The past is an English country: the story of English Heritage


A hundred years ago, worried about Britain’s built environment, the state established the listings system and gave itself the power to make a collection of buildings for ‘public benefit and education’. Today English Heritage, which continues that work, fights to preserve a modern heritage that its antecedents would be astounded by. We look at some of the more dramatic case histories of recent years


Blueprint

By Herbert Wright

Last year English Heritage celebrated its centenary... or was it really its 30th anniversary? After all, Michael Heseltine set up the quango as recently as 1983 to safeguard the best of England's built legacy, a function previously entrusted to his Department for the Environment. Then again, what about the 120th anniversary of the appointment of the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments? Or the first Ancient Monuments Protection Act, which became law in 1882?

English Heritage now runs London’s blue plaque scheme, founded in 1866 Courtesy English Heritage

English Heritage now runs London's blue plaque scheme, founded in 1866 Courtesy English Heritage

At his London offices in a magnificently gothic late-Victorian complex designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the youthful and energetic chief executive of English Heritage since 2002 Simon Thurley clarifies: the 1913 Act 'establishes the power of the state to make a list of historic properties that are worthy of protection, and it gives power to government to make a collection of buildings for public benefit and education'.

Apollo

Victor Pasmore's Apollo Pavilion, on a housing estate in Peterlee, Co Durham, was given Grade II* status in 2011 Courtesy English Heritage

Although still 70 per cent state funded, English Heritage also has income from a membership of 750,000, visitors to 420 sites (mainly free to enter, but there are gift shops, cafes and such like) and donations. In July, the Government awarded it £80m to spend on urgent repairs and to get plans moving for a selffinancing charity to continue looking after its national heritage collections, which range from palaces to prehistoric circles and includes an archive of 10 million photographs, plans and surveys. English Heritage advises government on listing historic buildings (see page 118) and planning applications, as well as issuing grants, managing maritime archeology and erecting London's blue plaques. Not least, the organisation connects the public to England's historic environment.

In the past, English Heritage has perhaps overstretched those responsibilities. It led the campaign against London's skyscrapers Heron Tower and The Shard. Public inquiries in 2002 and 2003 cost £21m and hinged on views of St Paul's Cathedral. Thurley's opinion is that 'it's our job to represent the views of a large number of people who feel uncomfortable about these types of buildings', something that he sees as intrinsic to the democratic process. The then London mayor Ken Livingstone, keen for developers' investment and a modern skyline, told a property conference in 2002 that English Heritage was 'an obscure monastic order' and that 'a decisive defeat of English Heritage is vital'. Livingstone got his defeat, twice, but as for his language, Thurley says, 'It made me laugh at the time and it still makes me laugh now. English Heritage is still here; where is Ken Livingstone?'

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage since 2002 Courtesy English Heritage

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage since 2002 Courtesy English Heritage

Arguably, his presence lingers in the legacy of London's world-city supremacy, and certainly in its ongoing high-rise boom. In June, Thurley argued passionately at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat skyscraper conference (Blueprint 330, September/October 2013) against the Chipperfield-designed redevelopment plans for Elizabeth House, Waterloo, because of its inpact on views, but he is not intrinsically intolerant of skyscrapers per se. Referring to the Leadenhall Building, aka the Cheesegrater (Blueprint 325, April 2013), he says, 'We have had very good, robust, positive conversations with [its developer] British Land... and we feel that building will make a positive contribution to the skyline.'

English Heritage had no objection to Peel Holding’s Wirral Waters (Broadway Malyan), here, but fought its sister development Liverpool Waters, which was approved Courtesy Peel Holdings

English Heritage had no objection to Peel Holding's Wirral Waters (Broadway Malyan), here, but fought its sister development Liverpool Waters, which was approved Courtesy Peel Holdings

A similar argument brewed recently with the Peel Group's Liverpool Waters plans to redevelop docks just north of the city's UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, with a cluster of skyscrapers. Thurley contends that Liverpool 'has to decide what they want... the big badge of the World Heritage Site, or a massive great thing next door, which many people feel will detract from that badge that they have. They can't have both. We are just astonished that the developer feels that it needs to press a scheme which is unsympathetic'. In any case, he muses that selling even two of 'the sort of chi-chi two-bedroom flats in those blocks will be a real struggle, let alone 2,000 of them. I think we're in a little bit of a cloud cuckoo land here with the whole of this big scheme'. The Government approved the plans in March this year. Thurley recognises Liverpool's need for investment and jobs, but points out that Wirral Waters, Peel's almost-mirror scheme across the Mersey, is something 'which we felt content with... they can start building tomorrow'.

