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Brunswick-inspired debate on listing legislation

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DOCOMOMO's deliberations about the future of the Brunswick Centre following its recent Grade II listing, turned into a full-scale indictment of current listing procedures. Catherine Cooke, chair of DOCOMOMO, which made representations against the listing of the Brunswick on the grounds that, as a 'pioneering example of a megastructure in England' it embodies 'the idea of a framework that accepts and assumes change within it over time', described current conservation law as 'a dictatorship which is in the end a financial burden'. There is a significant difference between imposing a conservation order on 'a whole living community', as exemplified by the Brunswick, as opposed to 'a single building unit, ' she pointed out.

Derek Sugden was even more outspoken in his condemnation, describing it as 'fascist legislation', in which building owners have absolutely no rights.He highlighted his own problems, as owner of an Alison and Peter Smithson-designed house, fending off persistent visitations by English Heritage.Dennis Sharp described it as 'a process in the hands of enthusiasts, now enforced by Draconian law'.

Patrick Hodgkinson, whose plans for refurbishment and alteration of the Brunswick were also granted planning permission this summer, suggested that 'we are listing a lot of post-war buildings that are rather questionable.'He asked whether the urge to 'museumise large sections of town'might not represent 'a sort of necrophilia'. He strongly criticised both the Twentieth Century Society, which proposed the listing of the Brunswick, and English Heritage, for failing to look at the building's real history, and presenting a case which was full of errors.

For instance, EH had claimed the Brunswick exerted an important influence on the design of both Hodgkinson's own Harvey Court, Cambridge, and Denys Lasdun's UEA complex - buildings which in fact preceded the Brunswick in the 1960s. Hodgkinson also threw out the suggestion that the Brunswick had been influenced by Sant'Elia's Milan railway station - a project which he says he never knew. Most surprisingly, 'the ministry said it didn't want to know the correct answers'. Hodgkinson concluded that 'Historians look backwards and architects look forward', and as a result can never agree.

But at the same time, as Cooke pointed out, some extremely important buildings are falling through the net. She highlighted the 'canonical crisis of Bexhill - one of the masterworks', which throws into doubt the whole viability of the listing procedure. She suggested that a distinction should be made between buildings which are recognised to be of clear public importance, and the others. But, perhaps more significantly, it was proposed that the case of the Brunswick should be used to fight for the legal concept of 'spiritual ownership', as it exists on the continent - or, as here, the right of an architect to rework his own building.

The DOCOMOMO debate on the Brunswick Centre followed Clare Melhuish's talk, Brunswick Centre as Design and Social Organism, at the Volume Gallery, Book Art, in London

vital statistics

46 per cent of people polled by English Heritage think black heritage is not adequately represented in the UK, and 45 per cent hold a similar view on Asian heritage. The MORI poll also revealed that support for modern architecture has risen to 76 per cent since a similar poll three years ago.

Asked for a word which they connected to 'environment', the most common answer was 'pollution'.

The survey is at www.english-heritage.org.uk/discovery/heritagereview/mori

Milton Keynes is the fastest growing urban area in Britain and half its local commuters travel less than three miles to work. The town, bidding to be the 'Millennium City' is also home to the UK's largest collection of urban sculpture, with 200 works.

The vast majority (82 per cent) of businesses located in the City of London have fewer than 11 employees.

Just 1.3 per cent have more than 200 staff.

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