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BOOKS Techniques that keep history alive Lighting Historic Buildings by Derek Phillips. Butterworth Heinemann, 1997. 206pp. £39.50 Historic Building Facades: The Manual for Maintenance and Rehabi

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A book on the theory and practice of lighting historic buildings is long overdue. Architect and lighting consultant Derek Phillips gives us a history of lighting and demonstrates, through case studies of building types and uses, how designers should approach it in the context of current technology, 'retaining the original integrity [of old buildings] without compromising future needs'. This is to be welcomed. With millennium floodlighting schemes on drawing boards across the land, and preparations in hand for an international conference on historic buildings and lighting in Williamsburg, Virginia, next year, the subject's time has come.

Phillips leads us through the principles of natural lighting and fenestration design; gives an excellent potted introduction to the historical development of luminaires; highlights the aesthetic and utilitarian conflicts created when confronting new uses for old buildings; and shows good practice when establishing lighting schemes from cottage interiors to the external illumination of castles, palaces and cathedrals.

It is notoriously difficult to illustrate books on natural and artificial lighting successfully; pictures never quite satisfy when attempting to represent this most illusive of architectural qualities with accuracy. So, despite over 360 figures and photographs, a third of them in colour, the overall presentation of ideas and completed designs is often disappointing. The publisher should have spent more on professional photography.

'Conservation is not a subject that can be ignored,' says Phillips, as damage to historic materials (decorative surfaces, furnishings, fabrics, etc) can be caused by excessive natural and artificial lighting. But he offers fewer than three pages on this complicated subject, so readers will need other primers (such as Gary Thompson's The Museum Environment). I should also have liked to see advice on when not to floodlight buildings; guidance on retaining visual acuity in historic house museums without raising levels of conservation lighting; and a chapter on ameliorating the architectural impact of electrical plant on historic fabric. Altogether, the book is a good introduction - but Butterworth Heinemann should start a series on the subject.

Imagine the Edinburgh New Town conservation guide, The Care and Conservation of Georgian Houses, and you have the format for Historic Building Facades. The Landmarks Conservancy, like the New Town Conservation Committee, is a non-profit organisation, set up to give grants and loans for the preservation of historic buildings across New York State, and this book forms part of its technical assistance programme. But, charged with the conservation of buildings somewhat younger and taller (10 to 50-odd storeys high), and a climate range (from -10degreesC, 30 per cent rh to 30degreesC, 95 per cent rh) that makes the Scottish capital seem postitvely temperate, there the similarities end.

The publication was devised to counter unsympathetic responses to historically important late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century skyscrapers being threatened by new 'dangerous structures' powers that relied more on demolition than repair, maintenance and conservation. Contributions to the work include advice on the historical development of tall masonry and curtain-walled facades; on inspection and assessment techniques; and on methods of repair for stone, brick, terracotta, cast stone, concrete, cast iron, pressed metal and wood.

Aimed at architects, maintenance surveyors, city engineers and contractors, the book runs through symptoms and causes of deterioration emanating from poor or inadequate maintenance. But this is a tall order to encompass in just over 200 pages, especially as many of the 78 photographs and drawings are of rather poor quality.

The result is rather a mixed bag, with editing that fails to decide whether to pitch the manual at lay building owners, the general practitioner, or the specialist. Readers will be fascinated by construction details, fault systems and repair techniques that are not common in the uk. Some of the writers obviously know their subjects well. But others repeat principles established with more clarity elsewhere, without offering the detailed practical guidance actually needed for the circumstances. Where, for example, are the model mortar recipes for such aggressive site conditions?

John Fidler is head of architectural conservation at English Heritage

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