English Heritage and UNESCO were in tune about Liverpool, but Thurley admits that they haven't always seen eye-to-eye. 'UNESCO has to realise that it's not like dealing with a country where conservation is seen as an impediment,' he comments. The UN organisation is not the only difficult team-mate that English Heritage has had. While he's 'very pleased' with the current Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, to whom listing recommendations go, the previous minister Margaret Hodge was someone 'who I got on with personally extremely well but I did fundamentally disagree with her almost visceral hatred of British brutalism of the Seventies'. Post-war buildings account for barely 650 of the total 374,000 listings, but Thurley is passionate about British brutalism in particular. He feels the Seventies was his era, 'when I had hair and wore stacked shoes'. He's wanted to 'do a dance' for every brutalist building listed, and he talks of the 'extraordinary emotional effect' they produced.

Preston Bus Station, is now listed but the battle remains for funding to maintain it Courtesy BDP

He is bitter about Birmingham Library, completed in 1974 (Blueprint 330), which English Heritage thrice recommended for listing to no avail. 'A tragic story' is how he describes its architect, John Madin, 'who bestrode the second city of Britain, whose designs, buildings, and town planning skills were admired around the world... He died last year knowing that not one single building will be standing in five years' time'. That's a slight exaggeration, but point taken. Thurley laments similar cases such as Owen Luder -- 'his car parks in Gateshead and Portsmouth: gone'. Despite the recognition of (listed) Centre Point's brilliance, he worries that even 'Richard Seifert could easily fall into the Madin category'. To those who dismiss brutalist icons as carbuncles to be rid of, he cites Victorian icons that earlier generations felt similarly about: St Pancras ('a building that was listed to the complete horror of British Rail and half the public', he notes) or Manchester's inner-city warehouses (their listing provoked 'accusations that this would consign Manchester to be a museum, it would fossilise Manchester'). Tastes change and, Thurley says, 'it is our role partly to follow fashion, but partly to lead fashion'. He wants future generations to 'experience some of the awe that you feel when you confronted by British brutalism in the Seventies'.

English Heritage's future is now reaching into the deep past. 'A hundred years ago,' Thurley notes, 'one of the main reasons that Act of Parliament was passed was because people were so desperate to sort out Stonehenge... I'm very proud that we seem to be the generation that cracked the nut.' The solution to that previously resistant nut includes an extraordinarily contemporary visitor centre by Denton Corker Marshall (see page 126). In what Thurley calls the 'great outdoor museum of national history' that is English Heritage's realm, the crowning glory of his reign will lie in those Wiltshire fields. P

Preston bus Station, BDP

David Cash
BDP chairman

David Cash

Twice suggested for listing, twice rejected by the Secretary of State (2000, 2009), it finally got its Grade II listing in September. Preston City Council leader Peter Rankin said: 'It was not the outcome we were hoping for.' BDP's chairman was happier: 'I think the building is a heroic structure of its era, and is well worthy of its listed status. The focus now must be to ensure adequate funding is secured to bring the building back into a good state of repair.'

Preston Bus Station, is now listed but the battle remains for funding to maintain it Courtesy BDP

Preston Bus Station, is now listed but the battle remains for funding to maintain it Courtesy BDP

The Designator

Emily Gee
Head of designation English Heritage

Emily Gee started at English Heritage in 2001 as a listings inspector, rising to head of designation in 2011. She advises government on what of England's heritage deserves protection.

