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International connections

review

To help prospective readers, the all-encompassing title of this fine book (beaten only by James Marston Fitch's The Curatorial Management of the Built World) might have benefitted from a subtitle of the sort given in Jukka Jokilehto's DPhil thesis of the same name - as its focus is the contribution of English, French, German and Italian thought on approaches to building conservation.

At its core is the study of the historical development of a western European code of ethics and practice for the repair of historic buildings and monuments. Mankind's early interest in the permanent display of trophies from the spoils of war, and in the architectural marking and veneration of sacred sites, is described and illustrated. The continuity or survival of building traditions and uses are also explained: hallowed relics being kept and incorporated in several building phases in churches and cathedrals, for example.

Jokilehto cites the Renaissance development of historical consciousness and the rediscovery of antiquity (grave-robbing excepted) as the real birth of modern thought. I was particularly fascinated to learn of Raphael's appeal to Pope Leo X (1513-21) about the destruction of Classical remains, which were being undermined for pozzolanic earth, and their marble burned for lime mortar, in the reconstruction of Rome.

The Swedes inevitably feature for their early Antiquities Ordinance of 1666. Later, in the eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment, we hear about German and French philosophers; the English concept of the Picturesque; grand tours and expeditions. In Italy, the German and Italian Commissioners of Antiquities did sterling work. France features proudly with its Commission des Monuments of 1790 and post of Conservator from 1830.

To be honest, I had hoped to discover more international connections than this modest and extremely thorough Finnish conservation architect, as author, has been able to muster in 20 years of research and teaching at the International Centre for Studies in the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (iccrom) in Rome.

It was useful to learn about the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings' early contacts with the French L'Ami des Monuments, for example. It was also interesting to read that one of our Caroe dynasty of conservation architects worked with Giacomo Boni (1859-1925) on major historic buildings in Venice. I even learned about C R Ashbee's influence on the development of the American National Trust for Historic Preservation. But what I really wanted to know was whether Ruskin had conversed with those working on monuments in Venice and Rome on his mid-nineteenth century travels prior to devising his 'Lamp of Memory'. Must we assume his creed only came out of his acute sense of observation?

Some big questions go unanswered. But being blessed with fluency in six languages, and having privileged access to many previously closed archives in France, Germany and Italy, Jokilehto deserves praise for bringing together for the first time the chief sources of western European conservation ethics in a readable and thoughtful, if serious, style.

For students of English conservation history familiar with overviews such as Goths & Vandals (Briggs, 1952) and Restoration and Anti-Restoration (Tschudi-Madsen, 1976), there will not be too much new to digest on the home front: Carter, Britton, Pugin, Ruskin, Scott and Morris all feature in small vignettes. But Jokilehto's book provides a rich source for comparative studies between national thinkers on building conservation across the span of time and space.

The book finishes with a summary of where we now stand: acceptance of cultural patrimony's universal value; a growing interest in issues of material authenticity and integrity; and an awareness of the limitations of science and technology and of craftsmanship.

Over 300 footnotes contain a mine of information. But the 22 pages of a 'selected' bibliography go a tad too far and look, in the English publications cited, like academic padding to me.

To my surprise little is said at all about sustainability, except in the last sentence. Surely material conservation, building costs-in-use (value-for-money) and total embodied-energy conservation will be key planks in the building conservation debate for the millennium ahead? As international society dumbs down, and less and less value is perceived to be encompassed in cultural property, we shall need to learn the economic codes to advocate extended life in an increasingly short-term, throwaway world.

John Fidler is head of building conservation & research at English Heritage

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