Conserving a Great Building, Heritage statements

Originally a house called Hollins Hill, Haworth Art Gallery, Accrington was designed by the Arts & Crafts architect Walter Brierley (Photograph by Peter Graham)

Heritage statements, appraisals and significance studies when properly done are meant to guide architectural and conservation schemes of all types. Unfortunately, they are often researched and written after the designers have already designed the scheme! Getting clients and architects to hold back while the research is being done can be difficult. This is particularly true where a new use is involved and everyone rushes to the ‘end game’ of designing the alterations.

Some designers trust their instinct with historic buildings but I have found that a carefully researched heritage statement almost always adds to the appreciation of the heritage asset and sometimes can turn instinct on its head. Whether the case or not, undertaking a significance study after the key decisions have already been taken makes a nonsense of the significance led process.

By way of example, with one great building I worked on in Merseyside, the designers had instinctively decided that the significance lay in the building’s internal aesthetic value and the design was worked up accordingly. Later, when the significance statement was produced, it could be seen that the building’s true significance lay in its evidential values and very specific and pioneering layout. As a consequence, a less expensive more interesting intervention with less harm could have been created. By then it was too late… the design fee had been spent. On reflection, the design team had merely imposed their own prexisting opinions onto the historic building.

Appraisals require rigour, dedication and an open mind. The time-served procedure of three phases of work, ‘survey, analysis, plan’, is the right approach, perhaps rephrased as ‘research, appraise, conserve’. In the heyday of town planning and the creation of New Towns etc, great store was placed on orderly and somewhat mundane survey and analysis phases to guide the actual design. The late town planner, Nathaniel Lichfield, produced a whole book just on a sub-stage of this process, evaluating information, which became a standard text of the time. In present day architectural conservation, ‘conviction’ so often has the upper hand but a problem is that conviction is simply a mirror of the experience and prejudices of the persons involved. Conserving great buildings requires more than this. Despite my own personal experience and convictions, I generally come out of writing an appraisal with a different opinion than when I went into it.

Great buildings are multi-faceted and normally need several minds to fully understand them. The creators of great architecture were almost always of a greater stature than the conservators which caring for them (let us remember our place!). Conservation is therefore a team game involving study, sensitivity and a reflection on both the particular building and the artists who created it. Strong opinions based on poor research and analysis will obviously stymie intelligent and bespoke conservation, as will the imposition of generic responses such as, ‘The Victorians always did it this way’.

It takes time for the true significance of a building to grow in someone’s mind. On major buildings, there needs to be discussion and feedback of the team’s ideas into both the appraisal and conservation stages. It sounds structured but it often happens in a very organic way.

Previous post in this series – Conserving a Great Building, Restoration

Accrington THI – first shop restoration on site

Today, Accrington Townscape Heritage Initiative began conserving the town’s historic shops. This shop on Blackburn Road was built as a printers a few years after 1900 and now houses AYA, a firm of accountants.

As seen in the old photo, there was originally a sunblind which pulled out from behind the shop sign. The sign was rounded to accommodate the roller and the result cleverly emulates a classical pulvinated or ‘cushion’ frieze.

When the modern box sign was removed, we were delighted to find the timber frieze was still intact. It is beautifully joined to stone cushion friezes atop the pilasters at each end of the shop.

We exposed Edwardian paint layers which will be sampled before overpainting. By doing so on each THI project, we can build up a record of the various historic colours used on Accrington shops. The stone pilasters were overpainted brown followed by red and other colours. However, we could see smoke blackening beneath the brown paint indicating that the stone was not originally painted. We will therefore clean back to restore the original stone surface using Torc equipment.

Unfortunately, the underside of the cornice has almost completely eroded but there is just enough of the original moulding to create a template for new stone indents.

Other work includes further stone repair and a traditional styled replacement shop front.

The contract administrator is Craig Buck, IDC Architects, and the contractor is Rosslee Construction. Both are local Accrington firms.

IHBC NW 2018 AGM – Middleton, Manchester

Yesterday (15th November), Greater Manchester Building Preservation Trust hosted the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) NW annual general meeting at Long Street Methodist, the Arts & Crafts Church of Middleton, Manchester. This has recently been restored via a generous Heritage Lottery Fund grant. Project architect, Lisa Mcfarlane of Seven Architecture, and myself led the afternoon event and there was a large turnout of around 40 members. We began with a talk about, Edgar Wood, the Arts & Crafts modernist who built the church in 1899, followed by a tour of the famous Middleton Golden Cluster of heritage buildings. Continue reading “IHBC NW 2018 AGM – Middleton, Manchester”

Conserving a Great Building, Restoration

The Library at the Glasgow School of Art before the devastating fires. Photo: David Morris

‘Conserving a Great Building, Upping your game’ is here.

Adding new design work to a historical building is an act of ‘creation’ whereas restoring lost features is generally considered as ‘conservation’. After a terrible disaster like a major fire, the choice between new design and restoration inevitably comes up. David Mullane, a former director of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, argued that the burnt out library of the Glasgow School of Art should be rebuilt in a new way by a contemporary architect rather than be restored.

Continue reading “Conserving a Great Building, Restoration”

Beauty of Brutalism

Brutalism – I have always loved this type of architecture for its combination of social progressiveness, abstract form, toned down colours and weighty monumentalism. It’s sad how so many great works have been destroyed. At least Preston still has its bus station!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1CPtMYghnVMJVv1YphFrWDc/the-brutalist-divide-concrete-monsters-or-architectural-icons

Burnley Grammar School – a Landmark project

Some buildings have passion… this is one. You can feel the Gothic Revival spirit of Burnley Grammar School. It was the first design of a former pupil, William Angelo Waddington, who went onto great things in architecture. It is listed grade II but could easily be II*.

Continue reading “Burnley Grammar School – a Landmark project”

Restoring Long Street Methodist Sunday School, Middleton, Manchester

I’m so pleased this project is on site after so many years of preparation. My job today is to begin colour sampling the interiors to guide the redecoration. Long Street Methodist Church and Sunday School are perhaps the first masterpiece by the Arts & Crafts architect, Edgar Wood (grade II* listed). You can follow the project on artsandcraftschurch.org