The Building Conservation Directory 2021

105 C AT H E D R A L COMMU N I C AT I O N S T H E B U I L D I N G CON S E R VAT I ON D I R E C TO R Y 2 0 2 1 METAL , WOOD & GLASS 3.3 FITTING THE NEW TO THE OLD Designing new ironwork for heritage settings BETHAN GRIFFITHS A COMMON MISCONCEPTION is that you cannot alter a listed building and that any work in a modern style is prohibited. However, despite the extra care and attention given to conserving historic fabric, the truth is that it is perfectly acceptable to enhance a heritage setting with new work, be it traditional or contemporary in design. The heritage protection system is designed to manage change, not prevent it, so that historic buildings continue to benefit owners and those who live and work in them. This is not to say that designing new work within this context is always straightforward. There are additional aspects to take into consideration, including national legislation and policy frameworks. Despite significant variations between each of the four home nations, there are broad similarities. Each operates control through its own primary legislation (such as the Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ) which requires consent for ‘any works for the demolition of a listed building or for its alteration or extension in any manner which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest’. Applications for listed building consent are made through the local authority much like applications for planning permission. When considering whether or not to grant consent, the local authority is required to consider ‘the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architectural or historic interest’. It will also take into consideration national planning policies and supplementary guidance issued by the appropriate government body, and in the case of buildings listed at the highest categories or grades, the local authority will also seek the views of the national statutory authority – Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Cadw in Wales, or the Historic Environment Division of the Department for Communities Northern Ireland, as appropriate. (For details see page 25.) Heritage protection covers the whole of the listed building and all but the more recent structures within its curtilage, including the perimeter railings for example. When applying for consent, knowledge and appreciation of conservation principles is a fundamental requirement to reaching a successful outcome. This may seem strange, given that the aim is the creation of new work rather than repairing old, but what applies to the heritage itself also applies to its surroundings. Understanding the ‘significance’ of the existing heritage and ensuring that its significance is protected is vital, as within a heritage setting it is necessary to demonstrate how the proposed project recognises and adds to this significance. Where new work is to be attached to a listed building, understanding significance of the building and the component it is attached to is particularly important. It is not appropriate to sacrifice old work simply to accommodate the new. The new must always be fitted to the old and not vice versa. Therefore, the ability to recognise, understand and value the significance of the heritage in question is a fundamental requirement before any design work commences. This approach requires a well-developed and holistic vision of how the new and old parts will perform together long into the future. Naturally this limits the possibilities of what will be permissible, identifying a boundary within which to work, but this should be considered as a positive as it focuses attention on what fits. With this in mind, achieving designs which are appropriate to their heritage setting need not be complicated or difficult. The following is the briefest of introductions to five key points to consider. Keeping these in mind is crucial to getting any design process started in the right direction. Character: an assessment of the character of a heritage setting is critical in establishing a good design brief and is the aesthetic basis for new work. The architectural context or landscape is the client and all proposals must be responsive to it. Good design picks up on the architectural conversation while bad design, or a lack of design, ignores it and as a result becomes argumentative. Significance and value: the ability to recognise, understand and value the significance of the heritage in question is a fundamental requirement. Significance may lie in relation to a specific object or a streetscape or even in association with a person or event. It is the sum of technological, historical, aesthetic, or social values for past, present or future generations. Understanding significance and its components allows informed decisions to be made. You can’t design sympathetically without understanding it, yet it does not in itself dictate the design direction. Respond to a setting: good design reinforces the significance of its setting rather than detracts from it. Think of it like story-telling: the designer needs to consider from the outset both the physical appearance of the object and how it will be interpreted. Proposals can often be justified by the story behind their design and what they represent. Sympathetic design: this is the most commonly referenced, yet also the most misinterpreted and misunderstood concept. A sympathetic design does not necessarily mean it has to be traditional, as a contemporary approach also has the potential to be sympathetic. In conservation, best practice requires new work to be distinguishable from historic work. The distinction can be obvious or subtle, ranging from a discrete date stamp on a reinstated traditional design, to the use of distinctly modern aesthetics and style. There is no generic right or wrong: replicating a particular style may be absolutely the right choice in one context and yet not in another. Importantly, each project needs to be assessed on an individual basis Detail of a contemporary iron reredos at Ely Cathedral (All photos: Bethan Griffiths)