2015 Yearbook

R E V I E W 17 CONSERVING DIVERSITY PAUL BUTLER The IHBC has two major dates in its intellectual calendar: the June annual school and, preceding it, the publication of the IHBC Yearbook . As well as providing essential information for members and others, this yearbook sets the scene for the annual school by introducing its theme through a series of linked articles. As they engage with this year’s theme, ‘Cultural Connections: Conserving the Diversity of Place’, the following articles give a sense of the complex and varied ways in which diversity is integral to the historic environment and its conservation. The theme is brought into focus in an array of conservation contexts, from a specific and highly distinctive place – the model town of Saltaire, in Yorkshire – via the concept of characterisation of large urban areas, to a consideration of the diverse skills required by modern conservation, and an evaluation of what accessibility means in the context of the historic environment. An international perspective is provided by a discussion of the character of a historic neighbourhood in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the complex challenge of preserving it. While diversity can therefore cover a wide variety of issues, in a key area – the built environment – there is no doubt the modern world is becoming increasingly homogeneous. Ian Nairn’s 1955 book Outrage famously showed ‘the end of Southampton’ and the ‘beginning of Carlisle’ and challenged you to work out which was which. These photographs form the frontispiece and endpiece of Gillian Darley’s and David McKie’s new book on Nairn, Ian Nairn: Words in Place (2013), so the concerns remain the same over half a century later. And if it is thought that choosing two newish (at the time) suburbs of middle-sized cities such as Carlisle and Southampton was a little unfair, then today you could probably pick typical high streets in most parts of Britain which are practically clones of one another. The use of the word clone in this context comes from the 2005 New Economics Foundation (NEF) report, ‘Clone Town Britain’. The NEF reported on the ‘deep sense of unease about the increasing uniformity of our high streets, and the wider impacts that this is having on our local economies and communities’. It hoped that appropriate action could be taken that ‘will lead to thriving, diverse, resilient local economies across the UK’. The annual school and the themed articles in this yearbook are part of this debate. What stops towns (centres and suburbs) from being homogeneous is an understanding of what they are, in other words: how they have developed and what makes them distinctive. Central to this is an appreciation of the historic environment and how people understand and react to it. The conservation world has long recognised the importance of the historic environment in its wider context. Our philosophical roots grew out of concern for the treatment of individual buildings, so powerfully expressed in the well-known polemics of Ruskin and Morris against the conjectural restorations of churches and cathedrals. The subsequent development of conservation, however, has spread from what the SPAB still (rightly) calls the concern for fabric to a more all-embracing philosophy which covers extensive areas (the myriad of designations, from AONBs to conservation areas) and which assigns significance to values which are (using Historic England’s language) evidential, historical, aesthetic and communal – and not purely architectural. Unusually for an activity which is carried out within national legislative frameworks, conservation has roots which are also international. Alongside the conventions of the Council of Europe (Granada, Valletta, Florence and others) are the charters and documents of ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) and documents produced by UNESCO for its world heritage sites. The Athens and Venice charters emphasised the settings of historic Bungalows in the historic Yalecrest neighbourhood of Salt Lake City, Utah. Efforts to preserve Yalecrest are discussed in Carl Leith’s article on page 21.