Heritage and the Climate Crisis: April 2023

Welcome to the April Heritage and Climate Crisis Newsletter covering all the latest news from March and April. Highlights include Heritage Declares attending Futurebuild and The Big One as well as the publication of the Twentieth Century Society Risk List.

News from Heritage Declares

Heritage Declares at Futurebuild

Heritage Declares Coordinators Louise Cooke and Robyn Sparkes were joined by architect Chloe Sheward to present ‘How to disrupt traditional ways of thinking about ‘old buildings’ at this year’s FutureBuild conference at the London Excel on the 9th of March.

Louise presented on how the University of York are teaching students about longevity of materials, adaptive reuse, and sensitive assessment of a building’s requirements. Chloe showcased three case studies from Donald Insall architects including an assessment of the impact of solar panels on Chester Cathedral roof. Robyn spoke about comparing monetary cost with carbon cost and how Heritage Declares is rallying to spread the word about how our historic building stock can be utilised.

The session was well received filling the seats provided as well as people standing to watch/listen the entire 45min slot. Following the talks many of the audience came to discuss their work and experiences with the speakers this was enlightening and encouraging.

The Big One- Extinction Rebellion UK

On April the 21st – 24th thousands of people rallied outside the houses of parliament to demand the government takes the climate and ecological crisis seriously, this has been organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR). We at HD are in support of this, we’ve signed up as a supporting organisation and had representatives at the rally. The four days focused on attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks, aiming for an inclusive, family friendly environment. The Big One – Extinction Rebellion UK

Other news from Heritage Declares

Our next meeting is being held Thursday 11th May 5pm-6pm, join through the link here. We’d love to see more people!

Elain Harwood

We’re sure many of you will have seen the devastating news that Elain Harwood has died aged 64. Elain was a leading authority of post-war English architecture and instrumental in bringing public attention to many threatened buildings.

Historic England chief executive, Duncan Wilson, described her as a ‘fierce advocate for 20th-century architecture and a true heritage champion’. The Architects’ Journal has provided a collection of tributes made across the industry which you can read here. Whilst Elain may be gone, we encourage everyone to embody her spirit and love of buildings and champion their reuse and the preservation of our 20th century history.

Twentieth Century Society Risk List

Cardiff County Hall, South Glamorgan – County Architect’s Office (1986-87) Image: Jonathan Vining

The Risk List is the Twentieth Century Society’s annual compilation of the top 10 most threatened twentieth and twenty-first century buildings across the UK.

It is available from their website as a download and, in 2023, includes  a Bengali women’s centre in London’s East End, a brutalist John Lewis store in Scotland, a set of modernist power station cooling towers in the Midlands, and a 1980’s avant-garde pop pyramid in Milton Keynes which demonstrates the extraordinary breadth of architectural styles that characterised the period.

Some of the buildings, such as the Scottish Widows Headquarters, Edinburgh have already featured in our newsletters. Others, such as Cardiff County Hall, designed and built as recently as the late 1980’s, may be at risk from demolition to make way from redevelopment and have prompted C20 to submit a pre-emptive listing application. The Risk List also encourages members of the public to get involved, with specific actions to help save each building – from writing to an MP or the Secretary of State, to joining grassroots campaigns fighting for their local buildings. In marginal cases, your voice really can make the difference

M&S Oxford Street public inquiry

An update on the outcome of the M&S Oxford Street public inquiry. The planning inspector’s recommendations are currently with the Secretary of State, who is due to issue his decision on or before the 3rd May. In the meantime, SAVE Britain’s Heritage are asking all of those who share their concerns over the demolition of these buildings to write to the Rt Hon Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and urge him to refuse the plans on heritage and sustainability grounds. You can do this by emailing correspondence@levellingup.gov.uk, copying in pcu@levellingup.gov.uk. They have also just released a new report documenting the campaign and inquiry.

London Starts Here

Following his role in the inquiry as SAVE’s chief sustainability witness, Simon Sturgis of Targeting Zero is now involved in Barbican Quarter Action’s (BQA) campaign London Starts Here against the demolition of the former Museum of London and adjoining Bastion House for the London Wall West development. A webinar organised by BQA in which Simon and Bob Stagg of Conisbee Structural Engineering argue that the City of London’s case for demolition is flawed can be seen here.

Welsh School of Architecture teaching position

The Welsh School of Architecture is currently advertising for a part-time building conservation teacher to join our team on the MSc Sustainable Building Conservation course. As the post is part-time, it might suit a conservation practitioner (conservation architect, surveyor, engineer, consultant etc.).

For informal enquiries about the role and the Welsh School of Architecture, please contact Heritage Declares co-ordinator and Senior Lecturer Dr Chris Whitman whitmancj@cardiff.ac.uk. For more information please see the advertisement. Closing date 5th May.

