This is the first book in a 10-part series, by English Heritage, known since 1st April 2015 as Historic England. The series is being updated, due for release in November, and this is perhaps a timely moment to review where the series started.
The book rather modestly describes itself as being about, ‘managing the maintenance and repair of historic buildings and places…’(pvii). It is, but in placing this advice in the context of the philosophy of building conservation offers greater depth.
This context is provided by an insightful overview and timeline of conservation philosophy from 1596 through to the present day. It effectively describes the evolution of approach to conservation against the social backdrop that forms the framework of eras, manifest in legislation. It explains the adoption in more recent years of the ‘values-based’ approach and thereby grounds the content of the book. The chapter concludes with the acknowledgement of the emergence of the current ethical imperative – environmental sustainability – and how this often throws up a conflict of interest with the cultural values of the historic environment.
Interpretation of current legislation – specifically the NPPF and the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 governing work the listed buildings – kicks off the second chapter. This is useful reference to remind oneself of first principles. Later consideration of ‘fitness for purpose & safety’ is raised and addresses the common stumbling blocks encountered between present expectations in building regulations with that practicably achievable in a heritage building. Helpfully it signposts the key issues to anticipate such as fire safety, ventilation, the passage of sound, access, and thermal performance.
As the sections progress it becomes more ‘handbook’ in content with guidance in the merits of different types of surveys, and ecological demands on a building. The importance of the longterm maintenance of heritage assets is underlined in the chapter ‘Managing Maintenance & Repair’. This, and the following Appendices, are both of high value to owners and managers of heritage assets. In line with the style of the book these chapters are written in a direct non-jargon manner and culminates in a useful ‘further reading’ list. The book concludes with a handy Glossary, which will help everyone on a project team discuss schemes with the same understanding, and Bibliography.
The publication is beautifully illustrated and the pages are well arranged for the engaging delivery of textual and visual information. Key to the practical approach is the references to further reading: these include those within the manual, colour-coded references to other books in the Practical Building Conservation series, and other publications. The value of advice to the user rests with the well referenced context of the ‘values-based’ philosophy.
A volume daring to cover enough ‘conservation basics’ to be useful could be in danger of getting carried away with itself: it is, however, skilfully edited. The direct communication style lifts the book into that elusive zone in the industry as an effective publication for a range of readers and should encourage parity of understanding. It deserves to be a stalwart in the library of ‘go-to’ building conservation references.
Practical Building Conservation: Conservation Basics, 2013, Edited by Iain McCaig, Series Editors: Bill Martin and Chris Wood, Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Individual books in the series, and the complete ten volumes can be pre-ordered from publishers Ashgate – click here.