I have been practicing as a heritage architect in NSW for the last 30 years and during that time, I have witnessed a number of changes which I discuss below.
CENTRALISATION – First of all, under the NSW Liberal government, there has been a tendency in the last number of years for State government to become more and more centralised and in the process, to disempower local government thus depleting it of the necessary resources, skills and funding that it needs to process DAs and especially DAs that entail a heritage component.
Dr. Robyn Clinch (see reference below) writes that there is a considerable disconnect between the theoretical education of potential heritage practitioners and those whose task it is to process heritage applications for proposed developments involving heritage buildings. This is especially the case in Australian planning jurisdictions. Although there are excellent theoretical principles that underpin practice by heritage professionals, the implementation of these practices, in reality, relies upon mechanistic and autonomous controls on the part of planning apparatchiks whose knowledge is not necessarily aligned with ever-shifting heritage orthodoxies. Nor should they necessarily be. I will come back to this point in just a moment.Read More
Claims of historical inaccuracy surrounded the 2014 release of “the Monuments Men” movie directed by and starring George Clooney. The main issue raised being that the film failed to adequately highlight the achievements of the group of historians, architects and museum professionals that had banded together to save thousands of priceless artworks during and after World War II.Read More
Who makes decisions about heritage at federal, state and local government level? And who in the private sector makes decisions about heritage? Is cultural built heritage properly presided over by professionals? If so, how tendentious are they? What are their qualifications? And, in the community, what personal agendas are prone to render a decision biased or subjective?Read More
Historic conservation, writes Regina Bures (see reference below), is frequently associated with gentrification: the incursion of middle-class “gentry” on an urban frontier, resulting in the displacement of lower income residents. However, historic conservation need not be a consequence or cause of gentrification, she writes. The term ‘historic conservation’ implies the maintenance of both the social environment and the physical environment.Read More
The system we use today in NSW and Australia generally to assess heritage impact is limited and perhaps slightly old school. What is lacking is a set of parameters that incorporate a number of issues not currently assessed such as economic and social impacts as well as impacts upon property rights.Read More
How often is it said that we view the past through our own eyes. Here we are in 2018 viewing the past from our current standpoint. How different would it be if say we viewed it 50 years ago or 50 years hence? These are important questions because it throws light on what we do with our history now, what we did with it then and what we will do with it in the future. We can only know what we know now. We can only imagine what previous societies thought about history and our projections into the future will only ever be speculations because we cannot be certain about anything in the future never mind the past. Many years ago, I heard that there was a plan in Sydney to demolish the Queen Victoria Building in the city to make way for a parking garage.Read More
David Lowenthal writes that heritage betokens interest in manifold legacies – family history, familiar landmarks, historic buildings, art and antiques, plants and animals. So widespread and fast-growing is such concern that heritage defies definition. Heterogeneous, changeable, sometimes laughable, heritage is above all chauvinistic. Most heritage reflects personal or collective self-interest, things prized as mine or ours. We may be modest about what we are, but rarely about what we were.Read More
Should heritage design only be presided over by registered architects? Arguably, there is a case for only registered architects to be involved in decision making affecting listed heritage buildings and buildings in conservation areas because architectural training allows for an enhanced understanding of two critical skills. Firstly, understanding building fabric and construction methodology i.e. how buildings are constructed, detailing and materials and secondly, the rigours of design i.e. experience in making design decisions in the context of innumerable constraints and opportunities. Without a background in these two fundamentals, it is difficult to see how non-architecturally trained practitioners can make decisions affecting heritage buildings.Read More
Insofar as local councils in NSW are concerned, the general objectives in a residential conservation area typically, are to conserve the ambience, form, materiality, scale, setting and subdivision pattern of the historic precinct in order that contributory buildings in such areas are appropriately conserved and new buildings introduced, are appropriately designed. It is simple politeness to deal with such precincts respectfully in a deferential manner rather than attempting to bombastically assert a bold and disruptive typology by way of new infill buildings that do not comply. Primarily, the aims and objectives of a typical residential conservation area are to; 1. Maintain all buildings and other structures which explain the history of the area and contribute to its significance – (HISTORICAL REFERENCE); 2. Ensure a consistency of scale and materials in extensions to existing buildings and in new buildings so that the new work does not detract from the historic buildings and their amenity or from the streetscape (CONSISTENCY).Read More
I can think of ten good reasons why heritage conservation is not only good for society but healthy too. I list them as follows;
EMBEDDED MEMORY – heritage buildings imbue localities with embedded memories. This is important for promoting civil pride and respect and promotes a sense of psychological reassurance in the sense that we trust places better if we know them as opposed to those places to which we have never been before. The fact that there are places with heritage buildings that may be hundreds of years old creates a sense of safety in our minds because we can easily tell that other people and previous generations have safely used and enjoyed those places before us – as we do now. HISTORICAL RECORD – clearly, heritage buildings and places are a marker of time. They readily reveal to us how previous societies built their spaces, constructed their buildings. Selected their motifs and decoration and understand what they were attempting to achieve with their buildings.
