Architect's viewpoint

Ben Pentreath talks about the inspiration behind the Royal Crescent

Ben Pentreath’s background is in Art History, which he studied at the University of Edinburgh before attending the Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture.

He worked for five years in New York and then with the Prince’s Foundation, before starting his own practice in 2004. Since then, the firm has grown slowly and carefully to occupy two beautiful studios in Bloomsbury’s renowned Lambs Conduit Street.

Reflecting on his inspiration for the Royal Crescent in Truro he explained: “When I was first considering how to develop this important site at the edge of Truro, it was clear to me that nothing less than an exceptional piece of architecture would do justice to such a precious piece of land.

The inspiration for the Crescent came at my very first site visit. The land had remarkable, extensive views to the east. You could see for miles. While these views present a great opportunity, they also involve a great responsibility, for it means that our building could be seen from all these places, looking back.

It was clear such a vista needed a building that was both calm and simple, and with a presence that marks forever, and in a powerful way, the new edge of the city.

Historic thinking

The curved crescent form was influenced by the curve in the land itself, being the only form of building that would fit seamlessly into the existing natural gradient. The crescent form is, of course, well known from great eighteenth century examples in Bath, Bristol and other cities.

The history of Truro itself played a part in my thinking. The great mercantile family of 18th century Truro, the Daniells, married into the family of Ralph Allen – the powerful (and phenomenally wealthy) builder of early 18th century Bath; the man who-alongside the great architects of Bath, John Wood the elder and younger-did more to shape the fabric of that great city than any other. As a result of this union, Bath stone is found extensively in Truro, shipped as it was around the coast; it is more than coincidence that the architectural sophistication of 18th century Bath arrived here, so early, in Cornwall too. The new Crescent makes the gentlest nod to these important and little-known historical connections.

An enjoyable challenge

We gave great thought to the design of the crescent and it evolved through many revisions to create the design that is under constructed today. The scale of the building borrows exactly from another famous 18th century building – the very first terrace of houses designed by John Nash, the great classical Architect, in London’s Bloomsbury. We decided ultimately to build the Crescent in two halves, linked by a classical arch, that serves as public route from the garden square behind to the beautiful views to the east. It was an enjoyable challenge to create an interesting variety of houses and apartments behind a regular, unifying façade. The iron railings and arched lantern details draw directly from Georgian examples in Bath.

It has been a privilege, as someone with deep Cornish roots, to work on this site and bring a new and beautiful crescent into fruition at this very special place.”