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Best Car Park Renovation: Podium Parking, Bath

British Parking Awards 2023

01 October 2023
Sean Allsop (Makers), Polly Church and Harry Smith (Potter Church & Holmes Architects), Sian McGoun (Cushman & Wakefield), Willy McCrimmon and Joe Marler (Makers), Mark Steel, Richard Bowyer and Tony Mills (Triflex), Simon Lamb and Darren Wootton (Makers), and David Peach (jury)
Bath Podium`s new Core 2 stairway entrance
Bath Podium`s new Core 2 stairway entrance


The Bath Podium car park and adjoining Hilton Hotel had been chalked up for demolition, but when Strathclyde Pension Fund bought the buildings it had other ideas.

The pension fund has an ambitious sustainability framework and knocking down a concrete building would be a catastrophe from an environmental perspective, but it believed saving the existing structure would be less carbon expensive than demolition and replacement.

DTZinvestors, working on behalf of Strathclyde Pension Fund, worked with lead architect Potter Church & Holmes (PCH-a) and a team of experts, devised a way to save the building.

The Podium car park is located in the centre of town on an incredibly tight plot on the banks of the River Avon. It was thus not a straightforward project. The car park is a 525-space facility serving not only a Waitrose store, the Library and the Hilton Hotel, but also all the visitors to Bath’s historic city centre as well as to the Christmas market and rugby stadium. It was built back in 1972 using the available technology. Fifty years on and the concrete slabs are, for the most part, as they were originally constructed, but had suffered considerable damage from the ravages of weather and increased demand traffic. The building was starting to fail and did not meet modern building regulations.

Stripe Consulting carried out an extensive structural survey. Its findings demonstrated to the client that with intelligent design and careful planning, the car park operator Cushman Wakefield could implement a 50-year Life Care Plan, that would save the car park from demolition and continue to support the Hilton Hotel above. After a series of tests and samples, materials supplier Triflex and refurbishment contractor Makers designed a membrane system which increased and promoted base adhesion and stabilised what was a poor concrete matrix.

Bath is the UK’s second most visited city after London. Redesigning a 1970s Brutalist multi-storey car park in a UNESCO World Heritage location was a challenge. The team had to choose the materials that complied with the Bath Pattern Book, a document which sets out what materials can be used when building in specific contexts in the city.

A key challenge was securing the car park. The entire car park could be accessed from the basement as well as street level without the need for a ticket, which meant that it was a popular place for rough sleepers to seek shelter. Visitors arriving in Bath would often be met with vagrants and homeless people in the car park and at night the building felt very unsafe and exposed. As a result, there needed to be a 24-hour security patrol of the building.

The car park was also open on all elevations and at every level, with no safety features in place to protect people from falling. After careful consideration, the architects chose Webnet, a slimline metal mesh that would provide the necessary protection, while not making the car park feel enclosed. Because Webnet is invisible when viewed from the outside, it had no impact on the wider context and views, which is why Webnet has been used on a number of other UNESCO protected sites around the UK.

The building also needed to be secured at pavement level. As the existing stair cores accessed all levels, PCH-a designed two new secure ones – Core 2 and Core 3 – to ensure that only those with parking tickets could gain access. The revised stair cores needed to be low maintenance, comply with strict fire safety regulations and meet the client’s high sustainability criteria, while also fitting with the Bath Pattern Book’s requirements. For the stair cores, the architects came up with two very individual designs. Core 2 was set back from the street and sits in a courtyard, so the Bath Pattern book stipulated that only Iroko wood can be used. While Core 2 was in a courtyard, Core 3 had very tight site constraints as it opened directly onto Walcott Street and the enclosure and doors could not encroach onto the narrow pavement. As Core 3 is streetside the Bath Pattern book allowed the use of black metal combined with a glass roof.

Once people were inside, the car park’s old wayfinding was confusing and inaccurate, with different levels indicated in the lifts to what was described. Therefore, a new wayfinding strategy that was clear and legible was needed, especially important for international tourists or those visiting Bath and the car park for the first time. PCH-a’s solution was a striking, supersized, clean font and a bold colour coding system on the walls and decks. Each floor level is coded in a different colour, with pink for Level B1, green for Level B2 and orange for Level B3. This not only gives the car park a modern and brighter, more welcoming look and feel, it is much easier to navigate around.

The ramps to the car park were difficult to drive down and cars were getting scratched. The driving aisles were no more than 5.2-metres between the parking bays, well below the 6-metre standard, which meant some vehicles had to occupy more than one space at a time. Thermoplastic placed directly on the concrete deck surface to create the parking bays were wearing out. To solve these problems, the design team replaced the edge protection and located it on top of the upstand to minimise any obstruction into the driving aisles. The architects also changed the vehicle circulation, avoiding the low headroom areas. The newly installed protective membrane gave us the opportunity to create deck parking bays using a contemporary design to form parking pads making it much easier to see the bays and park correctly.

The car park had no EV charging points and no source of on-site renewable energy. As being ready for more sustainable future, was key to Strathclyde Pension Fund’s environmental agenda, the car park now has 10 EV chargepoints, the only ones in the centre of Bath. Due to the power and set-up of the substation, Bath Podium has the capacity to run a further 100 EV chargepoints as demand increases. Moving the car park from a short-stay (max 4 hours) to long-stay (24 hours) has also meant that hotel visitors can recharge their cars overnight, encouraging people to use their electric cars. Some 208 solar panels have been installed on the adjacent Waitrose store’s roof, which is within the demise of the car park developer. This solar installation provides electricity for the car park, offsetting the lighting, carbon monoxide fans, payment machines and Waitrose’s lighting. In the future energy storage batteries can be added, giving the option to power the car park lighting when solar PV sourced energy is not available.

These additions have substantially improved the car parks longevity as it can now easily meet the growing demand for EV chargepoints and makes it a much more sustainable building – something that will only become more important as the years go on.

Polly Church, director at PCH-a and architect on the project, says: “Bath Podium was always going to be a challenging project. To begin with, saving an unsightly 1960s concrete car park from demolition wasn’t a popular decision. Add to that the tricky city centre location, the fact it’s in Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and that we had to work through a global pandemic, it’s safe to say there was plenty of scope for things to go wrong. The fact that the British Parking Awards have recognised the success of the Bath Podium project with this award is testament to the hard work and dedication of the amazing team of people and businesses who all pulled together to create such a stand out project.”

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