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Docomomo debate to enhance value of listing

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'A lively debate is needed on the way listing legislation is applied and administered': what a welcome cry from Ken Powell's letter (AJ 12.10.00).

Clare Melhuish's review of a lively discussion among architects in Docomomo seems to have set a cat among the pigeons (AJ 5.10.00).All the more welcome, therefore, is Powell's next suggestion: 'Perhaps the heavy hand of art history has lain too heavily in the past and the practical ways in which buildings must be made to work should be confronted'. Yes again, that is what Docomomo is saying.

As the UK branch of a 40-nation organisation rooted here in the profession, not among historians, we do have a different perspective.

Powell interpolates some invented logic between a few phrases out of a long discussion and this is not the place to sort all that out. But the pompous notion that 'the Twentieth Century Society should have been invited' made us laugh: anyone who wants to come can join Docomomo.

As a long-time member of Powell's Twentieth Century Society I would urge anyone and everyone in the profession concerned about modern architecture's fate in this country to join both his big, more popularly oriented, national society and our smaller, international group. The more people who understand the present reality and can further this debate on the basis of an architectural understanding the better. In English Heritage and outside, the joint hands of art historians and archaeologists are producing paralysis for the owners of merely 'good' buildings while failing to preserve or even maintain the great works.

Powel l's suggest ion that Docomomo could 'oppose the listing of the De La Warr Pavilion' is a laughable and lethal misunderstanding. As Melhuish's review made clear, this case perfectly exemplifies the 'crisis'. 'Masterworks' of a nationally unique quality are left as burdens upon people wholly unable to conserve them on the nation's behalf, while thousands of pieces of trivia that should be left to local love and fate absorb national energies and resources. Listing here is a power that completely abnegates responsibility and is counterproductive to the larger aim of enhancing our legacy.

That is the kind of mess that Docomomo is about debating and tackling.Anyone of like mind is most welcome to join us.

Dr Catherine Cooke, chair, Docomomo-UK

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