with apartments attached) and some other industrial buildings have been well converted. I even saw a rather more interesting extension oriel window, Vittoria, in the Basque Country, style, hanging over the road. I’d like to see a lot more of that kind of imaginative architecture happening here.

Having spent some time recently in Scotland, where the planners seem to be far more confident about mixing old and new, and my visits to Birmingham and a couple of quick stop offs in Manchester, it seems to me that the city in the UK is a much more confident, looking forward place architecturally than the smaller towns (and cities- I guess Bath is officially a city?)  It’s also interesting that the buildings I’m currently most fond of- Manchester’s HOME, contemporary arts centre and Birmingham’s central library, are both designed by Netherlands based Mechanoo. Where are the progressive architecture/design practices in the UK?

London has always been confident about doing its own thing architecturally, despite the Prince of Wales’ whingeing, although there is a point at which post-modern nonsense can become a little dulled and jaded. I will be the first to rhapsodise about old buildings, anything from old Yorkshire Dales barns and the whitewashed cottages facing south in Dentdale, Victorian gothic, (I had a thing for St Pancras station when I was a teenager, when most people wanted to knock it down) Victorian and Edwardian industrial factories and mills, modernist blocks of flats, Brutalist public spaces, suntrap 20s houses (my grandparents’ house was one- oh how I loved the white curves and niches and those Crittal windows…) etc but I want to see style for 2020, well at least 2016!




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