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Steve Tompkins: oration

Professor Vaughan Hart's oration on Steve Tompkins for the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in December 2018.


Steve Tompkins
Steve Tompkins

Acting-Vice Chancellor, Steve Tompkins has developed an international reputation as an expert in theatre design. He has worked on some of the most important theatre projects in this country over the last decade. Although Steve is perhaps best known for this aspect of his work, he has designed a wide range of award-winning projects, including schools, galleries, concert halls, housing, offices and shops, from small extensions right up to urban master-plans.

Steve studied architecture here at the University in the late 70s and early 1980s. Back in those days, the Department enjoyed its first ‘golden age’ under the design leadership of architects Michael Brawne, Patrick Hodgkinson and Peter Smithson, not to mention the engineer Ted Happold. Rather than immediately jumping into practice, Steve travelled extensively before joining Arup Associates in London. He was a founding member of Bennetts Associates in 1987, prior to forming Haworth Tompkins Architects with Graham Haworth in 1991.

Steve’s approach to design is to understand fully the building’s context and purpose, avoiding any predetermined style in favour of unique solutions grown from a consistent methodology. To name but a few of his many projects, Steve was director in charge of a new music campus for Aldeburgh Music, the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre, the National Theatre Future project and Oxford’s North Wall Performing Arts Centre. Steve’s links to Bath were reinforced when he designed the Egg Childrens’ Theatre at the Theatre Royal, which was completed in 2005, and he has just completed the new front of house at the Bristol Old Vic.

Steve has won more than one hundred and fifty design awards. In 2007, he was nominated for the Royal Institute of British Architects Stirling Prize for the Young Vic Theatre in London and won the RIBA National Award for this project.

His practice went on to win the Stirling Prize in 2014 for the new Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. The Everyman project was won by Steve in open European competition. The old theatre was a much-loved part of the city, and so Steve’s design needed to capture its essence as an accessible, community-centred building as well as encapsulating the collective identity of the people of Liverpool. Working on the same site as the original building, he retained some of its materials. The walls of the old theatre were carefully dismantled so that the bricks could be reused within the new building. The main west facade of the building hosts a large-scale, collaborative public work of art, consisting of one hundred and five moveable metal sun-shades, each one carrying a life-sized portrait of a contemporary Liverpool resident. True to the principles that we teach here at Bath, another central aspect of the brief was to design an urban public building with exceptional energy efficiency both in construction and in use. The theatre won the UK Green Champion building award in 2017. Steve has recently completed Sir Nicholas Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre, and is currently working on major projects with Pembroke College Cambridge, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Battersea Arts Centre.

Steve has taught and lectured extensively at a number of UK schools of architecture, including a three-year term here at Bath in the early 1990s. Since then, he has been a Visiting Professor of Architecture at the University of Greenwich and is currently a guest critic at several UK architecture schools, as well as an external examiner at Cambridge. He has exhibited architectural works at the RIBA, the Royal Academy and the Venice Biennale, as well as landscape paintings at various UK galleries.

Steve has handsomely repaid his teachers at Bath with some of the best buildings of his generation. Following our recent 50th anniversary, it is highly appropriate that the University celebrates its success through the work of our graduates, and Steve is amongst the most distinguished of these.

For an outstanding contribution to architecture and to culture, Acting Vice-Chancellor, I present Steve Tompkins as eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.


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