22 January 1993 - 24 January 1993

Preserving the Architectural Heritage

Chair: Mr Simon Jenkins

Ditchley, as both venue and vivid illustration, was a felicitous setting for our conference on Preserving the Architectural Heritage - a conference enriched moreover by representation from eleven different countries, three of them in the East/Central European region whose endowment is now so markedly attracting wider admiration; and, through the courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey, by a fine display of drawings of Jefferson’s home at Monticello.

We recognised an increasingly powerful popular movement, albeit not yet fully harnessed, in support of architectural heritage preservation as in the interest of all, not merely of an elitist minority. There was deepening understanding of the value of the heritage both in giving aesthetic pleasure and in fostering a local and national sense of distinctive community and stable continuity, notably in countries keen to strengthen or recover their historic sense of identity. We welcomed, too, the growing awareness that the heritage lay not just in particular great buildings (and, importantly, their settings) but also in more modest “vernacular” ones and, still more, in “places” more generally - building groups, sites and areas.

At the same time, we acknowledged that this awareness intensified the problem of neatly identifying - and choosing for priority claim upon confined resources - just what merited special preservation effort, especially as interest stretched beyond the obviously- grand and engaged sections of society with different historical memories and cultural perceptions. The range of possible criteria was very wide, and their relative weight was bound to vary between one country and another - and indeed over time, as perspectives changed; the early-warning radomes at Fylingdales in Yorkshire and the remains of the Mulberry harbour off the Normandy coast would once have been rated unarguably as eyesores, yet now attracted preservationist support. Judgments had to be made on a local or national basis, case by case and preferably in consultative process, rather than shaped by some universal set of rules or guidelines. The most that could usefully be laid down as basic principle was perhaps a matter of method: that there ought wherever possible to be some system of notation or listing and a checklist of aspects to consider, so that preservation candidates did not slip into oblivion unnoticed - they should somehow be assured conscious attention, their “day in court”. Even then, we were warned, it was important that listing should not become too rigid, or too slow to set up.

The international aspect saw several factors in tension. The total heritage, especially of the greatest monuments (and perhaps also those whose magnitude, like industrial factories, must make retained exemplars few), had to be of concern across national boundaries; there were moreover instances where shifting political frontiers had separated important assets from their natural historic parent countries. But concepts of international ownership could not be expected to override national judgments, especially when a nation chose to give priority to assets which would rate low in other countries better endowed. The value of the international dimension probably lay more in support than in overarching organisation or prescription. Though the record was mixed (as in respect of Venice), international concern could contribute not only material aid but also added political influence in the interest of preservation, provided there were adequate information mechanisms to trigger it when danger loomed. The exchange of experience about both successes and failures - including those shown by post-audit of project claims - was also of value. European political development could generate a supportive context, both through a variety of transnational sources of subsidy and in spreading more widely a legal and administrative framework for good practice.

The general economic setting impacted diversely upon the heritage. Provided roofs stayed on, relative poverty had frequently been an effective preserver, and development could be threatening, especially in the shift from command economy to free market where public authorities had to learn control skills and settle difficult clashes of priority. By contrast, however, within developed market economies recession could often be harnessed to the benefit of architectural interest, through the value of job-creation both in important new construction and in heritage maintenance and restoration. The scope for the heritage interest to exploit its contribution to employment and to craft training exemplified the valuable scope that often existed for forming alliances with other political and social purposes.

There had in the past been an occasional tendency to see economic advance and heritage preservation as natural adversaries. At least on a long view, this was a mis-conception; in many situations - for example where exemplary reclamation, even on a modest scale, sparked wider regeneration and fresh perception of an area’s character and value - preservation could be a useful element in economic advance. Much the biggest illustration of this was in the field of tourism, which with the spread of leisure and relative affluence was now for many countries a major category of economic activity. Tourism should be seen by the heritage movement not as a nuisance nor even a necessary money-spinning evil, but as a natural partner; tourism was the main vehicle for the widespread popular enjoyment which should be a key justification and motivator of preservation.

We accepted nevertheless that the development of mass tourism posed increasingly its own problems and challenges. In cities like Prague the development of adequate facilities for tourism, such as hotels, could clash with the very features which tourists wanted to enjoy. The capacities of some great assets - the Alhambra, Stonehenge, Notre Dame in Paris, the Parthenon - were severely finite, and both physical fabric and space to enjoy were threatened by mass flow through of speeding tourist parties often, as it seemed, ill-prepared to derive more benefit than just ticking off another sight glimpsed. Volumes were certain to grow still further, and forms of rationing (not necessarily by price, though seasonal differentiation in this might play a useful part) would be unavoidable. Large numbers of tourists would have to be displaced from the mega-sites either to surrogates and replicas or to sites hitherto less renowned whose preservation and presentation could thereby be valuably stimulated.

Presentation was an important element in heritage enjoyment, and ultimately therefore in preservation itself. Good examples could be found of explanatory presentation - information centres, videos, brochures - to deepen the experience and enhance the sense of participation. The effort could be paternalistically overdone, and there was a case for different optional levels to suit different individual needs; but in the main much more could yet be done, not just in interpreting design but in conveying the character of historic occupancy and indeed the history of preservation itself. Underlying this, as our discussions repeatedly stressed, was a general need in all countries for mainstream education - especially in the schools - to equip people to understand, respect and enjoy their architectural heritage (and, through that, to be aware of and care about the built environment as a whole).

