Heritage and Ugliness

There is nothing worse than faux heritage. On the one hand, it is demeaning in that it attempts to borrow from history something which does not belong in the present and on the other hand, it constitutes perverse mimicry. Some might say that the highest form of flattery is mimicry, but mimicry always involves a form of sarcasm which is not appropriate in heritage terms.Recent Building in Botany, NSW, Australia

Faux heritage – recent building in Botany (NSW, Australia) using fake heritage style and materials.

Article 22.2 of the Burra Charter (Australia’s primary guidance on appropriate conservation approaches) specifically encourages new work to be readily identifiable from original heritage fabric so that there is no confusion about what came when. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the approach to conserving buildings then was different and many conservation architects tried to create a seamless blend of new and old to the extent (Nowra Courthouse, NSW) that it is very difficult to tell where the old ends and the new begins.

This is not the approach today. As conservation architects, we actively encourage new work to be unashamedly contemporary as long as there is a subtle link between the two. This applies to alterations and extensions on heritage homes and heritage buildings generally. Today, one often sees a contemporary building component joined by means of a low-level link or some other well considered device by means of which the new is connected to the old (original home/ building).

This approach is the opposite of mimicry. It engenders mutual respect for the new and the old components of the building and allows each to exist in their own right. Thus, there is a marked change from the way we used to do things compared to today. The present approach is enshrined in many heritage UNESCO charters around the world including the UK National Planning Policy Framework 2017 and the UK standard on Conservation – BS 7913 - 2013. In Australia, we readily apply the same approach and strenuously avoid any confusion between the old and the new even if the new needs to be highly mindful of and skilfully adapted to the existing heritage values of the subject building – the additions (extensions) can be contemporary in style and presentation.

This approach is not to be confused with actual heritage conservation of an element within a heritage site, ensemble or building. In such cases, it is most definitely a requirement to replace like with like, use genuine materials, fully assess the significance values of the fabric and ensure that the work is carried out only by skilled and experienced tradespeople.

Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21
8 September 2017

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