Keeping up appearances
The city of Bath is famed for its elegant design, with the Royal Crescent standing at its centre as an emblem of a city built on architectural brilliance. Now, Robert Adam, one of the UK’s most successful classical architects, has come to the city with a dream: to build a simple, beautiful neighbourhood of modern classical houses. Holburne Park, a development on Warminster Road overlooking the Kennet and Avon canal, and situated on a former Ministry of Defence site, will comprise 240 properties.
When buyers are making their big purchase of a house in one of the UK’s most architecturally astute cities, they want attention to detail, says Adam, who recently won the Driehaus Prize, celebrating the best of classical architecture, an alternative to the mainly modernist focus of the Pritzker Prize. He has become synonymous with building modern takes of classical homes in various historical styles, from Arts and Crafts to Baroque and Palladian, making them zero-carbon.
Most people, “quite reasonably”, consider classical buildings to be quintessential Bath, says Adam (he happens to share a name with one of the most famous neoclassical architects of the 18th century, who built Syon House and Fitzroy Square). “They probably can’t articulate it, but they know it.”
It was this attitude to building modern houses that drew Francis Firmstone, director of Hardrock Developments, to commission Adam. “He was the obvious choice,” Firmstone says. “He designs in a classical language but with modern building materials and methods.” And what a boon for those buyers, getting an Adam house for a fraction of his usual fee. “It has suddenly become far more accessible to live in an Adamdesigned house,” agrees George Cardale, head of Savills’ residential development department, which is selling the properties. “You don’t have to have millions, you have to have a few hundred thousand.”
Properties at Holburne Park range from two-bedroom gatehouses with elegant open-plan living to classic two-storey terraces, three-bedroom corner houses and four-bedroom town houses with garages. The Beckford, a three-bedroom property in a modern mews style over two storeys with a south-easterly facing garden, is on the market for £545,000. Like all of the properties at Holburne Park, it is built using that famous Bath stone.
Protecting Bath’s architectural heritage remains a difficult subject: in January, Historic England described the council-led £50million Bath Quays South development as “incompatible” with the city’s Unesco World Heritage status. This makes Adam’s attention to classical detail at Holburne Park all the more important in the city’s huge roll-call of new developments.
New maisonettes and lateral apartments have been built behind the grand Georgian facade of Somerset Place, one of the city’s classic crescents. Twenty apartments and nine crescent houses of three and four bedrooms begin at £1.45million, with the scheme due for completion this autumn. Hope House, a development of one- to four-bedroom apartments and houses on the site of a former girls’ school in Lansdown, is set in seven acres of private parkland, with an on-site tennis court available to residents. The properties start from £1.65million.
According to Knight Frank, 25 per cent of Bath’s housing stock was built before 1900, but the lack of annual maintenance needed at these new homes is proving popular, says Cardale. He recalls a couple whose period property in Surrey was costing them £30,000 a year in upkeep. “Here, you’re buying a new property with a 10-year warranty and it still feels like it has some provenance.”
Property prices in Bath, where the average house price is £432,446, increased by 3.5 per cent in 2016, says Knight Frank. For those in the sub-£1million market, where the stamp duty burden is lower, values grew by 5.2 per cent. Holburne Park is not selling at a huge premium, says Firmstone. “We very much want to make sure that they’re affordable for a range of people.”
For Adam, it is a project about creating a neighbourhood for a new group of people, rather than just a row of houses. He laments past experiences in which “people can’t understand that what they are building is a place. They just think it’s a collection of house types, and that’s how they sell them. The truth is that buyers buy places before they buy houses.”
The buyers who, in the case of those interested in Holburne Park, have been camped out overnight to get first pick of the stock are increasingly discerning.
“They buy into the fact that it’s Bath, and it feels like Bath,” says Adam. “It doesn’t feel like somebody’s interpretation of what modern Bath should be.”
The appeal of classical architecture lives on – and now it comes with a modern twist, writes Eleanor Doughty