Talk: New Architectures & World Heritage

David Page contributed on Friday to a conference hosted by the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies and organised by James D. White and Dr Ruxandra-Iulia Stoica on the subject of New Architectures and World Heritage. In the session on Materiality, Prof Robert Morris explored the transition point in Edinburgh history in the third quarter of the 19th Century between development informed by imported ideas and new materials, countered by the emergence of ideas of protection for the built inheritance, all within an overall context of the importance of story telling. Dr Dorian Wiszniewski related the exquisite drawn documentation of the story of the interior detail of Lambhouse in Leith, and Dr Dimitris Theodossopoulos the technical story of our understanding of the stones that have built the city. Seen in isolation each talk examined one contemporary characteristic of Edinburgh's historical legacy, but as a whole they represented a remarkable gazetteer of the variety of influences that shape and mould the special places we admire.

David Page's subject added to that rich mix by advocating the relationship postulated by James White of New Architectures and World Heritage could apply to any heritage setting. Architecture and its production had the capacity to contribute to the evolution of that setting but by reference to a number of projects including Rosslyn Chapel, Fettes School, the SNPG and St Mary's Medical Centre he suggested that it was important to confirm the primacy of the user in the negotiation with the heritage setting. Architecture can only exist, unless in very special circumstances, if it is driven by needs of its users. Architecture's fuel is use and the manipulation of form, particularly in protected settings, is a product of the interface between understanding how to house that activity and how that significant context can be reinterpreted to house them.

He stated two qualities that shape the architectural attitude; first the juxtaposition of caution and creativity - that is extreme care for what has gone before, in balance with a focused, intense, nurture of exploratory ideas. Secondly, that we should rethink 'newness' as a precondition of production, not only because its advocacy threatened existing situations, but worse, it potentially created a polarising of the debate by the adoption of intransigent positions - the consequence of which is the resulting impossibility of an authentic architecture.

Through looking at the example of the Rosslyn Chapel visitor centre David argued that these new functions in the precinct were being met in the form of an extended Lytch Gate, at Fettes School by a monumental formal scene setting, which until certain demolitions occur will not be apparent, at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in the creation of a public loggia to the plinth of the building, and at St Mary's Precinct the creation of a pergola form to the new public approach on the garden edge.

Using the example of the 1960s dining hall at Fettes school by William Kininmonth he argued that a clever spatial working of the building evoked the spirit of the original David Bryce college building so that from today's perspective, the 1960s building and the elder original can now be seen as a remarkable composition, neither finishing nor diluting the intensity of the other - in one a superb manifesto for the theme of the conference.