Thursday, 3 April 2014

Mis-quoting Vitruvius


Yesterday I slagged off listed buildings inspectors in general, and one conservation officer in particular, and this produced a trickle of admissions about how some of you have flouted the law in the past, as if you were surrounded by nothing but friends and fellow conspiritors. You naughty people, you. I ought to redress the balance.

As we all know, the concept of the mandatory conservation of historical buildings was introduced in the 1960s, following a load of criminally greedy town councillors and builders who knew they could make good money by ripping down perfectly good, 18th century structures simply by designating them as 'slums'.

Bath was probably the leading precedent set when trying to halt the wanton destruction, and I have many friends who were in the vanguard in facing up to rogue councillors and uninhibited developers.

Once these safeguard laws were in place, the tricky problem of ruling as to what was worth conserving and what wasn't, fell to a handful of young phogeys most of whom had a background in Art History. The were all a pain in the arse, but a necessary one at the time.

Then the United Kingdom Institute of Conservation was set up and quickly became a quango. I was one of its original members in the days when the subscription fees were low to attract numbers - they would take anyone who would swear allegiance to them in those days, and councils would not let you loose on their heritage sites without knowing that you were a member.

A mate of mine wrote the rulebook for the stone side of the operation (they have paper, fabric, wood, metal, glass etc. departments as well), and now his deliberations have - literally - been set in stone.

Then the young phogeys grew old, and most of them not only devoted their lives to Christ, but also to his many houses dotted around the whole of Britain. Most of them are church inspectors now, and the Catholic ones are having a whale of a time telling the Protestants what they can and cannot do with their own buildings. I used to deal regularly with one particular officer here in Bath, who came from the Appalachian mountains in the early 1970s, and now he has been amiably adopted by many C of E churches, despite being a born-again papist.

The vacuum was filled by the worst form of petty power-hungry, pen-pushing officials who know the worth of everything and the value of nothing, but since it's them who decide on something's worth, it's them who set the value - not that a recently listed, avocado bathroom suite will put anything on the price of your property when it is time to sell.

The worst thing about the situation is that these people are still actually needed in today's materialistic society. Without them visiting the sites on a weekly or daily basis, unscrupulous builders and tradesmen would still be destroying some really valuable, historical artefacts and replacing them with avocado bathroom suites. I just wish they were better educated, that's all.

I could go on, but suffice to say that just because the inspectors insist on nothing but the finest lime-mortar be used on all the buildings in this World Heritage site, they don't know enough about their subject to notice when a mason has sprinkled in a liberal handful of Ordinary White Portland Cement into the mix, destroying the properties of the lime altogether. Many of them do not even notice when the lime has been substituted for grey Portland cement either, believe it or not.

By the time it is obvious to anyone, they will probably have got themselves a job pottering around on the churches to while away the autumn of their lives.

The thing about most lime-based stone conservation techniques is that they are spectacularly simple, but you have to have the discipline of using them firmly embedded into your very psyche before you always adhere to them. Just wearing socks and sandals won't do.

In the time of Vitruvius, the period of training for all architects was 21 years.

25 comments:

  1. You only wrote this because I told you about the Newell post I unscrupulously hacked out.

    All your followers are about to become saints, I just know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would also like to add that the newell post still had a dead peasant impaled on it and was passed by the Conservation Officer in a earlier visit as being vital to the preservation of the house and its history.

      Delete
    2. Well I didn't expect a confession, and - not being a Catholic priest - I cannot provide you with one. Sounds like you're going to need one.

      Delete
    3. Someone gave me half an old Newell post which I made into a lamp base.

      Delete
    4. That's one way of preserving it for posterity. Better than burning it.

      Delete
  2. We have lime frames (sort of pillars-with-curtain) around the windows of our house in Hildesheim (when we bought it, it was not graded - 6 years later they put the whole street under monument protection). The frames were not allowed to be cleaned in any form - in my eyes they look like ugly unwashed curtains. Well - I seldom see it nowadays, so my eyes don't hurt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think most old streets in Northern Germany need monument protection - what there are left.

      Delete
  3. The problem round here is one of a 'can't be arsed' attitude once the rules have been flouted, usually in a pvc-based way, whilst those who abide by the rules and make endlessly long applications are nit-picked to within an inch of their lives. We live in a National Park and had to jump through hoops doing up what is essentially and late '60's built house, but when I asked what colour palate I needed to use for the outside, they told me I could use any colour I liked. Dayglow pink? absolutely. I didn't.......but I could have done.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's so they can find you in the snow drifts, Em.

      Delete
  4. Agree with you about the state of things pre legislation...my husband knew a demolition man and through him saw the what a keen developer could do by way of destruction....not to speak of the lead sarcophagi not reported when building the Barbican - off to the scrap man and no questions asked.

    But there are limits....and there should be limits on the ego trips and personal crusades of the 'heritage' brigade.
    I suffered from the French variety.....the local council could put PVC windows into an eighteenth century house they planned to use as offices....but I could not replace a long vanished roof with glass (and there were plenty of glass roofs in the town, including one on the restored chateau stables) 'because someone passing in a helicopter could see it'....but I could paint the fifteenth century front door bright scarlet if I wished as it would 'bring colour' to the street...
    And don't start me on kitchen windows.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ironically, the best preserved sarcophagus containing the only true Roman woman yet found, was at the Barbican.

      Delete
  5. The village in my township was acquired in the sixties by an eccentric man who set about saving it. Among the many works he published on his vision of canal town architecture is noted he was responsible for bringing indoor plumbing to the village, such was his intellectual arrogance. He bought much of the town, headed the boards of directors of other historic buildings, supervised almost all renovation, pocketed much construction money along the way. His biggest sin, in my estimation was removing much of the property he owned from the tax roles for the reason of being "historic." Such a scam. I undertook an educational campaign when I discovered the tax business, way at the end of his career. In the last months he was alive he changed the name of his foundation from his last name to the name of the village. It was all I could do; the people of the village still plow his streets for free.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Was his last word, "Rosebud..."?

      Delete
    2. What will your last word be?

      Delete
    3. I've changed my mind. The last last word was just a description of you. The real one will be along the lines of "Tell them I said something really clever, will you?"

      Delete
    4. The paramedic who took care of him on his last trip to the hospital said "I delivered him alive. I'm a hero or a zero." I thought about the old man this winter when I saw the current tenant of the Greek Revival building bolted his shop sign into the very old tree out front. I actually felt sorry for the old man and his legacy.

      Delete
  6. I've just finished watching 'The Exorcist' for the first time, so my comments tonight are going to be somewhat coloured by the experience.

    I can't believe I've never seen it before. Reminds me of my childhood.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Puts a whole new slant on 'Tubular Bells' too - about 35 years too late.

      Delete
    2. Why don't you fix the clock? It is the next day.

      I can't believe you only just watched it.

      Delete
    3. I like people to think that I'm an early riser.

      I can't believe it either. I thought it was surprisingly well filmed, but a little heavy on make up. The girls vomit was a bit too green to be convincing, though. I laughed out loud when she threw up on the priest, just because of the ludicrous colour.

      Delete
  7. I will post my vomit painting later. It was inspired by a visit to DFS a few years ago and features green vomit.

    ReplyDelete