Blueprint asked her what makes a post-war building exceptional enough for potential listing. 'We look for real architectural quality and special interest, which can be found in technological prowess, design innovation, effective use of materials, evidence of a noted designer and/or the inclusion of remarkable artworks,' she replies. 'The great majority of buildings from the period are ordinary but where there is real architectural inventiveness and quality, designation might be appropriate.'

Brutalism in particular seems to provoke public disdain. Gee considers 'that might have been true a few years ago, but there has been a real shift... The Fifties and Sixties now have a mainstream appeal, and the Seventies and Eighties are becoming hip'. When listings for the period are recommended, she thinks that 'most people of all backgrounds and interests are now intrigued, or even excited, rather than aghast'. She honours The Twentieth Century Society for leading the way in this area and also highlights English Heritage's publication record in it. 'All historic buildings were brand new once,' she adds.

Emily Gee

The '30-year rule', introduced in 1987, is now bringing postmodernism into potential listings. Gee says it 'has already entered the realms of history and fascination', and cites the landmark V&A exhibition. She warns that 'when significant younger buildings are threatened, we must still advise the government to help inform the planning process'. That may not have saved iconic office buildings such as Seifert's King's Reach Tower (1978) or Howard, Fairbairn & Partners' Portland House (1963) from imminent facade-obliterating contemporarification, but she points out that 'we are just starting a project to look at the best commercial buildings from 1965, continuing an important English Heritage tradition of thematic understanding, which leads to protecting and celebrating the very best postwar buildings'. Further, she notes the recent project 'to revise the list entries of the 30 or so already listed postwar commercial offices. Most of these have been changed with consent since they were first listed, some quite dramatically, which clearly shows that listing helps to enable characterful change -- it isn't the preservation order some think it to be.'

Gee's proudest modern listing is the Lloyd's Building, for which EH received a thank-you letter from Richard Rogers. Most disappointing was that 'we did not have time to fully assess Terry Farrell's TV-am building in Camden Town (1983) before it was much altered. At least the egg cups on the canal elevation are still there'.

Chiswick House, Caruso St John

Peter St John
Partner, Caruso St John

Peter St John

Lord Burlington's Chiswick House (1729) established the Palladian style in England and, with its park by the English landscape garden pioneer William Kent, it has one of the most idyllic settings in London. Introducing into the grounds a new cafe with a capacity for 80 and additional seating on an apron outside was never going to be straightforward, despite its seclusion in trees. The white pavilion, fronted by a stone arcade referencing Palladian and more recent Italian architecture, was designed by the practice Caruso St John and opened in 2010. It is contemporary and timeless but, as partner Peter St John recalls, the project did not start like this.

'When our initial design for the cafe, with a large pyramidal roof of stone tiles, was rejected by English Heritage at quite a late stage we had to start again from scratch,' he says. 'But the commission was such a privilege we put as much imagination into the second design as the first and, ultimately, I think the second design was better.

Chiswick House Cafe, opened in 2010, resulted from a rejected first design Courtesy Caruso St John

Chiswick House Cafe, opened in 2010, resulted from a rejected first design Courtesy Caruso St John

'It was a difficult process to manage because of the very large number of interested parties and different sensitivities, but it was also enjoyable. We're interested in architectural history, and our project makes many connections to the landscape and to the villa that everyone can understand. It has a strong presence for a small building. The problematic start to our working relationship with English Heritage cemented a strong bond between us. It was very supportive and wanted a building of quality that would last. Our interest in construction and building things well is an attitude that English Heritage can relate to. You won't get to make projects like that very often in your career.'

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Bennetts Associates

Simon Erridge
Director, Bennetts Associates

Elisabeth Scott designed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) in Stratford-upon-Avon, a Grade II*-listed 1932 building in an art deco style. But, with out-of-date facilities, including a cinema-like auditorium, English Heritage recognised that major structural intervention was needed to give it Shakespearian stage intimacy and contemporary access. Bennetts Associates won the competition to transform the RST, and its £113m remodelling started in 2007. This delivered new facilities, including an auditorium in a galleried courtyard with a thrust stage, and a 35m-high tower.

