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JOHN PRESTON
The IHBC’s first London School, sponsored by William Thatch Ltd, started in characteristic April weather. Early arrivals got decidedly damp on the Thursday afternoon walking tours: Jon Finney’s trousers displayed an ever-rising watermark as he led successive groups around the Kings Cross and St Pancras area. Then it was into the lecture theatre for scene-setting talks by Andrew Saint and Philip Davies. What better combination could there have been to introduce us to London’s history and a wide range of current conservation issues? The UCL venue certainly scored in terms of “location, location, location”: it was only a few minutes’ walk to the Georgian Group for the opening reception (thanks again to Neil Burton for hosting us), and later in the evening we walked to the British Museum. The custodians were surprised to see a large group arrive around 9pm, looking at the staircase’s reinstated colour scheme (which had been described earlier by Philip), before moving through to the Great Court amazing at night and the (in)famous stone of the South Portico. I for one found the space fantastic, while being far from happy when I looked closely at the contrast between the old and new stone, and some of the detailing. Surely it’s not unreasonable to expect new work to a building of this quality to stand up to close scrutiny? Classical arguments were later forgotten in the ornate interior of the Grade 11* listed “Princess Louise”.

Promoting quality
The first talk on the Friday was by Jon Rouse of CABE. He noted that while Power of Place might loom large for his audience, it was not at the top of ministerial agendas, and that CABE, being (unlike English Heritage) co-sponsored by the DETR, had a direct entree into government housing, construction and social inclusion agendas. Rouse felt that Best Value could be the main lever to change resource allocation, and that the built environment needed to be brought up the Best Value agenda. He strongly supported the use of individual examples (“landmark”
buildings, plus human “design champions”) to promote high quality environments. Some of his audience were struck by the lack of reference to the quality of changes to the existing built environment, and by his rapid departure to a meeting of the Urban Design Skills Working Group, a body to which the IHBC has not been invited.
The next two speakers dealt with contrasting London issues. Rosemarie MacQueen of Westminster highlighted the current tall buildings controversy, while David March focused on street improvements in the City of London, with some key messages on implementation (“you cannot rely on informal networks to get good schemes you must establish good processes, with sufficient resources and the right range of skills”).

Involving communities
Dickon Robinson of the Peabody Trust (and a CABE commissioner) spoke about the Trust’s innovative approach to new developments (mixed uses, high quality assertive design “no doubt that there is a new building, and that somebody has thought about it”). He went on to describe the Kings Cross 10 estates (including Lubetkin’s Priory Green), where the Trust is seeking to both
modernise the buildings and have a big impact on the public realm (with £2 million Heritage Lottery Fund money to help both upgrade Lubetkin’s buildings and implement his landscaping proposals). The Trust is encouraging local people to find significance and value in their local environment. John Taylor of the Building Crafts College described another approach to involving local people, through the Kings Cross Partnership, BCC and COTAC (Conference on Training in Architectural Conservation) project to promote employment prospects for local people through education and training in traditional building crafts. Demonstrations and presentations to schools and ethnic community groups have been followed by pre-vocational events (“if they can make something with their own hands, you’ve got them hooked”) and formal craft training. Those of us who went on the St Pancras visit in the afternoon saw some of the trainees in action, and the enthusiasm of all involved. Special thanks to Graham Lee and colleagues at COTAC for organising the demonstrations; it was inspirational to see some of the results of this project, which embodies so many of the aims of Power of Place. In the
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Setting standards first impressions An impression of the London IHBC School.
IHBC and COTAC members at St Pancras Chambers.
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CONTEXT 70 : JUNE 2001

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