Planning approaches attracted a good deal of attention. Their importance was inescapable, for example in managing the interactions between asset use (especially by residents), traffic, roads and parking, as well as in issues like listing and zoning. A flexible framework was essential to achieving a living outcome as distinct from a set of havens in aspic. We were counselled against excessive prescription of building detail, though we realised how much damage could be done by ignorance or insensitivity in specific matters like window design; there was much scope here for the better dissemination of advice on good practice. We discussed problems of continuing use, without finding neat formulae. As Venice showed, reversion to historic patterns was often impracticable; but alternative uses, ranging to the style of Disneyland, could sometimes jar, even though in the end almost any use was better - if only to buy time - than none.

We agreed that the framework of public control needed carrots as well as sticks. There might sometimes be scope for bargains, beneficial to both, between developers and planners concerned for preservation. Our discussion of tax structures produced no single conclusion. We noted that tax-breaks were always a cost to the public purse, and that their benefit to preservation might often be less than that of equivalent resource spent in other ways like well- targeted subsidy. But we agreed that tax arrangements should try at least to avoid distortion, like penalising timely maintenance and repair as compared with belated restoration. We saw much merit in the private rather than the public route of financial support, wherever national wealth and attitudes so allowed; we suspected that candid canvassing - and early involvement - of business corporations might well yield greater returns than were currently achieved.

The particular burdens, and equally notable opportunities, of ex-Communist Central/Eastern Europe recurred constantly in our discussions. There was, we learned, no general shortage of specialist skills in preservation, but widespread need for money, for management skills and for good legal and planning frame-works. Uncertainties about building ownership were sometimes an extra impediment

These notes do poor justice to an unusually rich debate - many other aspects were opened up, like the contentious question of what constituted authenticity and valid restoration (and why); the particular issues (like change-of-use sensitivities, as well as special political traditions in the US) which surround religious buildings and sites, so large an element in the heritage; and the case for - and against - deliberately leaving or creating room for whatever our own or future times may prove able to add in enhancement of the heritage. But the overall impression left, at least to the Ditchley team, was one of enthusiasm at widening opportunity fuelled by mounting popular sympathy and support. The architectural preservation movement should not act under-confidently, nor aim too low.

This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: Mr Simon Jenkins
Journalist and author


Mr Marcus Binney OBE
President, SAVE Britain’s Heritage

Sir Charles Brett CBE
President, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society

Professor John Dean
City Planning Officer, Leicester City Council

Mr John Gerrard
Technical Director, The Scottish Civic Trust, Glasgow

Dame Jennifer Jenkins DBE
Chairman (1986-90), member of Council, National Trust

Mr Thomas Lloyd
Chairman, Historic Buildings Council for Wales

Mrs John Nutting
Trustee, National Heritage Memorial Fund

Mr Trevor Osborne
Chairman and Managing Director, Speyhawk pic

Miss Jennifer Page
Chief Executive, English Heritage

Mr Hayden Phillips CB         
Permanent Secretary, Department of National Heritage

The Hon Olga Polizzi CBE
Group Managing Director, Building & Design, Forte plc and member, main board of directors

Miss Patricia Rawlings MEP
Member (Conservative), Essex South West, European Parliament

Mr Angus Stirling
Director-General, The National Trust

Councillor David Weeks
Leader, Westminster City Council

Mr Marc Denhez
Consultant to heritage agencies of all ten provincial governments

Mrs Phyllis Lambert OC
President, Director, Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal

Professor Thomas Symons
Visiting Fellow, Centre of International Studies and Robinson College, Cambridge University

Mr Miroslav Masák

M Bertrand du Vignaud de Villefort        
Company Secretary for Europe, Christie’s;

Dr Helmut Lange
Director, Cultural and Educational Affairs, German Association of Cities and Towns

Frau Dorothee von Moltke
Head of Project Planning Department, German Foundation for Historic Preservation

Mr Mihály Ráday MP
Commentator, Hungarian Television; Member of Parliament; member: Parliamentary Environmental Committee

Mr Desmond Fitz-Gerald
The Knight of Glin Irish agent, Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd

Count Paolo Marzotto
Chairman, World Monuments Fund-Italy

Professor Olgierd Czerner
Vice-President, OCOMOS International, and President, Polish National Committee

The Duke of San Carlos
Chairman, World Monuments Fund-Spain and President, Hispania Nostra, Spanish branch of Europa Nostra

Mr Kent Barwick
President, the Municipal Art Society, New York

Ms Laurie Beckelman
Commissioner and Chair, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

Mr Tersh Boasberg
Senior Partner, Boasberg, Coughlin & Watson (specialities include land use, historic preservation, zoning, environmental litigation)

Ms Bonnie Burnham
Executive Director, World Monuments Fund

Mr Paul Dolinsky
Chief, Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), US Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington DC.

Mr Graham Gund
Founder (1971) and President, Graham Gund Architects (Principal-in-Charge of design for firm’s projects)

Mr Hugh Hardy
Nominated as Member, National Council on the Arts by President Bush (1992-96); Founding Partner and Principal Designer, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, (Architects) New York

Dr Sally R Lancaster
Executive Vice President, Strategic Planning and Program Initiative, and Grants Administrator (1979-92), Meadows Foundation, Dallas, Texas

Mr Herbert McLaughlin
Architect and Planner, and founding partner, Kapland and McLaughlin, San Francisco

Mr Robert H McNulty
President, Partners for Liveable Places

Mr Charles W Muller
Administrative Director, the American Ditchley Foundation

Dr Marilyn Perry
Chief Executive, Samuel H Kress Foundation, New York

Mr David S Sampson
Executive Director, Hudson River Valley Greenway Communities Council

Mr J Jackson Walter

Mr George M White
Architect of The Capitol

Ms Constance H Wyrick
Director of Development and Public Relations, Historic Charleston Foundation