Engagement

/ Justin Fenton / Conservation

We have always been conscious of the need to understand the broader context in shaping our design work and inevitably that care led us into looking after the inherited fabric at the same time. It is that blend of new design and the historical precedent that has fundamentally shaped our output over the last 30 years.

Traditionally, and in a formal sense, conservation had always been seen as the exemplary built heritage conceived before 1948, perhaps a legacy of the 1970's conservation effort to stop the destruction of anything old during the post war modernisation movement. Curiously, that modernising ambition itself is now the focus of much consideration for protection.

Which really brings to the fore the question of what is the criteria for protection? We have always pursued an understanding of context in the widest sense, the geography and topography of the original land, its overlay of street and land ownership, the aggregated building overlay, changing uses and evolving cultural significance. Such knowledge is not time barred, so no matter what we have now is a legacy of accumulated experience shaping our contemporary actions.

Crucial to our stance is our belief that contemporary design serving contemporary need should engage with the protected heritage in that broad sense and vice-versa. Engagement should mean just that, neither side - contemporary design nor heritage protection should rule by diktat, rather it should be about a relationship, an engagement of like minds that merge the heritage asset with a vision for future activity housed in an empathetic historical and contemporary blend.

We have as a result evolved a new embracing working model to embed the broadest historical view of conservation roles within an understanding of the context story, thus meeting the needs of contemporary activity.

It is always nice to be vindicated in ones approach, and it would seem that we echo, in part, strategic government thinking where the process of the merger of RCAHMS and Historic Scotland, into what might be called - Historic Environment, shares a broader attitude about the context of heritage. Their modus-operandi definition is informative:

“all aspects of our surroundings that have been built, formed or influenced by human activities from earliest to most recent times”.

If we were to look into a distant future there might be, in our terms, some advantage in a possible enhancement of this new department into ‘Historic / Future Environment’ with the inclusion of the Architecture and Planning policy units. Now that would be some engagement, and whilst we could not guarantee a good marriage, if we worked at it, something great could emerge. It has worked for us.