Between 1966 and 1990, influential post-war architects Alison and Peter Smithson (A+PS) spent many days exploring Bath and visiting the University. From 1978 onwards A+PS realised five built environments here on campus and Peter Smithson taught architecture students within the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering.
Although the Smithsons’ Brutalist style is quite unlike the Palladian architecture of Bath, they took enormous inspiration from the built heritage of Bath, sharing design aspirations for cohesion, organisation and enjoyment in habitation. A+PS admired the original University of Bath 1960s design by RMJM Architects. They saw their additions as ‘mat building’, stating that the campus was like a fabric laying on the sloping landscape of the hillside. The Smithson’s wanted to understand and complement that existing fabric and ‘weave onto its edges several terminating fringes’.
To encourage creativity at the science-based university, the Smithsons imagined an arts complex of 14 component buildings. Converting an earlier building into the Arts Barn (now removed), they added a theatre, hoping to work with the university to realise an arts complex. But it was not until 2014 that the Smithsons’ Arts Theatre was integrated into The Edge by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, whose founding partners were taught by Peter Smithson here at the university.
Download a map of the campus walk
In 2017 we celebrated the legacy of Alison and Peter Smithson with an architecture focused season incorporating exhibitions, workshops and symposium.
28 July – 9 Sept 2017
Specially selected from the Smithson Family Collection, photographs by the duo were displayed during the summer of 2017 and demonstrated how the historic city inspired their modern designs on campus. During the 1960s-70s Bath was a city experiencing immense change through the large-scale demolition of its historic architecture. Entire streets of 18th and early 19th-century architecture were destroyed during a period that became known as the ‘Sack of Bath’. In the middle of this systematic demolition, Peter Smithson undertook a series of walks around Bath in 1966 exploring the city and capturing its qualities through photographs.
Parallel (of Life and) Architecture
Fri 22 Sep – Sat 4 Nov
This exhibition invited three ‘duos’ of architects, artists and designers to respond to the legacy of Alison and Peter Smithson (A+PS), their relationship with the avant-garde and architecture as a ‘direct result of a way of life.’ Echoing the methods and collaborative processes of A+PS during their breakthrough phase as architects in 1950s Britain, the resulting commissions offered insight into their research and creative practice. Assemble and Simon Terrill, Warren & Mosley, The Decorators and GOIG each took key developments in the Smithsons’ oeuvre as creative departure points including calculations for collective planning (Hierarchy of Association 1954); temporary structures (Patio and Pavilion 1956); and historiographical approaches (Transformations of the city, Milan Triennale 1968).
Seen collectively the exhibition highlighted the Smithsons’ impact and lasting relevance as radical thinkers. Though concerned with how we lived then, their ideas continue to influence how we live now and undoubtedly will in the future. The exhibition’s title is taken from the ground-breaking exhibition Parallel of Life and Art, staged in 1953 at the ICA, London by the Smithsons, artist-photographer Nigel Henderson and sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi.
ALISON AND PETER SMITHSON: IDEAS, IMPACT, ARCHITECTURE
Sat 4 Nov 2017
Featuring leading international architects, artists and thinkers this symposium investigated the legacy and impact of British architectural pioneers Alison and Peter Smithson across urbanism, habitation and education. Speakers included Simon Smithson and Peter Salter (2017 RIBA award winner and project architect for A+PS), Assemble, Christine Boyer, David Turnbull, Keith Bradley, Juliet Bidgood, Dr Amy Frost (Bath Preservation Trust) and more. The event was designed to appeal to audiences with a specialist or broad interest.
Associated off-site exhibition
Past Present, Future: Bath and the Smithsons
The Museum of Bath Architecture
24 July – 26 November 2017
This original and fascinating exhibition brought together models of University of Bath and further showcases of how Bath inspired the new in the work of Alison and Peter Smithson. museumofbatharchitecture.org.uk
‘Bath’s thinning blood is being leeched away by a creeping timidity, but her bones are still a marvel’
Alison Smithson (1928–1993)
Peter Smithson (1923–2003)
Peter Smithson was born in Stockton-OnTees. He studied architecture at Durham University but with the advent of WW2, joined the army as an engineer. He met Alison Gill when he returned to University after the war when they both completed their architecture degrees. After initially working for London County Council on various post-war building projects, they established their own architectural practice in 1950.
Concepts, collaborations and exhibitions
The Smithsons’ vast creative outputs which ranged across architecture, art and literature took place against a backdrop of cultural innovation and experimentation in post-war Britain. This activity often references The Independent Group who met at the ICA from 1952–55, which comprised of a radical group of young artists, writers and critics. The group worked across art, science and popular culture in new inter-disciplinary collaborative ways, challenging the perceived dominant modernist culture of the time. The IG shaped and disseminated the primary ideas of British pop art and late movements in the 1950s and 60s. Alison and Peter Smithson came to be involved in the Independent Group through their collaboration with Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi, with whom they proposed the exhibition Parallel of Life & Art to the ICA in 1952. Curated by Reyner Banham, the show made reference to a diverse range of diverse and disparate subjects, from mass-produced images, architecture, design and the avant-garde art.