• Ivan Jordan RIBA

Skating in Bristol - Neglected Architecture

Updated: Jun 7, 2018

What a fab time we had today at Bristol Skating Rink. It was beautiful. People of all ages, genders and classes on the ice. Some cruising sedately, others weaving flamboyantly through the crowd with studied nonchalance. Some falling over, painfully. Everyone happy, it seemed. There was even a disco at 3.30pm, with fantastic low-rent coloured lights flashing.

As a child I went to Lewisham ice rink several times, and I remember Bayswater, bedecked with bunting. I remember the joy of racing across the ice, usually a bit too fast,  the occasional slip enough to make the heart race. This was a birthday event for one of my kids, and we were all very excited about going to the biggest rink in the south west. We had a great time.

So what's not to love? Well, it was rank. It was dark. Surfaces were coated in mildew.

Condensation dripped from the ceiling back on to the ice. Yet the staff could not have been friendlier and everyone there, including the hen party in pyjamas, was having a great time, despite the vile condition of the place.

It was disconcerting to see this notice when we arrived. How many establishments offer an apology for their condition the moment one steps through the door? It reminded me of the first rule of an architectural crit: never say what's wrong with your architecture. There might be nothing wrong, but it won't have a chance to succeed if you stand up and tell everyone how bad it it is.

I view John Nike Leisuresport's letter as fair enough. If the place is so run down, and they are the tenant, presumably we the punters should all be shouting at the landlord to sort it out. But we don't know who this is, and by the time we have finished and no-one has lost a finger/broken their nose, we don't care enough.

But it can't go on. The rink was not even half full, on a Saturday afternoon during the school holidays. It is dying on it's arse, as they say in comedy.

And yet, it is an amazing building - a quasi brutalist concrete structure with an ICE RINK CANTILEVERED OUT ON THE THIRD FLOOR. How brave were those architects? Ok, if it were mine, if I were appointed architect to the refurbishment, here is what I would do:

1. Sort out the M&E, get it ventilating properly so the condensation is not an issue.

2. Open it up: it's on the THIRD FLOOR. Curtain wall glazing to the south would be incredible - skating with a view!

3. Access. Three flights of external concrete steps is not good. Granny didn't like it.

4. New seats, new cafe, turn the lounge end into a supper club, with ice cabaret (OK that is quite ambitious)

etc etc, basically it needs £200k minimum I would guess. Of course, a purpose-built facility would be even better, but in these straitened times a bit of tlc goes a long way.

But here's the kicker: Plymouth ice rink, the only permanent one in Devon, is about 1/4 the size of Bristol's, not even fit for ice hockey (and Bristol appears to have an active team), has nothing like the feeling of goodwill that Bristol has, and yet it is RAMMED. You have to buy tickets in advance, or queue for half an hour at least to get in and on to an overcrowded rink, where you can skate for  perhaps 1 hour (I don't know the session times for certain, but like most rinks it is limited). At Bristol you can get on the full size rink at 2pm and stay there until 5 (with a freakin' disco at 3.30pm!), and it's nearly empty.

That is what happens if you neglect a building. It's the same thing that happened to a thousand high rise blocks all over the country - if they never get cleaned, and maintenance issues are not resolved, they start to rot, and no-one wants them.

It is a waste of our resources, and should not be allowed to happen. Bristol ice rink should be bright and gay: I  guarantee it would be full and paying its way.

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