2014 Yearbook

R E V I E W 29 THE ART OF REPAIR CONSERVATION PRINCIPLES IN PRACTICE ROBIN KENT Repair is at the very heart of conservation but the line between ‘propping a perilous wall or mending a leaky roof’1 and reconstruction or restoration is often far from clear.2 Even authoritative guidance documents on conservation principles such as BS 7913 (the draft British Standard dealing with the conservation of heritage assets) and The Burra Charter vary in their definitions of repair.3 What is certain is that overzealous or ill-informed repair can lead to damage which reduces the value of heritage assets. Equally, however, neglecting ‘stitch in time’ repairs can lead to accelerated deterioration and loss. Repair is an art which requires knowledge and skill, and must be guided by conservation principles. UNDERSTANDING Since all buildings deteriorate over time, repair is not optional. If heritage assets are not repaired they will eventually be lost. In some cultures, such as Japanese, renewal is seen as an integral part of heritage conservation, helping to keep craft traditions alive by periodic rebuilding which closely reproduces the appearance of the past in new materials. By contrast in Western culture the preservation of authentic original materials and the information these contain about the past can, ironically, result in loss of the original appearance and design intention. The balance between such extremes is found in assessment of the cultural significance of the building, the foundation of all conservation work. Theoretically if the materials themselves are the most significant aspect, then they should be painstakingly preserved; if the design or appearance is significant, then repairs may need to reflect this as well. Every historic building is unique and we may find that different cultural groups have different perceptions of value and these may change over time. It is therefore essential for the approach to repairs to be based on an up-to-date, holistic understanding of embodied values. The repair of the Grace Darling Memorial, Bamburgh (1844, Grade II*) required completely dismantling (below) and rebuilding it. (All photos: Robin Kent)