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Lively debate needed on listings procedures

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Letters

At the risk of prolong ing an a lready lengthy correspondence on the subject of the Brunswick Centre, I fear that a reply from the Twentieth Century Society is needed in the light of both Patrick Hodgkinson's letter and the review by Clare Melhuish (AJ 5.10.00).

The society supports the listing system as a vital tool in protecting the best architecture of all periods from random demolition or mutilation. It has always believed that the Brunswick Centre is worthy of listing. However, the decision to list buildings of architectural and/or historic interest is taken by the secretary of state - we cannot give assurances that a building will or will not be listed. Our casework subcommittee, which resolved to press for listing of the centre, is elected under a constitution approved by the Charity Commission. I take grave exception to the description of its proceedings as a 'brawl' - this is a highly professional body, whose membership includes eight architects, a structural engineer, planners and architectural historians (the latter in a distinct minority). I would personally not wish to work for an organisation which 'looks backwards' - but then that description has nothing to do with this society.

The listing of the centre does not, of course, prohibit change or even demolition - it is a means of monitoring proposals.

As for Melhuish's review, my initial reaction is to ask why the society was not invited to attend this debate, given its known interest in the subject and the fact that Docomomo is an organisation with which we have worked closely on a number of occasions.

Docomomo is, I fear, in danger of losing the plot. It cannot simultaneously call for the protection of modern buildings and for the dismantling of all protective legislation. (Does Docomomo really oppose the listing of the De La Warr Pavilion? ) As for the description of such legislation as 'fascist', it is hard to see how such an adjective can be applied to laws passed by a free parliament (though against periodic opposition from the property industry). At this point, it seems, the discussion passed into the realm of the absurd.On the one hand, Patrick Hodgkinson, Dennis Sharp, et al, want to liberate owners from listing.

On the other, they want to give surviving architects a right of veto on any works to their buildings. This society is far from convinced that 'spiritual ownership' is a sound notion. Obviously, it is a matter of courtesy to consult the author of a building, yet other, and younger practitioners can make their own contribution and should not be prohibited from doing so. It is their imagination and open-mindedness which we find so stimulating.

The conclusion I draw from all this is that a lively debate is needed on the way in which the listing legislation is applied and administered.

Perhaps the hand of art history has lain too heavily on the system in the past and the practical ways in which buildings must be made to work should be confronted. The society would be happy to participate in such a debate - these issues are ones which we face daily through our casework and our (generally amicable and positive) relations with building owners and architects.

Kenneth Powell, consultant director, Twentieth Century Society

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