Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bath, Somerset

Other worlds

People sometimes ask me why I do not do more posts about interiors. There are various reasons. First of all: what most interests me about buildings is the face they present to the world – not just how they look from the outside, but also how they relate to their surroundings and how they enhance (or not) our experience of townscape, villagescape, landscape, or whatever other kind of scape we find ourselves in. I also find it easier to take photographs of exteriors, and what I most like to do is show you one photograph that combines with a small piece of text that tries to sum up what I feel about the building. Although I sometimes can’t resist a church interior, interiors on the whole are another country (if not another world) and I’d have to do things differently there.

But now and then there’s nothing like an exception to prove, as they say, the rule. A few weeks ago the Resident Wise Woman and I went to a concert in the Forum, Bath. I knew, from reading, that this was a former cinema and that it had some kind of art deco interior. But this information, plus the rather classical stone-clad exterior (this is Bath, after all) could not prepare me for the delights inside: a virtually complete art deco interior of 1933–4, with chromium-plated handrails, doors of fine woods (walnut, ebonized timber), all kinds of plasterwork embellishments, a classical frieze of naked warriors, and lighting (both concealed and visible fittings) to die for.
If ever there was a place, I’d thought, that sums up the glamour of the interwar cinema, it must be somewhere like the Muswell Hill Odeon (all streamlining and swirls). But for my money, the Forum knocks such places into a cocked hat. Only the mad Gothic interior of the Granada, Tooting (by the once-celebrated theatrical designer Theodore Komisarjevsky, whose very name takes one to other worlds) can compete. The architects of the Forum were a Bristol practice, W H Watkins and E Morgan Willmott, who were enthusiasts for American design – not just decoration influenced by the New World but also planning, including the generous splay of the fan-shaped, 2,000-seater auditorium. You can’t sum this sort of thing up in one picture, taken quickly before the house started to fill before the performance, so here is one image that catches, albeit inadequately, the plasterwork, the frieze, the rather Egyptian surround of the proscenium arch, and the use of colour; plus two details of a light fitting and a bit of incised plasterwork. I enjoyed the concert, but if it had not been so good I’d have had a good time anyway looking at my surroundings. Another world indeed.


Evelyn said...

I love that splash of color along the top corner to go with the rather cool overall effect. If the lighting was any different it would spoil it altogether. Kudos to the architects. Installing an art deco interior in an otherwise classical building is genius. Your link for church towers was very enlightening.

The Castle Lady

Stephen Barker said...

Do you know if this open to visit outside of performances, It looks magnificent I'm sure if it was in London it would be better known.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: As far as I know it's not open normally. I'm sure it's worth enquiringly though.

Stephen Barker said...

Thank you for your reply

Anonymous said...

It was open a few years ago as part of the Heritage Open Day events but I'm not sure if it usually participates.