The United Kingdom currently has the best architecture globally, with an impressive blend of modern buildings and unique structures from previous centuries. Everywhere you go in the country, you will find the hallmarks of ancestors satisfying their needs, sustaining life, and expressing themselves.
More than one in five British buildings pre-date 1919, further underlining these architectural assets’ historical value and heritage. These buildings are more common than you would expect, which explains why we take them for granted.
However, not investing in architectural conservation increases the risk of losing these buildings over time. You will agree that these buildings have made it this far because they have been maintained. So, we can say that preservation is necessary to document change in historic buildings, sustain and enhance their significance, and improve their overall quality, both now and in the future.
This article by HL Architects Newcastle discusses architectural conservation, heritage conservation, and historic buildings preservation in the United Kingdom.
Architectural Conservation and Its Importance in the UK
Architectural conservation is essential for preserving our historic buildings. It is the restoration of old and historical structures using appropriate building preservation methods and materials, and it involves making the best out of our existing facilities.
An essential element of architectural heritage conservation is regeneration. Regeneration gives new life to old buildings, ensuring their continued usage and benefiting everyone’s interests. It is a failsafe way of providing both current and future generations experience and benefits from the past generations’ physical and creative expression.
Architectural conservation also helps recognize the craftsmanship and outstanding artistic achievements involved in a building. The world is ever-changing, relying heavily on technological innovations. Therefore, buildings have enormous cultural significance, and we most often recognize them only when they are threatened or lost from the landscape.
With architectural conservation, people can restore buildings while making them a 21st-century standard. Because building conservation restores cultural heritage, it adds value to a building and its surroundings. A specialist team is responsible for creating designs that maintain a building’s integrity while making them fit for everyday use.
Heritage Conservation and Its Importance in the UK
Heritage conservation architects are essential to the economy. Because Britain has a rich history, its heritage brings tourism to the country. The built heritage in Britain, including monuments, stately homes, castles, buildings, cathedrals, and churches, are famous globally, making the country a world-class destination. In England, tourism contributes up to £106 billion to the economy, providing 2.6 million jobs. In addition to increasing tourism, heritage conservation help attract customers to businesses, keeping the local economy moving.
Because of historic buildings preservation, the London’s Grade II listed Battersea Power Station was removed from the At-Risk register of Historic England’s Heritage. The power station was built in 1929 and decommissioned in 1983. Due to numerous years of neglect, the station was added to the At-Risk register in 1991. However, extensive and complex preservation and conservation work on the Power Station, including enhancing its four iconic chimneys, brought the station back to life, repurposing it as a leisure and retail destination.
Restoring critical historical landmarks like this capital’s power station preserves an essential part of our history while successfully future-proofing the building for future generations.
Consecutive UK governments for over a century have recognized that protecting buildings and monuments is necessary. In 1882, the Ancient Monuments Protection Act was introduced as the first legislation for conserving historic sites. This act provided guardianship for 50 prehistoric sites in Britain.
As a result, the government continued to introduce Acts during the early 20th century regarding the responsibility for historic sites. These acts include:
In 1947, the Town and Country Planning Act was enacted. This act listed structures that were considered to be historically, culturally, and architecturally significant. But the demolitions of the documented historical buildings continued until the 1960s.
During this time, more rigorous planning procedures were put in place. For instance, the planning act of 1968 introduced the listed building concept, a status carrying total statutory obligations of conservation and care.
In 1983, the National Heritage Act was introduced, and it created the English Heritage, which is responsible for heritage sites and nurturing public interest in the historic environment.
The National Trust
Founded in 1895, the National Trust is an independent charity that cares for the heritage and countryside areas in the UK.
Historic Buildings Conservation and Its Importance in the UK
Apart from looking beautiful, old buildings have a historical and cultural past, usually of architectural interest. But if the building doesn’t suit the community or owner’s needs, looking beautiful is not enough. Maintaining older buildings can be pretty expensive; thus, many people knock them down for a modern one that is fit for purpose. Unfortunately, demolishing an old building severs our historical connection.
Historic building preservation is a process that preserves and protects sites and structures to reflect history, be it cultural, social, economic, political, archaeological, or architectural. Keeping old and fragile buildings and structures is complex and time-consuming, and the process involves bringing together various experts and professionals in the historic preservation field. These professionals are well versed in the protection and preservation methods for landmark buildings. They also conduct appropriate research to ascertain what is worthy of historic designation while navigating the myriad of local and national regulations for working with historical sites.
Importance to History
An area’s history is vital in giving a town or city character. Preserving historic buildings and structures like the Battersea Power Station acknowledges history. These structures represent a significant time or milestone in history and a specific architectural style. For instance, old landmarks and structures give a community a sense of connection to its past because they testify to its cultural and aesthetic history. The older a building is, the fewer examples are left of its kind. Therefore, this irreplaceable heritage requires preservation to ensure the maintenance and enrichment of its aesthetic, cultural, educational, economic, and inspirational benefits for future generations.
Importance to Tourism
Apart from enhancing the character of an area, restoring historic buildings also brings the region much-needed investment through tourism. In addition, the unusual elements of older buildings which could be the material used, exciting brickwork, an unusually placed marble, or an intricately decorated corner, make a building more appealing, drawing visitors.
Importance to Aesthetics
Compared to today, old structures were built with higher quality materials, especially before World War II. Today, it will be almost impractical and expensive to replace such buildings with similar rare hardwoods. Moreover, unlike older buildings built to last, many modern structures have a short life expectancy of about 30 to 40 years.
Therefore, preserving historic buildings and improving them to meet current standards make more economic sense. Also, you can give new life to historical buildings and even the entire region by repurposing them into small business spaces or mixed-use developments.
In addition, unique and valuable materials were often used in older structures. These structures have detailing and features, including decorative facades, unusual glasswork, copper lining, and rare traditional artistry. Because of these distinctive features, older buildings have their own identity and distinct character, making them more exciting and aesthetically appealing than modern structures.
Architectural Conservation and Environmental Impact Reduction
Old structures’ preservation is also vital for the environment. Because it effectively recycles on a large scale, the reuse and repair of existing buildings ensure efficient use of material and energy resources, reducing waste. Also, creating new materials or discarding materials from demolished buildings is not necessary.
Usually, waste generated from a demolished building is disposed of in an incinerator or landfill, which pollutes the atmosphere. About 400 million tonnes of material is used annually in the construction industry, with 100 million tonnes produced as waste and 25 million headed for the landfill. On the other hand, refurbishing and rebuilding conserve energy, avoiding the risk of polluting the environment with toxins when a structure is torn down.
Therefore, as tempting as it might be to replace these historic edifices with new and modern structures, the shift will come with gross environmental impacts. On the other hand, maintaining the status quo preserves history and nature’s beauty while keeping the environment healthy for everyone.
Preserving the Past for The Future
Finally, we can understand our community and nation’s heritage through historic building conservation. It is also a responsible practice both economically and environmentally. Through the refurbishment and reuse of existing buildings, historic preservation preserves precious links to our history, helping us celebrate and enjoy them for generations to come.