The man from the ministry… he says yes

Natalie Gates heads up the new Historic Places Team in the East of England.  Here, she tells us about what inspired her to work on the new publication, Constructive Conservation: Sustainable Growth for Historic Places.

Like many others working in English Heritage’s local Planning and Conservation teams, I love good modern architecture and I relish the opportunity to make a contribution towards improving a historic area or ensuring that a historic building continues to have a function in the modern world.  Our work is all about managing change whether it be through adaptation or development.  Thirty-six examples featured in the new publication bring to life how our work is about advising on the ‘art of the possible’ and counter the misconception that English Heritage are the ‘people who say no’.

Hellifield Peel is testament to the Shaw family's determination to rescue a Grade II listed tower house and scheduled monument using traditional building materials and techniques to create a beautiful B&B in an important park landscape.
Hellifield Peel is testament to the Shaw family’s determination to rescue a Grade II listed tower house and scheduled monument using traditional building materials and techniques to create a beautiful B&B in an important park landscape.

Economic viability and long-term sustainability are the two key tenets underpinning the National Planning Policy Framework.  These two great current challenges were the inspiration for the latest edition – Constructive Conservation: sustainable growth for historic places.  When you work in the sector, the inherent sustainability of our work and economic contribution is self-evident.  But, the positive economic uses of historic buildings, monuments, landscapes and areas are not always obvious to others.

From the restored Lido in Bristol to the Linton Falls hydropower facility – giving power to the National Grid over 60 years after the new Grid made it redundant – the range of examples draws on the variety of its source material – the historic environment.  But you can’t always return something to its original use.  Other examples include the national training centre on refurbishment which found its home in a Victorian pottery and an Old Bishop’s Palace which has been a retirement home and is now home to sixth form students.

The beautiful Grade II* open air swimming pool, designed by Richard Shackleton Pope and dating back to 1850, was nearly lost when consent was given for the demolition of all but the front building and for the construction of new flats.
Whilst the conversion of the Clifton Lido into a spa and restaurant includes bold contemporary insertions such as the two-story glazing-in of the sun decks to form the dining room, these enhance and further reveal the mid-Victorian swimming baths.

Constructive Conservation also inspires with new architecture in some very old places.  The new Rolle estate office in Devon forms part of its Grade I landscape.  A distribution yard in the middle of the much-loved historic town of Southwold has become a destination shop and café for the local Adnams brewery whilst also providing award-winning housing.  And in London, the redevelopment of King’s Cross and St Pancras stations and their surroundings has provided multiple examples of the re-use of historic buildings and stunning new pieces of architecture that either complement or contrast with the buildings.

(C) Derek Kendall
The new St Pancras Station combines radical ideas with the enhancement of significant historic features. English Heritage’s support for cutting four giant openings in the train deck brought the marvelous but unseen undercroft into use.

Historic buildings lift and inspire you, either because of their own inherent beauty or because of what they contribute to the surrounding area.  Great modern architecture should be making the listed buildings and conservation areas of the future.  Changes in historic buildings and new buildings in historic areas should understand and respond to context, significance and to time.  It is all about the art of the possible.

SW2 Copyright Clinton Devon Estates
The new Rolle Estate Office set in Grade I park in Bicton, Devon. The elliptical building uses locally harvested timber and Exeter red stone and reflects the form of historic tree clumps.

Dr Natalie Gates – Principal, Historic Places Team (East of England)

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