“Beyond Tradition: The Conservation of Post-Industrial Revolution Buildings”, held on the 20th March at the Royal College of Physician in London, proved a great success, raising many important themes for ASCHB and others involved in the conservation of the built environment to take further over the coming months and years.
The keynote talk was given by Giles Proctor of Historic England, who was followed by Michael Beare speaking on the continual changes in concrete since its introduction, James Miller on developments in materials and engineering, Chris Sanders on the impact of legislation (using the example of moisture codes), Phil Steadman on the development of tall buildings, and Clive Earp on the history of building services. Sherry Bates, the ASCHB chair, then rounded things out by putting all this information in the context of practical conservation, concluding that “modern” architecture presents us with challenges that force us to continually reappraise our approach.
The final part of the day was a lively Plenary Session, with excellent participation from the floor, which ranged widely across fundamental issues such as the many and disparate pressures on modern office buildings, and the fact that the features that make many of these buildings worth preserving are also often the very things that make preservation challenging (the example of the Lloyds building was raised more than once during the discussion). The importance of research, recording, and keeping an open dialogue with non-conservation professions were all stressed, as was the beneficial impact that a wider awareness of the difficulties posed by long-term use and maintenance of recent buildings could have on new construction.
Finally, session chair Robyn Pender asked the speakers to each say the single thing that they’d most like to see happen:
Clive Earp: We’ve killed off the practical building-skills base, and so I’d like to see something to resurrect that; say, a mentoring scheme. It would need to go right down to contractor level, and involve much more cross-disciplinary working between different professionals: for example conservation architects working much more closely with building-services engineers.
Giles Proctor: Most architects no longer have any idea of how to detail buildings to ensure their longevity, which is going to lead to problems for conservation of their buildings in the future. I’d therefore like to see architectural training include much more instruction on how buildings are actually put together, and on the long-term behaviour of building materials and systems.
Chris Sanders: I’d echo the concerns of Clive and Giles, and note that we at the old BRE used to say that whenever a building was awarded an architectural prize, you could be sure that BRE would sooner or later be called in to sort out its problems! A poor understanding of how buildings perform is critical part of the issue, so I’d like to see recognised degrees in Building Physics.
James Miller: What I think we chiefly need when trying to conserve construction of this period is passion: we need to communicate to the wider world precisely why we feel the excitement we feel when working with these incredible buildings.
Sherry Bates: I’d really like to see more good research: to develop sustainable conservation methods we need to know much, much more about how these innovative techniques and materials actually behave over the longer term.
Phil Steadman: Is it possible to think more about subtraction than addition when it comes to upgrading these buildings? For example, recognising that many earlier examples were designed with shallow footprints, and neither need nor benefit from air conditioning systems designed for buildings with deep floorplates and sealed glazing. We need to get the message across that older buildings often perform much better than their more modern equivalents.
Michael Beare: What I would most like to see is that before ANYONE can be chartered in ANY building profession, they would have to spend at least a year on a building site as a worker. That way they will learn what they don’t seem to learn otherwise: that is, the difference between theory and reality, and the critical importance of all the detailing that can seem so much less interesting than design.
… Michael’s comment was greeted with general acclaim and agreement, and was felt to be a fitting finale for the journey taken together by speakers and audience through the course of a most interesting day!