Repair and Culture

/ Iain King / Conservation

We have a clear methodology of how we deal with any conservation project in the office. In short, we seek to reconcile the act of repair in relation to a broader cultural context. All good conservation projects depend on regular inspection and documentation that concerns our cultural building and landscape heritage. On the one hand, it is vital that we factually record visible deterioration and identify the causes of decay and in turn propose effective solutions that involve the minimum intervention and best technical solution. However, on the other hand this meticulous examination requires the ability to appreciate the ‘message’ and ‘value’ of the cultural asset we are trying to sustain. The ‘condition’ seen simply as repair and not through the lens of culture diminishes the focus of our attention, reducing it to mere stones and mortar rather than a reflection of our society’s priorities. To this end the Conservation Statement and Statement of Significance are important markers of this broader interpretation. They provide the foundation of our actions.

Our Conservation team has led the way in establishing these strategies, the immediacy and needs of the building or setting right in front of you acting as a great stimulus. That office interest in the existing heritage grew out of the repair of the tenemental fabric of the city. What we learned from this contribution was an appreciation of the history of what was built and the historical figures who shaped it. A crucial side-story was the opportunity of working with a constituency of owners and tenants for whom heritage was not just the museums and art galleries they visited but the fabric of their homes. The public ownership of this shared heritage should not be underestimated in the emergence of an industry of heritage which has to this day protected and sustained many of our important historical settings.

Returning to the challenge of how do we reconcile empirical data and meaning. We use a number of self evident terms, immediate, urgent, necessary and desirable to describe our strategies for restoration, reconstruction etc. What is termed ‘immediate’ must be done straight away to deal with the safety of the fabric or its users. Articulating the significance of a building can help to reinforce the importance of these short term actions. Which is much the same for ‘urgent’ work, required to prevent active deterioration i.e. attack by insect or fungus or penetration by rain water. The erosion of the fabric through being subjected to extended and incessant deterioration over time can erode the confidence in the very building. A reminder of why something has value should re-afirm the positive need for action. For the cultural heritage it is better to undertake ‘necessary’ work, required to maintain the 'standard' appropriate for the building and its present or proposed use in the context of the client's resources. This will include items of preventive maintenance and can be subdivided into 'good housekeeping', 'rolling programme of maintenance' and ‘major works'.

What we have described is the have to do’s, ideal is when the cultural significance is so entrenched that all that is required is ‘desirable’ work, recommended to enhance the use or appearance of the building or what might be necessary for reevaluation or adaptive use. Intrinsic to this is the awareness that the ideal scenario is long term vigilance where buildings are kept under observation, actively monitoring installations and their life-spans.

Key to our approach is to aspire to anchor and reinforce the cultural heritage and significance of each important building, for its community, in such a way as protection of the physical fabric is intrinsic and second nature.

Repair and Culture - Edinburgh Printmakers