“The Soul of the City: Heritage Architecture, Vandalism and the New Bath Spa."
Strange Spaces: Geographical Explorations into Mediated Obscurity, eds. André Jansson and Amanda Lagerkvist. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2009. 205-226.
This essay explores the strangeness of a boldly modernist building arriving in the heart of a city renowned for its historic architectural image. In October 2004 and again in January 2005, vandals attacked the Thermae Bath Spa (Grimshaw and Associates, 2006), a state-of-the-art facility under construction in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bath, England. Smashing the image of the city as reflected in the Spa’s glass curtain wall, the attacks made visible the strange incursion of the Spa into the purportedly public space of the city. Using this violence as a point of rhetorical departure concerning the fraught urban context of Bath, this essay examines the ways in which architecture can bring hegemonic struggles to the surface of the urban realm, creating a strange space of convergences between past and present, civic ambition and local resistance, architecture as icon and architecture as communication. The essay charts a course between the way that the new Bath Spa operates in promotional and journalistic discourse as an icon, and the way that its design is, in fact strangely discreet. Mobilizing a stealth modernism, the Spa appears to refuse the appellation, ‘icon’, operating smoothly as communicative mirror of its social and cultural context. Smoothly but for critical moment(s) of rupture – the violence enacted upon and the discord surrounding the Spa – in which the estranged relations between newness, heritage, power and cityscape in this particular location come sharply into focus.