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Don't underestimate the power of healthy debate

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I read with interest the letter of concern from Graham White (AJ 5.9.02) regarding the controversial John Muir visitor centre in Dunbar.

While architect Richard Murphy's scheme certainly 'pushes the envelope', from an Australian perspective I look with envy at such innovative and experimental heritage projects. I maintain my subscription to AJ just to remind myself of what is possible.

The introduction to the Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter makes reference to doing 'as little as possible but as much as necessary'. Unfortunately, the preoccupation to date has been with the 'as little as possible', rather than 'as much as necessary'. So I noted with amusement the expression Martin Pawley used in his article in the same issue - 'heritage morticians'.

Does heritage always have to be predictable, neutral and serious? Or can the 'as much as necessary' include innovations to stimulate and to engage the community in a creative and entertaining manner? The John Muir visitor centre is challenging, but the challenge is itself a constructive form of dialogue.

In Australia, we don't have enough of that dialogue.You are fortunate indeed.

Places Section, Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Melbourne, Australia

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