Simon Erridge

Simon Erridge, project director at Bennetts Associates for the RST, recalls: 'Our working relationship with English Heritage began immediately after our competition win, with the commencement of regular workshops with the EH case officer and the local planning authority, which were to continue throughout the design process.

The 1932 Elisabeth Scott Royal Shakespeare Theatre after its 2010 £113m reworking Courtesy Benetts Associates

The 1932 Elisabeth Scott Royal Shakespeare Theatre after its 2010 £113m reworking Courtesy Benetts Associates

'Fitting the new auditorium within the existing building proved technically difficult and, as a result, our design did challenge the initial EH guidance in one or two areas. To our great relief, EH supported our radical rebuilding proposals which included the new auditorium, foyer spaces and a new viewing tower (an echo of a long-lost, 19th-century original), encouraging a bold approach where appropriate, balanced by the reconstruction of rediscovered elements such as the original 1932 riverside facade which had been hidden from view by later extensions.

The galleried courtyard and thrust stage incorporated by Bennetts Associates Courtesy Benetts Associates

The galleried courtyard and thrust stage incorporated by Bennetts Associates Courtesy Benetts Associates

'The project was completed in 2010 and its success endorses the "constructive conservation" approach taken by EH and the RSC team.'

City of London, GMW

Terry Brown
President, Association of Consultant Architects

Terry Brown

With works from the Aviva Tower (1969) to the Stock Exchange Tower's glassy refurbishment (2007), GMW has been a major architectural player on the City of London's modern cityscape. The practice has worked with English Heritage on several City projects, including the Grade II*-listed 41 Lothbury by Mewes and Davis, completed in 1926. There, major elements, including the banking hall, original rooms and facades, were retained but new elements, such as office floors and an atrium for natural light, were introduced. Terry Brown, then a partner at GMW, notes the 'strong trace of history' in the project, which 'offers a characterful alternative to the super-efficient quality of totally new-build schemes'.

GMW’s design to replace the Baltic Exchange after the 1992 bombing were were drawn up in consultation with English Heritage Courtesy GMW

GMW's design to replace the Baltic Exchange after the 1992 bombing were were drawn up in consultation with English Heritage Courtesy GMW

GMW's most dramatic collaboration came after the IRA blew up the Baltic Exchange in 1992. Brown recalls: 'Clambering over wreckage a day or so after the bomb, we worked with the Baltic to try to work out a plan for temporary operations. While the central structure of the exchange building had survived, the finishes and windows throughout were badly damaged. During the period when we worked on a planning submission for a replacement building, we were also cataloguing and removing from site the marble finishes and glass domes of the trading hall and principal elevation. While working on the new proposals, we consulted with English Heritage. Paul Velluet was the officer assigned to the project.'

GMW’s design to replace the Baltic Exchange after the 1992 bombing were were drawn up in consultation with English Heritage Courtesy GMW

GMW's design to replace the Baltic Exchange after the 1992 bombing were were drawn up in consultation with English Heritage Courtesy GMW

Indesign

The Gherkin, which won the international competition for 30 St Mary Axe, became one of the most distinctive shapes in the capital Courtesy Foster + Partners

Meanwhile, developer Trafalgar House bought the site and GMW secured planning permission for a major new block which, as Brown explains, 'met the requirements of English Heritage by retaining both the principal parts of the main facades and the double-height trading hall... But Trafalgar, which was taken over around this time by Kvaerner, became convinced that the three storeys of the office building were compromised by the imposition of the trading hall'. Subsequent discussions with English Heritage resulted in agreement to remove the last remains of the old Baltic building and abandon any kind of reconstruction, but it wanted an international competition for a new building. Jean Nouvel, Michael Hopkins, Norman Foster and GMW submitted entries. The winning design by Foster + Partners was approved by English Heritage, and the result, since 2004, at 30 St Mary Axe is the iconic Gherkin.

