Last week I attended an event celebrating 45 years since Peter Smithson published his small text on walks in and around Bath: Walks Within The Walls.
The presentation led by Vicky Smith and Soraya Smithson focused on how Bath has changed during that time, and how the approaching anniversary might be a good opportunity to revisit the walks, taking in Bath as is now.
Walking through a city, experiencing its richness, composition and generosity, at the scale of the public realm, and at a pedestrian pace, is a pinnacle of what it has to offer. Corbusier said that he did not care for catching a train to enter a city, nor for cycling in. Walking was his favoured mode of entry- to truly understand a city’s grain, nuance, and character.
By its very nature, Bath is a city built up around the pleasure of the promenade. This important concept is communicated both through the generosity of pedestrian areas (wide pavements, generous thresholds, all carefully lit in the evening), and their making: stone flagged, inviting doorways and windows, tactile ironwork. Without even having touched upon its relationship to the landscape, Bath’s promenade deserves a whole blog (or a republished book?) to itself.
What also fascinates is the promenade as catwalk. People showing off their finery, their friends, their civility, and their joie de vivre. Today, I love catching sight of the fashion students in Bath. They clothe themselves in their latest couture, full of colours, cultures and creativity, the city is their theatrical backdrop.
Returning to the evening’s discussion, what I love about the idea of revisiting and republishing The Smithsons’ Walks Within The Walls is twofold. It allows us to revisit and reflect on Bath at a time of change (Bath’s Public Realm and Movement Strategy is currently and carefully revisiting the quality of walking around the city). At the same time, it affords us the opportunity to see city and architecture as the Smithsons did. Maintaining the latter will be critical to any revisitation made to the original, but at the same time it is exciting to think about adding new layers.
45 years on, we find ourselves in a period where those close to or taught by Alison and Peter are practicing artists and architects, shaping places, buildings and cities around the world. It excites me to think that those practitioners that frequently advocate the Smithson’s impact upon them and their works might come to Bath to walk in their footsteps. Discussing the city they now see before them, in light of Peter’s previous observations, would provide a fascinating collage addition to the original text in a way in which The Smithsons would surely approve.