Monday, May 10, 2010

Burra Charter and new building

There appears to be a prevailing attitude among many architects, planners and even heritage professionals that new buildings, alterations, additions and even interpretive features, when installed in a heritage place, have to be cutting edge modern design. I have read a number of times, statements like: "From a heritage perspective, it is desirable that new structures on the site are designed in a modern manner, to distinguish them from the heritage buildings... [or] should have a contemporary edge..."

This is not the case.

The Heritage Debate of the 1960s and '70s, which lead to the adoption of the Burra Charter in 1979, agonised over whether copying the old or creating brand new was a better match for existing heritage buildings. The solution was The statement:
22.1 New work such as additions to the place may be acceptable where it does not distort or obscure the cultural significance of the place, or detract from its interpretation and appreciation.

22.2 New work should be readily identifiable as such.
and the Explanatory Note:
New work may be sympathetic if its siting, bulk, form, scale, character, colour, texture
and material are similar to the existing fabric, but imitation should be avoided.
While Reconstruction or replication based on conjecture is discouraged, reinstatement of elements that add to the significance of the place, based on sound research evidence is acceptable and encouraged.

The Victorian Heritage Council provides guidelines that state:
New buildings should not undermine the significance or detract from the prominence and
character of adjoining and nearby Contributory Elements and the area covered by the Area HO. ... Either contemporary or conservative design approaches may be appropriate. The design of new buildings should have close regard to context and reflect the relationships between nearby Contributory Elements and the streetscape. Design that closely imitates, replicates or mimics historic styles is discouraged because it can distort an understanding of the development of an area, and hence the significance of a Heritage Place. New buildings designed in a conservative manner should not misrepresent the historical form of a Heritage Place. They should be clearly distinguishable as new buildings.
Some council development guidelines encourage high quality modern designs, as part of requirements for new buildings in Heritage Precincts. This has often been taken as a demand for cutting edge "out there" architecture such as the inclined blades and fractal geometries (from DKM or Lab architecture studio), which now pop up on the most pedestrian on modern tilt slab projects.

I suspect it is ego which is intentionally misinterpreting the guidelines, architects who only really want to make their marks, not work within the needs of the Heritage Place. Why else would a featurist pastiche be proposed for the most important undeveloped site in Maldon by the Bendigo Bank. It has the textured brutalist concrete, the abstract Cor10 steel veranda, the horizontal slot window.

There is a world of difference between being able to distinguish between the old and new and the jarring creations that are disingenuously proffered in this way.

In many respects, as the values of a heritage building or precinct are in what has been created in the past, the new structures should remain the least prominent and therefore least important part of the place. the architects should sublimate their egos for heritage so if their creations go unnoticed, they have succeeded the best.

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