The Wednesday Whinge

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Bath Gate Place Retirement Flats

Remember the TH White garage opposite St. James’ Place? Weren’t you glad when the second hand car lot was vacated? At last, we all thought, something nice will be put up, and when it was announced it was to be retirement flats, it seemed perfect. Now however, having seen the edifice itself, one might be forgiven for thinking there may be a curse on that prime spot in Cirencester’s historical centre, that it is somehow in every architect’s blind spot. It is a stone’s throw from the pastoral beauty of Cirencester Park, yet sentenced to architectural inadequacy. The quasi Neo fascist architectural style is such that one half expects to find political insignia carved into some of the stonework.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the retirement flats.  In fact, I think there is something of a laid back, relaxed feeling about them, a contemplative aura that lends them an air of serenity. I have seen some great examples too: glass-fronted with wooden deck extensions, surrounded by well-tended gardens with flower borders and neatly-clipped hedges. I have to admit I looked at them with longing, poetic images of hazy, sunny days spent strolling across parks dancing in my head.

Yet, the recently unveiled edifice does not whet your appetite for early retirement. The artist’s impression that was on display there did a fine job of painting a serene picture of a modern, yes, but tasteful building that could conceivably have fitted in with its surroundings. The reality, alas, is different: a case of so near, but yet so far. The first time I caught sight of it as I drove past it on the one-way system, I was genuinely surprised to see a building so at odds with its environment and also with what seemed to have been promised. It appears washed out and soulless, and rather than retiring, makes one wish I were working in the building across the road.

A more congruous building could have been achieved by mimicking the local stone, colours and style, without impacting the cost much, surely. Instead, the pallid, grey, smooth surfaces don’t speak of rural setting or Roman heritage – despite the fact that the name – ‘Bath Gate Place’ – is an attempt to pay homage to Cirencester’s Roman ancestry. You may be thinking “but what about the office block opposite? Isn’t that just as bad? Well, no. The SJP building opposite Bath Gate Place retirement flats may be modern in style but it is at least a fine example of its type; the glass frontage reflects its surroundings, the stone is a much softer hue, and the landscaping softens its sharp contours so that despite there being two of them, they maintain a discretion that somehow works.

The retirement flats in the Abbey Grounds have a much more pleasing effect, as they blend in with their low profile and traditional materials, without jarring with their surroundings.

The one potential saving grace is that the landscaping is yet to be finished – maybe that will make the difference. We shall see. Let us hope this is not the start of a new trend of misguided additions to the town. While we may not like the edifice, we do still wish all who reside there nothing but the very best, and if new to the town we add a sincerely hearty welcome.

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