2019 Yearbook

R E V I E W A N D A N A L Y S I S 15 DRAMAS OUT OF CRISES DAVID McDONALD, IHBC PRESIDENT I RECALL A television advertisement of a well-known insurance firm from a number of years ago, which had the slogan, ‘we don’t make a drama out of a crisis’. No doubt it was intended to reassure potential customers that their claim would be dealt with in a professional and timely manner. As historic environment professionals, we might learn from that approach when dealing with out-of-the-ordinary events. The 2019 edition of the yearbook again takes on board the theme of the forthcoming annual school in Nottingham, titled ‘Heritage, Risk and Resilience: confronting conservation calamities’. With this in mind the analogy with the insurance business should become clear: we don’t wish these things to happen, but we should be prepared when they do. In my long career as a local authority conservation and urban design officer, I was perhaps fortunate never to have dealt with a case involving serious fire, flood or structural failure. However, on one occasion I was involved with the aftermath of a terrorist bomb. The incident took place in 1994 and the target was the Israeli Embassy in Palace Green, Kensington. Thankfully, there were no deaths or serious injury and the embassy building survived virtually unscathed, however there was damage to 1 Palace Green, a Grade II* listed house which was designed by Philip Webb in 1868. Shortly after the incident I walked along a deserted Kensington High Street with the council’s director of building control to inspect the damage to its buildings. We recorded some external damage to 1 Palace Green, but that was effectively the end of our inspection. Sometimes national security takes priority over rights to enter buildings under the planning acts, but I did manage to relay the message about the importance of the building and the need to avoid further damage during the forensic investigations. Eventually I was able to inspect the interior and to see on the dining room floor the remains of its painted ceiling, which had been virtually destroyed by the blast. The interior had been originally installed by Morris and Co and included work by Edward Burne Jones and Walter Crane. Unfortunately, after consultation with English Heritage’s plaster expert it was decided that the ceiling could not be reinstated. So what did I learn? First, after any catastrophic event, normal rules don’t apply. Second, one has to work with a range of professionals whose priorities don’t necessarily include the historic environment. Third, be prepared to think on your feet and look for unorthodox solutions. This brings me back to the IHBC’s 2019 annual school, which will include presentations covering fire, flood and terrorism. We are fortunate to have Zaki Aslan, director of ICCROM’s conservation centre in Sharjah as our keynote speaker, who will no doubt mention the threats to cultural heritage through conflict. The day school will deal with both precautions and solutions in dealing with fire, flood, structural failure and terrorism. I am particularly looking forward to the presentation by Liz Davidson, project manager for the restoration of the Glasgow School of Art. Another highlight will be a lecture by Helen Brownlie who worked tirelessly to minimise the damage caused by serious flooding at Cockermouth in Cumbria and assisted with the town’s regeneration. Her achievements were recognised by a Heritage Angels Award. I believe that the 2019 annual school is one not to be missed by all historic environment professionals. As they say, being forewarned is to be forearmed. Finally, I should mention two anniversaries which take place in 2019. The first is that it will be 100 years since the birth of Sir Bernard Feilden, one of the giants of 20th-century building conservation, who died in 2008. Not only did he work on many important buildings both in the UK and abroad, but was also author of one of conservation’s most seminal texts, The Conservation of Historic Buildings which was published in 1982. Coincidentally, like our keynote speaker at the annual school, he has connections with ICCROM, and served as director from 1971 to 1981. He was also president of ICOMOS UK from 1981 to 1987 and was instrumental in the publication of that organisation’s training guidelines. As IHBC members will be aware, it’s those guidelines which underpin the institute’s set of competencies used to assess membership applications. The second anniversary to note is that it is 60 years since the formation of the Council on Training in Architectural Conservation (COTAC), of which I am a trustee. It also happens that Sir Bernard Feilden was a great supporter of COTAC. All this will be celebrated at a conference in November at the Engine Shed in Stirling. Watch for further details in IHBC newsblogs over the next few months. DavidMcDonald, president@ihbc.org.uk