The contribution which the historic environment can make to regeneration is increasingly being recognised and its value to sustainability is emerging. Taken together with the recent white paper Heritage Protection For The 21st Century and new thinking by English Heritage (EH) suggests that a more constructive approach to development where it involves listed buildings and conservation areas is emerging.
EH’s consultation paper Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance introduces a values-based approach intended to help decision-makers to take account of the diverse ways in which people value the historic environment as part of their cultural and natural heritage. Justifiable decisions about change in the historic environment depend upon understanding who values a place and why they do so, leading to a clear statement of its significance and with it the ability to understand the impact of change on that significance. “Every reasonable effort should be made to eliminate or minimise adverse impacts on significant places”, says EH. “Ultimately, however, it may be necessary to balance the public benefit of the proposed change against the harm to the place. If so, the weight given to heritage values should be proportionate to the significance of the place and the impact of the change upon it”.
The new approach is summed up: “Proposed changes which would materially harm the heritage values of a significant place should be unacceptable unless all the following criteria are met:
Architect Robert Adam has called for a re-examination of the core principles of the culture of conservation in planning which he says is long overdue. “Conservation has come to have a deadening effect on the historical environment with often bizarre consequences for the continuing life of buildings”, he argues in Planning in London, April 2006.
The proportion of listed buildings to all buildings has increased in 30 years from 1 in 140 to 1 in 40, a total of half a million, and conservation areas from four to over 8,000. This says Adam has created a new breed of administrators and the dominant culture has changed from architect conservation officers to specialists from an archaeological and historical culture which has led to an overriding concern with historic authenticity. “This” he says “is like the study of wildlife through taxidermy”.
Adam notes that Conservation Principles recognises that our attitudes to our historic environment are in a constant state of change: “the historic environment reflects the evolving knowledge, beliefs and traditions of multiple communities” and “changes in the historic environment as a whole are inevitable”, adding “judgements about values are necessarily specific to the time they are made”. This explicit recognition, he suggests, could have far reaching consequences in a system that relies on a default position of preservation.
Conservation Principles seeks to relate conservation to sustainability. It states that the use of the historic environment should “not compromise the ability of future generations to do the same”. How you decide that without a return to simple preservation is an interesting and unanswerable question says Adam. “The simple fact is that the effective reuse and avoidance of destruction of good building stock is fundamentally sustainable”.
The refreshing new direction is also seen in the EH and British Property Federation document Heritage Works of 2005. Its headline messages include:
The Heritage white paper aims to review and simplify the regulatory regime, merging planning and conservation area applications, integrating the classification of monuments and listed buildings and improving listing procedures now in the hands of EH rather than DCMS.
PPG 15 (3.5) states that “Generally the best way of securing the upkeep of historic buildings and areas is to keep them in active use. For the great majority this must mean economically viable uses if they are to survive…it requires balancing the economic viability…against the effect of any changes they entail in the special architectural and historic interest of the building” (3.9) “Policies for development and Listed Building controls should recognise the need for flexibility …to secure a building’s survival..”
PPG15 (3.10) continues: “Achieving a proper balance between the special interest of a Listed building and proposals for alterations or extensions is demanding and should always be based on specialist expertise; but it is rarely impossible, if reasonable flexibility and imagination are shown by all parties involved. Thus, a better solution may be possible if a local authority is prepared to apply normal development control policies flexibly; or if an applicant is willing to exploit unorthodox spaces rather than set standardised requirements.” (3.15).
Advice given in PPG15 and by SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) and upheld by ICOMOS is that designs “should not try to confuse the history of a building”: what is old should be preserved, but what is new should be seen to be new – although it should not seek to detract from the original fabric. Extensive alterations undertaken during the building's history generally do not try to mimic the “period, style and detailing of the original building” but were in a style that was felt to be more appropriate at the time.
Being an architect as well as a planner, I am going to run through an example where I have applied the new approach. The listed building and planning applications are presently being considered by the City of Westminster.
A new future for No.1 Marylebone Road, Sir John Soane’s Holy Trinity church of 1828.
The site was given to the church by the Crown. After construction started it was found to be a gravel pit and former farm pond (see first map). This caused a deep vaulted crypt to be built. The resulting builders’ claim probably led to the loss of the clerestory roof extension shown in all of Soane’s design options. The unusually complex roof intended to achieve this was probably already made and so was used in a lower position and the side windows raised along with the gallery ceilings, to compensate for the light thus lost.
According to Sir Terry Farrell, Marylebone Road has the potential to be one of London’s greatest assets. Holy Trinity Church at No.1 Marylebone Road is a prominent local landmark. The church fell victim to unsympathetic restoration as a bookshop and offices in the 1950s and the space around it is now a mishmash of poor railings, broken pavement, parking and traffic signage.
George Hammer of Hammer Holdings is now working with my team which includes landscape architect Kim Wilkie and engineers Alan Baxter to restore and give public access to Soane’s original spaces as a specialist retail destination with gardens and a rooftop restaurant. The setting will be enhanced by reconfiguring the paving and remaking the original railings and lanterns. The trees will be up-lit to transform No.1 Marylebone Road with a sculpture garden, a bustling boulevard-style café, flower sellers and boules to linger and enjoy.
New York has cult store Jeffrey, Rome has Tad, Paris has Colette and Milan has 10 Corso Como. No.1 Marylebone Road will develop the ideas of these iconic stores to create an eclectic collection of exceptional fashion, beauty, art and design that meets high standards of innovation, exclusivity and creative flair.
George Hammer has opened a number of groundbreaking ventures over the years. The Sanctuary in Covent Garden was the first day spa in the world in 1980. The original Aveda Concept Store in a disused post office in Marylebone High Street, was the first to combine beauty retail, an organic café and a flower shop. The second Aveda store in High Holborn was voted ‘Best New Store in London’ by Time Out readers. Today his Urban Retreat offers an incomparable range of retail, hair and beauty services over 20,000 square feet on the top floor of Harrods.
The purpose of the scheme is to bring life and public access to a maltreated redundant church and to pay for the refurbishment of the building and its setting. A remarkable urban space will be created in front of the church portico with bollards removed, the Soane railings recast and the forecourt relaid in continuous York stone. Traditionally church steps and forecourts have been places for people to gather; here, stalls will enliven the street scene.
The bookshop HQ has infilled the arches with block walls and destroyed the Soanian sense of light and space which will be restored, as will public access after over 50 years.
CREDITS: Sir John Soane (1753-1837) George Hammer, Hammer Holdings, promoter; The Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, architects and planning consultants; Kim Wilkie Associates, landscape and urban design; Alan Baxter & Associates, structural engineers. [see bwcp.co.uk > current stuff]
Brian Waters is a chartered architect and planning consultant: firstname.lastname@example.org