The online resource for the historic environment

5.13 Conclusions

This Unit has addressed the issues that need to be confronted when organising intervention works to or managing the historic built environment. It has, hopefully, provided you with guidance by example of how you might best implement and control the procurement of services and undertake work to an asset; how to implement a conservation action plan and manage a site of significance. It has, hopefully, managed to get you to question your established understanding of how conservation thinking impacts on intervention strategy.

There will be many disciplines involved in a site’s conservation, one person cannot combine all, but you must have knowledge of the way in which each discipline works and produces results. Subsumed within each independent discipline is the knowledge that other professions and workers may have evolved different ways of dealing with the same subject. Some clarity of understanding of how other disciplines operate is essential if work within the building industry is to be properly structured to respond to the need to supply services and product to users of that composite service. This fact is of particular relevance to work within the historic environment. A closer relationship/understanding of this symbiotic process and how it might affect significance forms essential data when intervening on or within the historic environment.

The aim of this Unit and the other four Units in this series has been to clarify the specific factors influencing all who work within the historic environment. Not only to alert you to the specific philosophies and ethical principles that are accepted by consensus, but also those factors that are more secular in nature but wield an influence over conservation, how the composite operates and how the whole should be incorporated to protect the historic environment and facilitate its ability to respond to decay and deterioration as well as the need for change and modernisation in order to survive in a rapidly changing world. This in order, and at the same time, to preserve and protect the narrative that the historical environment offers to this and future generations in gaining an understanding of history and the factors that have shaped our society.

If there is one lesson to be learned from absorbing the contents of these 5 Units it is hoped that you will have gained an ability to recognise that the historic environment is not just about the built form of it. The built form is only a manifestation of and a complex of human interaction and the process of events that we identify as history. It is a symbiotic process reliant on the interaction and interchange of events and human development. The built environment can only be a reflection of and present as a palimpsest of the events and actions that have shaped history. History can only be assessed in retrospective analysis; the future is open to speculation. It is your role to allow the future to judge what is important and why without imposing your own, possibly subjective values. It is the retention and protection of the historic environment as a record that is the raison d'être behind conservation. You must, right now, take responsibility for this for the benefit and enlightenment of future generations.

It is well worth reminding ourselves of the ICOMOS view point on conservation training and education contained in their Guidelines on Education and Training in the Conservation of Monuments, Ensembles and Sites. as follows:

“There is a need to develop an holistic approach to our heritage on the basis of cultural pluralism and diversity, respected by professionals, crafts persons and administrators. Conservation requires the ability to observe, analyse and synthesize. The conservationist should have a flexible yet pragmatic approach based on cultural consciousness which should penetrate all practical work, proper education and training, sound judgement and a sense of proportion with an understanding of the community’s needs. Many professional and craft skills are involved in this interdisciplinary activity.”

You should also refer to Article 5 items a to n of the Guidelines to gain an understanding of how competence should be judged and measured. View ICOMOS Guidelines for Education and Training

A thought from John Earl,

“The conservation of historical structures is not a mechanical activity controlled by hard and fast formulae which, correctly applied, will produce demonstrably correct solutions. The decisions which have to be made daily by the practitioner raise philosophical questions at every turn.”

Preceded in 1926 by Powys, A. R. in Repair of Ancient Buildings:

“I have found that it is not wise to lay down dogmatic rules, for when they are made one is often confronted by a case where they do not work.”

“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.” Winston S, Churchill

And finally, from John Earl,

“… whatever your personal role in the conservation process, remember that, for the time being, the building, the ensemble, the street or the town is under your protection. It is a heavy responsibility and one which had better be faced philosophically.”

Earl J (1997) Building Conservation Philosophy Reading, College of Estate Management.