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'Listing is not about saving', says Historic Scotland's head of listing

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Following Inverkip Power Station’s demolition, Elizabeth McCrone of Historic Scotland explains its approach to Modernist industrial heritage

Why does post-war architecture in Scotland struggle for recognition?
I’m not sure it does. That view is out-of-date. Post-war architecture is a growing part of our work – public interest in the subject is increasing and we receive more and more requests to assess post-war buildings for listing.

Historic Scotland has been at the forefront of increasing the appreciation of our post-war heritage. In 2009 we launched our first major publication about post-war architecture. Scotland – Building for the Future brought the debate about our post-war heritage to the fore and asked what for some is still an uncomfortable question – which of these buildings should be recognised through listing?

Great architecture didn’t just stop after the Second World War

However, we all have a responsibility to champion post-war architecture in a meaningful and down to earth way. Great architecture didn’t just stop after the Second World War – but it is very different from what went before. If we can’t explain why it is interesting and important in terms that everyone can understand then we risk alienating some people.

Why didn’t you save Inverkip?
Let’s be clear at the start that listing is not about ‘saving’ buildings. Listing is a marker but it is not there to preserve buildings in aspic or even to prevent demolition if an appropriate case for demolition can be made. So, listing wouldn’t necessarily have ‘saved’ Inverkip. However, Inverkip was proposed for listing in 2007 when discussions about its future were taking place. We carried out a site visit and further research into the subject to place it in context.

Listing wouldn’t necessarily have ‘saved’ Inverkip

Built in 1970, Inverkip was the first oil-fired power station in Scotland, but it was a late example in wider UK terms – Bankside in London started generating in 1952.  I agree the power station has a presence in the landscape – but this could be said to be typical of all power stations and it isn’t necessarily a reason for listing in its own right. By that rationale all power stations would be eligible for listing. We concluded that Inverkip had undoubted presence in the landscape and was a well-known landmark but as neither the technology used, nor the architecture of the station was innovative for its date, we concluded that it did not meet the listing criteria. (See Black Box, AJ 11.07.13: ‘Historic Scotland is blind to its outstanding Modernist industrial heritage’.)

We are certainly not neglectful of recognising power-related heritage though. We recently carried out a major study into Scotland’s hydroelectric power and a number of post-war hydroelectric power stations are listed, such as Sloy Power Station in Argyll and Bute and Pitlochry Power Station in Perth and Kinross.

Source: Andrew Seyright via YouTube

The demolition of the Inverkip Power Station

Why isn’t the work of Egon Riss protected?

Very little of Egon Riss’ work as the chief production architect for the National Coal Board’s Scottish Division survives. Much of it was demolished some considerable time ago. Of course, we’d be happy to assess any of the remaining structures. Anyone can propose a building for listing using our online form. If you tell us about it we will investigate it.

Listing is not always the most appropriate way of recognising our heritage

Listing is not always the most appropriate way of recognising our heritage. Much can be achieved by recording and documenting. Historic Scotland also manages and fully funds the online Dictionary of Scottish Architects.

What is your standpoint on the adaptive re-use of these buildings?
There is no issue with heritage professionals and the development industry understanding the capacity for the re-use of our post-war heritage. The increasing interest in the post-war period means that there is more and more expertise and knowledge available about these types of buildings.

There is, however, still work to do to change the perception that the refurbishment or re-use of a listed building of any period or type could result in a more expensive, complicated or even second rate product. The A-listed 1970 Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh is a brilliant example of how this need not be the case. The pool’s two and a half year refurbishment has recently been finished on time and on budget. The design of the building allowed for new technology to be introduced and solar panels have been installed on the flat roof, this is part of a suite of sustainable technologies that will save 400 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

What is the future of Scotland’s industrial heritage?

The future is bright. There is so much industrial heritage to celebrate in Scotland. Currently a public consultation is taking place about securing World Heritage Site status for the A-listed Forth Bridge, one of our most iconic industrial structures. Information gathered over the coming weeks will contribute to the final document for World Heritage site nomination which will be submitted to UNESCO in early 2014.

But let’s not forget that any type of building project can be a challenge in these economic times and we still have work to do to ensure that the significance, usefulness, adaptability and place-making potential of our industrial heritage is taken into account in decisions about the future of our towns and cities.

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