Material Reform : Building for a Post-Carbon Future

Material Reform by Material Cultures (Mack)

This book, the first by the design and research practice Material Cultures, assembles a series of short essays and conversations exploring the cultures, systems, and infrastructures that shape the architectural industry and the de­structive ecologies it fosters.

Whilst not aimed directly at the heritage sector, as the preface by Charlotte Malterre-Barthes makes clear, this small publication advocates the care and maintenance of all buildings, alongside designs employing regenerative resources, bio-based materials and slower and nearer supply chains to confront the short termism of contemporary architecture, “its toxicity, legacy of colonial abuse and commodified and destructive present.”

Material Cultures was founded by Summer Islam, Paloma Gormley and George Massoud to bring together “design, material research and high level strategic thinking to make meaningful progress towards a post-carbon built environment.”

Their attitudes expressed in the chapter on Maintenance juxtapose a culture of care with, on the one hand, ‘the contemporary mode’ which views new buildings as finished entities in a continuous unchanging present on which signs of wear are considered to be the result of defective materials, design or workmanship and, on the other hand, ‘the historical mode’ characterised by buildings considered to be fixed at a historical point that must have their fabric maintained to remain there. These two modes of existence, perhaps not unfamiliar to those working in the historic environment, are further seen to be shored up by the legislative frameworks of warranties and insurances (the former) and the ‘culture of conservation’ (the latter). Though perhaps mistaking the implementation of conservation through legislation for a culture, their advocacy of the need for cyclic renewal as a ‘culture of care,’ as against contemporary technologies that seek to remove building components from biological cycles by toxic treatments and coatings, could not be more timely.

UK Climate Resilience Final Conference

Historic Watercourse Polygons (HWPs) indicating modifications and uses of the Raven Beck above Kirkoswald, drawing on historic OS mapping, lidar and risk of flooding data. (The Clandage Project).

The UK Climate Resilience Programme (UKCR) was a four year project running from 2018 that sought to quantify risks from climate change, build climate resilience for the UK and produce outputs to support decision making.

The programme was a multi and interdisciplinary effort that funded over sixty projects covering a broad range of  topics. The Programme’s Final Conference was held on 8th and 9th of March at the Wellcome Collection in London.

Cultural heritage formed a significant proportion of the projects funded by the UK Climate Resilience Programme and this was reflected over the two days of the conference.

Day 1 looked at Research Advancements, with the afternoon session moderated by Professor Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University.

This included presentations from Mike Davies’ project Climacare which established, for example, that the construction age of care home buildings was critical in moderating overheating exposure due to thermal mass. Pre 1930’s buildings, for example, were significantly less likely to overheat.

Clandage consisted of 3 case studies based in Cumbria, Staffordshire and the Outer Hebridies and evaluated how community resilience could be built through cultural, social and technological adaptations facilitated by storytelling, craft and poetry workshops, oral history, archival research and interviews.

Climate Resilient Church Buildings was presented by a University of Manchester researcher (Chris Walsh) embedded within the Church of England. He reported that C. of E. has an ambitious net zero programme (net zero by 2030). They understand that waiting to repair building fabric in response to climatic impacts is likely to be 8.7 times more expensive than if addressed beforehand. The speaker revealed that their estate consists of c. 16,000 buildings, 78% are listed (many Grade I) and that 5,500 of their buildings are on Historic England’s ‘At Risk’ register.

The C. Of E. is in a unique position as their churches are deeply connected to isolated rural communities and the organisation is a huge repository of knowledge due to its long working relationship with heritage professionals already engaged with their buildings. Their churches are already helping communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change. St Lawrence Priory in Snaith, for example, provided refuge for 150 people for three weeks (food, shelter, clothing) following the Snaith flood of 2019.

Day 2 looked at Implications for Practice & Policy.

Generally it was acknowledged that the arts and cultural heritage had a huge role in helping communities make sense of complex ideas and what resilience to climactic impacts looks (and has looked) like. Central to this is the importance of Place, how places change, how they are relatable/comparable especially with regard to vulnerability and (in)equality.

Looking to the future, UKCR seemed keen to know how best to relate to campaign groups, feeling that many involved in their organisation cannot be seen to be involved with XR or Just Stop Oil (whose aims are solely mitigatory) however much they sympathise with their point of view.

They identified gaps in research and implementation, wanting to understand the narrative of what an adaptive UK will look like and how to better include the needs of communities and individuals in policy.

Any thoughts?

Have you got any thoughts on the April News on Heritage and the Climate Crisis? Or suggestions for the next post? Leave them in the comments below or tweet us @HeritageDecl