Seagulls take flight over Bath

25 Nov 2009

UK debate concludes outsider 'seagulls' preferred to local architects

Architects increasingly migratory behaviour has been the centre of much discussion over the last few decades, creating controversy over whether outsider architects, or 'seagulls', are capable of understanding the architectural needs of a destination. One such debate took part in Bath this week with a two to one result in the 'seagulls'' favour.

Eric Parry and Sir Richard MacCormac, two of the UK's most respected architects, were the ultimate winners of the debate when a show of hands revealed two thirds of the audience backed their position of an outward-looking approach to Bath’s architectural heritage.

In the debate, sponsored by The Holburne Museum, local architects argued that the World Heritage City’s future development should be left to local talent, saying that Bath needed: ‘time, understanding and humility’, as opposed to using outside ‘seagull architects’ who could fly in leaving behind a messy architectural trail.

Aaron Evans, a local architect, used the example of Thermae Bath Spa where Grimshaw was commissioned for the project, but it worked because of the involvement of local conservation architect Peter Carey (Donald Insall Associates).

However, Parry, who was architect for projects such as the restoration of St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London and is responsible for the Holburne Museum extension, argued that architects from abroad or from outside the locality could offer a new perspective and deliver what it might be difficult for an insider to achieve. He reminded the audience that historically Bath’s most successful architects had received their training and inspiration from outside the city and summed up by saying, 'You wouldn’t want to restrict your local theatre to local actors, why would you do this for architecture? You want to get the best for Bath.’

Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Holburne Museum observed: "What has been made clear by this fascinating debate is that good architecture and sensitivity to place are of paramount importance. What is fantastic for the Holburne Museum is that Eric Parry’s modern extension is wonderful because it is entirely of its place."

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