English Heritage's reported stance on the issue of accreditation for architects working on grant-aided repair and conversion schemes for listed buildings (AJ 20.2.03) has a certain logic in terms of repair work, but equally will do nothing to foster a creative approach to the conversion, extension and rehabilitation of historic buildings.
I sit on Anglican and Roman Catholic committees charged with the care of listed churches, many of them Grade I and II* listed.We frequently see proposals for extensions (usually social halls and WCs) and for the radical recasting of interiors to accommodate both social facilities and liturgical innovations.
The general standard of these schemes is mediocre and they are sometimes depressingly inept. Technical competence is one thing - and it is vital - but design flair is another. It is very rare that church commissions go to practices outside a charmed circle of specialists - Eric Parry's ambitious scheme for St Martin in the Fields is one encouraging example. The implication of EH's (doubtless well-intentioned) policy is that the grip of the specialists should be tightened, encouraging weak pastiche and compromise.
It has taken Britain some decades to embrace the radical 'new/old' juxtapositions that Italian architects like Franco Albini, Ernesto Rogers and Carlo Scarpa pioneered from the 1950s on. In recent years, this spirit has been evident in projects by Foster, Rogers, Cullinan, Stanton Williams, Dixon.Jones, McAslan, Levitt Bernstein and others and the Lottery has generated some inspiring reuse schemes. Conversion and rehabilitation of fine old buildings, large numbers of which will only survive if new uses are found, cannot be a sector apart from the mainstream - indeed, it demands the best talents in the business. By erecting a barrier that will discourage non-specialists from seeking historic buildings work, EH's system could deny the 'heritage' the infusion of skills and ideas that it badly needs.
Kenneth Powell, London SW12