University of Birmingham, Glenn Howells Architects

The Bramall Music Building at the University of Birmingham's Edgbaston campus sits within a Grade II-listed red-brick crescent of buildings beneath the 100m-high Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clock Tower, all designed by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell and finished in 1909. The new 450-seat venue is a 21st-century reinterpretation of the original architectural vision from 1902. It opened in late 2012, completing the semi-circle of buildings, and also contains rehearsal, research and teaching facilities.

Glenn Howells’ 2012 extension to the Grade II-listed Bramall Music Building, Birmingham Courtesy Edmund Sumner

Glenn Howells' 2012 extension to the Grade II-listed Bramall Music Building, Birmingham Courtesy Edmund Sumner

William Schofield, former associate at Glenn Howells Architects, said his practice 'recognised the importance of consultation with English Heritage and the Birmingham City Council's planning and conservation team even before putting pen to paper. A further 10 months of design development in consultation with English Heritage informed the design and ensured an unhindered planning process'.

New facilities include a 450-seat venue, research and teaching spaces 15 – Denton Corker Marshall’s centre gives precedence to its context: the landscape Courtesy Edmund Sumner

New facilities include a 450-seat venue, research and teaching spaces 15 - Denton Corker Marshall's centre gives precedence to its context: the landscape Courtesy Edmund Sumner

Schofield continued: 'English Heritage's interest in specification of the building material was equalled by Glenn Howells Architects and, with the prospect of the original stone and brickwork both being unavailable for the new building, [it] provided assistance in the selection of suitable alternatives. Its team's passion for the historic aspects of the listed setting helped ensure that compromises were avoided on the fundamental aspects of design with a focus on the use of high-quality materials.'

Stonehenge exhibition and Visitor Centre, Denton Corker Marshall

Stephen Quinlain
Partner, Denton Corker Marshall

Stephen Quinlain

English Heritage came from the movement that sprang from the need to protect Stonehenge. In December, approximately 4,500 years after the giant sarsen stones were brought to the site of a circular enclosure made even earlier, English Heritage's striking and sustainable new visitor centre at Airman's Corner, just over a mile away, opens to the public. Designed by Denton Corker Marshall (DCM), it is part of a £27m transformation of the larger site.

The visitor centre is built on a concrete raft that protects the archaeologically rich soil beneath it. Two main rectangular volumes or 'pods' lie underneath a subtly undulating metal canopy, 78m wide and 36m deep, which is perforated around its edge with a motif of random rectilinear shapes (allegedly, they don't codify a hidden message). The 211 thin, slightly off-vertical steel columns that rise from the ground to touch it are as much to prevent it from being blown away as to support it, and echo neolithic timber posts, the traces of which are nowadays just holes.

Denton Corker Marshall’s centre gives precedence to its context: the landscape Courtesy Edmund Sumner Courtesy DCM

Denton Corker Marshall's centre gives precedence to its context: the landscape Courtesy Edmund Sumner Courtesy DCM

One volume is a glass box containing cafe and retail, while the other is clad in chestnut timber, containing the exhibition centre. At the heart of the latter is a drum-shaped room in which projections based on laser scans will emulate the experience of being inside Stonehenge's inner circle (to which mass access is impractical). The display has been designed by Leicester-based Haley Sharpe Design, which specialises in visitor facilities and has a portfolio of projects from Death Valley to the Liverpool Museum.

A corner of the exhibition centre will present fringe theories about Stonehenge -- they're not yet specified, but acoustic, psychogeographical, paranormal or even extraterrestrial theories abound. Between the two volumes is a small zinc-clad ticket booth. Land Rovers pulling trains of visitor carriages will set off from behind the centre. Their capacity sets the daily visitor numbers, allowing as many as to 6,000. On the solstices, access will be free for pagans; 20,000 usually emerge at the summer solstice.

A subtly undulating canopy is tethered by 211 thin steel columns Courtesy DCM

A subtly undulating canopy is tethered by 211 thin steel columns Courtesy DCM

A car park is sited near the centre and ancillary buildings are tucked behind a line of trees. Next Easter, an adjacent 'neolithic' village opens, built as authentically as possible based on archaeological research by Mike Parker Pearson. Further afield, the Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum opens a £2.5m exhibition next spring focused on Stonehenge's construction, while the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, at Devizes, opened a new £500,000 gallery in October about its use.

