X marks the blot! Worst buildings list will open up the demolition debate
Congratulations are due to George Ferguson. Firstly, it is always exciting to have an idea discussed by the national media nearly a year after you first mooted it. And secondly, you know your proposal is of value when somebody gets really upset about it. Both these happened in relation to Ferguson's proposal for X-listing the worst buildings that we have, in an effort to speed their replacement. An idea that received its first serious airing in the RIBA's response to the DCMS' Heritage Review Consultation Paper in October 2003, it was taken up big time by the media this month. Who says we don't have a silly season?
Kevin Steer of Stride Treglown is furious that Ferguson's list includes Tollgate House, a project that Steer's practice designed in the 1970s and that he defends with the dubious argument: 'I don't think it is a building of great beauty but so what if it says something of its time' (see page 11). This spat receives added poignancy from the fact that it is happening on Ferguson's home turf of Bristol. Steer is certainly within his rights to defend his building, and while Ferguson is evidently serious about the concept of X-listing, he must know that, in terms of naming and shaming buildings, he can only give his personal opinion. If X-listing takes off, there will be recommendations and debate, in the same way that there is for positive listings.
If X-listing is adopted, there will doubtless be some heated arguments and cries of outrage when certain buildings are condemned. But we need to look at demolition, as well as preservation, if we are not to have an entirely fossilised and anachronistic buildings stock.
Better a deliberate policy, however imperfect, than the fiasco that is unfolding in Northern Ireland, where the architectural heritage is being eroded by what seems to be a combination of negligence and a desperation to encourage housing development (see page 5). With almost every old building, there are valid arguments that can be made for both preservation and demolition.
Let's have those arguments in the open, rather than discovering with shock that buildings have gone when it is too late to do anything about them.