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A distortion of the truth that fails to see vision

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I read with interest Austin Williams' account of our project to create an interpretation centre to tell the story of John Muir, the Dunbar-born environmentalist (AJ 15/22.8.02).

However, to describe Muir's far-seeing vision as 'naive' surely does him less than justice. He wrote: 'They will see what I mean in time. There must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls. Food and drink is not all.' Idealistic, certainly.Muir was the founding president of the Sierra Club, now with a membership of more than 600,000 and from which came Friends of the Earth. He is widely regarded as the father of the modern conservation movement. A century ago, he said: 'The battle for conservation will go on endlessly. It is part of the universal battle between right and wrong.' Naive?

Graham White's letter of criticism (AJ 5.9.02) was 'breathtaking' in its attempt to distort the truth. During the planning process, the local planning department received letters of protest from less than 100 individuals and organisations, rather than 'more than 450'. Far from all were the 'academics, architects, planners and educators' Mr White claimed. Most were people who had seen neither the building, nor architect Richard Murphy's plans, although more than one objector made the point that the proposals were 'clever', 'radical' and 'innovative', as if these were somehow threatening.

Historic building and archaeological surveys have failed to find anything inside the building worthy of retention. The 1970s reconstruction referred to by Mr White was recently described by one prominent architect as 'fairly brutal with its fabric', ripping out the whole of the interior.

Forsaking the issues he identifies, Mr White claims that 'the most fundamental objection' is the reduction of floor and wall space 'by up to 30 per cent'. As the ground floor area will be unaltered, this assumes the other two will be almost halved.

The illustrations in Austin Williams' article show this to be far from the case.

Among those quoted by Mr White as opposing the development is the Sierra Club. This is untrue. The Sierra Club has never 'roundly condemned' the scheme. Indeed, many prominent members, past presidents and present officials are in favour of our way forward. We have also received the support of, among others, the local Community Council, East Lothian Council, the John Muir Trust, Historic Scotland and the Scottish Executive. Mr White dismisses this huge lobby for a forward-looking vision. Anyone who opposes his point of view is 'idiotic', 'ignorant' and 'lunatic'.

Welcome on board, Austin Williams.

Oh, and Robert Venturi's work to one of Benjamin Franklin's tenements is surely in Philadelphia, Mr White, not Washington.

Will Collin, trustee, John Muir Birthplace Trust

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