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Conservation mustchange with the times

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I was please to note from Alan Gardner's letter (aj 28.5.98) that the spab is now distancing itself from one extreme conservation technique, colloquially known as spabing, which involves repairing buildings in such a fashion that repairs cannot possibly be mistaken for original fabric. Although tile repair of stonework is included in the draft of the Code of Practice for Cleaning and Surface Repair of Buildings bs 6270, it is permitted to be hidden.

In my article 'Cleaning and repairing stone' (aj 21.5.98), I gave the example of replacement stone within a wall, delineated by dpc material. It is an 'honest' repair, but what a sad sight. Far better to record repairs in an archive than spoil the building.

The are many objectives of conservation work, not just the spab principles of repairing honestly and minimising loss of historic fabric. Using like for like materials, conserving as found, respecting the building owner's wishes, reversibility of repairs, appearance in the context of a building's surroundings, traditional repairs, minimum intervention; the list can go on and on. Every historic structure has different constraints upon its potential conservation, and it is seldom possible to achieve all objectives. Indeed, some can prove mutually exclusive: for example, honest repairs versus using like for like materials.

However, one test for good conservation is achieving as many of the most important objectives as possible while recognising that a low score does not necessarily mean 'bad' conservation. Good conservation is also about achieving the right balance of objectives, in consultation with all the relevant parties. Those objectives are not set in stone!

The Architectural Association's postgraduate building conservation course, where I have been a visiting lecturer for many years, is a prime venue for such discussion. Goodconservation has always been practised in all but name by sensible and sensitive professionals. By the early 1980s, the 'conservation movement' had become established. Like most new organisations finding their niche, we have seen conservation swing from modest beginnings to extremes, and back to the more balanced views we enjoy in the late 1990s.

It is healthy that the conservation movement continues to debate and modify its views from time to time, as the world moves on.


James Consulting Engineers

London SW1

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