DCM's Stephen Quinlain says: 'We have worked with English Heritage since 2000 to improve facilities at Stonehenge. We were delighted to win the selection competition for the latest scheme. Simon Thurley responded to the government's removal of a significant part of our funding by making the project's success a personal challenge.'

Exhibition area, with a drum-shaped room designed to echo the experience of being inside Stonehenge’s inner circle Courtesy DCM

Exhibition area, with a drum-shaped room designed to echo the experience of being inside Stonehenge's inner circle Courtesy DCM

The old visitor facilities are a parking lot next to a tight clutter of makeshift kiosks offering neither exhibition nor interpretation, from which people are funnelled through a concrete culvert built in 1986. All this will be dismantled by next summer. The notorious section of the A344, a road that came within 80m of Stonehenge's centre and almost touched its peripheral Heal Stone, is being grassed over. Unfortunately, the A303 is another matter. This major artery to the South-west channels an endless stream of traffic just 200m south of Stonehenge's stone circle. Plans to tunnel it have been on and off since 1995.

Thurley says the new visitor centre 'doesn't compete with the stones and doesn't look like a Fred Flintstone building'. Aping ancient stone or wood construction would have Disneyfied the place, but DCM's design makes no such pretence. Nor does the building aim to be timeless. The light, shiny canopy with digital perforations makes it clearly contemporary. It is also ephemeral, both in how it is designed to leave no trace if it is ever removed and in its low, transparent form. That defining canopy is like a great sheet of aluminium foil settled on the landscape, and one day, like all the civilisations that Stonehenge has seen come and go, it might just drift away.

King's Cross, John McAslan + Partners

Paddy Pugh
Director of planning and conservation, JMP

Paddy Pugh

John McAslan + Partners ( JMP) has a massive portfolio of work on historic buildings. Paddy Pugh is now its director of planning and conservation, having taken over these responsibilities from Pauline Nee in 2012. Curiously, Pugh made the move from English Heritage, where he convened its London advisory committee.

The new steel canopy for King’s Cross, engineered by Arup Courtesy Hufton & Crow

The new steel canopy for King's Cross, engineered by Arup Courtesy Hufton & Crow

'English Heritage has always enjoyed a good working relationship with McAslan on many projects, such as Peter Jones and the De La Warr Pavilion,' he says. 'It's a good firm to work with. That was the principle reason I came to work here. It doesn't feel like going to the other side!' He brings from EH 'a good insight into how the planning system works', he says. 'My experience is broader than the architects' -- when we're talking to the planning authorities, it helps.'

The new steel canopy for King’s Cross, engineered by Arup Courtesy Hufton & Crow

Exterior of the renovated Lewis Cubitt 1852 King's Cross Station (Grade I listed) Courtesy JMP

McAslan's £500m transformation, completed in 2012, of Lewis Cubitt's 1852 King's Cross Station (listed as Grade I), included not just restoration but a new semi-circular concourse under a steel canopy engineered by Arup. The project required Pugh's English Heritage committee to make 'tricky decisions' -- for example, about the removal of the 1892 Handyside bridge over the station's platforms. That has now been replaced by a glass bridge with lifts. 'English Heritage was finally persuaded that, for the station to work effectively, it was necessary,' comments Pugh.

EH or McAslan were often arguing a case together when dealing with Network Rail: for example, on big retail volumes being squeezed into mainline stations. He says that 'the pressure on Network Rail is to maximise income, that's the reality. My view is that, provided you can accommodate the retail, there's nothing wrong with that. At St Pancras and King's Cross, we have tried hard to see that all the retail and signage can fit in.'

John McAslan + Partners’ new semi-circular concourse for the station Courtesy Hufton & Crow

John McAslan + Partners' new semi-circular concourse for the station Courtesy Hufton & Crow

Pugh is working for McAslan with English Heritage on many more London projects, including the Courtauld Institute, Friends House, Wesley's Chapel and Regeneration House (a 19th-century structure with a new name) in King's Cross Goods Yard.





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