/ Justin Fenton / Conservation

We have been fortunate over the last few years to have been part of strategic programmes with universities in Spain and Poland, focusing on shared planning and conservation issues. Our office has become a home base for these deliberations and it was the collaboration with the Copernicus University in Torun to the north west of Warsaw that was presented this morning by Natalia Burakowska and Ann Patelka, both students in the Conservation Studies department.

There were two aspects to their presentation, firstly the volunteer work they are carrying out with the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis and ourselves to document the monuments as part of an initiative with the City of Glasgow to continue to ensure the protection of this significant historical asset for the city. The survey which is divided into sections, is a snap shot of the significance of the 3500 monuments and will provide a record that it is hoped will lead to an action plan for the monument protection and the challenges they face such as stone erosion, top-loss, ground movement, vegetal growth and associated damage, collapse sometimes related to vandalism and theft often of metal ornamentation.

The second aspect was how the teams from Copernicus University have found themselves working on this Glasgow project. An understanding of their Polish context helps here.

Their Copernicus University supports an intense pedagogical study of the history of art, architecture, theory of protection and conservation, organisation and construction techniques, building techniques, urbanism and modern concepts of protection of monuments. In addition a parallel overview is undertaken in conservation of building materials, architecture and furniture, and the protection of cultural landscapes.

A key aspect of these studies is their exploration of the difficult to translate 'Badania architektoniczne' - roughly the research into the origins of the architecture in any particular context. Crucial to this understanding is the documentation for any designated monument called the ‘White Chart’. This document, detailing the type of building, date, address, history, description, bibliography, archives, etc. is held by the conservation authorities. Nicolaus Copernicus University students are trained to prepare measured drawing surveys that are essential whilst working with the listed building and support the White Chart. In a country that has been subject to a host of influences, wanted and unwanted, the resulting legacy is often complicated and intricate. For example in Torun there is a remarkable hybrid of building forms characterised in part by Renaissance facades overlaying the original gothic medieval structures, the understanding of which facilitates the ultimate conservation strategy. Incumbent on the building owner to prepare, this document is controlled very tightly by the conservation authority and is followed very closely by the architect. It is this aspect of their course and the thoroughness of their approach that they are bringing to bear on the Glasgow Necropolis project, a project that is expected to last a number of years.

For such a thorough cultural attitude of documentational precision it is perhaps not surprising that in Poland there is only one designation, a building is either listed or not. They do not have the ranked system we do of various categories. In that respect the monument is designated and protected by the ‘White Chart’. There is little latitude for adaptation or clever reuse of buildings that characterises our work; paradoxically there is no possibility of putting a renaissance façade on a gothic underlying structure. Further, although Warsaw is one of the world’s preeminent reconstructions, it rather does not support any alteration that is not authentic.

It is that that context of Natalia and Ann's studies of focused learning on how to build this precise ‘White Chart’ for each building, and that useful experience they are bringing to the exhaustive and exhausting study of the Necropolis monuments. This is of course utterly appropriate but what is of interest as an aside to their studies, is in reflecting on the relative merits of a monument designation which results in a purer and less conciliatory context for redevelopment compared to the benefits or not of our looser system of grading and our ability to renew the context of history in our settings.

Detail of Glasgow Necroplis monument