Since colonial times in NSW, Australia, there are nine distinct styles of European, English and American inspired heritage architecture. Listed in order of appearance, they are; Colonial (1788 – 1840); Mid-Victorian (1840 – 1870); Late Victorian (1870 – 1895); Federation (1895 – 1925); Californian Bungalow (1925 – 1938); Inter-war buildings (1918 – 1939); Modern Movement buildings (1935 – 1960); Post Modern buildings (1950 – 1975); Brutalist buildings (1968 – 1975).Read More
To all heritage architects/ consultants/ advisors/ builders/ planners/ managers and owners out there – there are five cardinal principles that should be applied when attempting to integrate new design into heritage buildings. I list them as follows; Bulk and scale, Setting, Form, Materials and Juxtaposition. Taking each individually, it is a common rule with heritage buildings to ensure that the new fabric does not overwhelm the heritage fabric i.e. that a there is a delicate balance between the two but always respectfully giving greater prominence to the older heritage building or at least allowing it to be recognised as distinct from the new building. Accordingly, in most cases, the new bulk and scale should be subservient to the heritage building. Roofs should be set down lower and walls set in behind. The concept of heritage design is very much based on the streetscape view i.e. what one sees from the street.Read More
There seven things to know about heritage conservation on our contemporary world today. This is a message for designers, architects, planners and managers of heritage buildings and places.
The decisions we make today will forever affect a heritage building or place. Therefore, we need to be conscious and judicious in the way we treat heritage fabric because what we decide now will affect every future decision to come. This places a heavy onus on the design of heritage buildings and forces the designer/ architect/ planner/ manager to be very circumspect in regard to each and every decision affecting a heritage building or place. Heritage buildings are all about their fabric. If you remove an element – it’s gone for ever. Nothing but a replica can be returned, and replicas are not heritage. Its not about what it looks like – its about what it actually is. I cannot replace my grandmother with a fake replica – it just won’t be the same person. This is how we need to think about heritage buildings.
For local government heritage items (listed buildings) in NSW, Australia, we have only two little incentives. They are Clause 5.10.10 and Clause 5.10.3 of the Local Environment Plan. There is a third incentive only operated by the Council of the City of Sydney and that is a transferrable development right under the HFS (Heritage Floor Space Scheme). I will explain later what this other one is all about. However, first, I would like to say that these incentives are insufficient, paltry, ungenerous and counter-productive in their limited scope. Incentives need to be generously applied so long as it can be determined that the outcome for the heritage building would be positively enhanced, better maintained and actually restored. Put simply, these are the only criteria that should prevail. Instead, councils and the courts and now design review panels are applying a limited approach to the incentive – always with the suspicion that the applicant (developer) is seeking some sort of unjustifiable reward/ opportunity/ free ride.Read More