Wednesday, 6 June 2018

A Trip to Town: the MSc Historic Conservation London field trip 2018

It's the end of the teaching year for students on the Oxford Brookes MSc in Historic Conservation. To mark it, we organised a day out in London, with visits to four organisations involved – in their different ways – with the conservation of the capital's historic built environment. Report by David Garrard, Course Leader.

Our first stop, just north of Oxford Circus, was the London HQ of the international real estate agents and planning consultants Savills. Over coffee in the plush corporate restaurant (not something you often get in this line of work) we talked to Brookes alumnus and head of heritage planning Jason Clemons and his colleagues from the company's recently-established team of historic environment experts, who give in-house advice on negotiating the complex regulatory framework that surrounds listed buildings, scheduled monuments and other heritage designations.

Coffee and conversation at Savills

A stroll up Portland Place, passing by John Nash's neoclassical church of All Souls' Church, McCormac Jamieson Prichard's extension to BBC Broadcasting House, and Grey Wornum's exquisitely-crafted Royal Institute of British Architects, took us to the Devonshire Street premises of architecture practice Donald Insall Associates. This illustrious firm, established in 1958 and still presided over by that doyen of conservation architects Sir Donald Insall, has been involved in hundreds of major heritage schemes from Liverpool to Shanghai, and is currently at work on the forthcoming £4bn restoration programme for the Palace of Westminster. Director of historic buildings consultancy Hannah Parham and her colleagues talked us through some recent projects, and discussed the development and influence of Insalls' distinctive conservation ethos.

The offices of Donald Insall Associates at 12 Devonshire Street

Pausing only to peer through the scaffolding at Park Crescent West – a famous Nash terrace reconstructed in semi-facsimile after the Blitz, now being pulled down and re-reconstructed as a supposedly more accurate copy of its former self – we took the Tube across town to the City of London. The district within and around the former walls of Roman Londinium is the capital's historic core; it is also one of the world's leading financial centres, where the insatiable hunger for office space sends ever more glass shards and pinnacles thrusting skywards from among the medieval alleyways, Wren churches and Edwardian banking halls of the ancient Square Mile.

Architectural contrasts in the City of London

Presiding over this architectural wrestling match is the planning department of the City of London Corporation – the world's oldest continuously-elected municipal authority – whose conservation and design officer Ben Eley gave us a fascinating walkabout. Meeting outside the great 15th-century Guildhall, we dropped in on the City Centre model (a continuously-evolving 1:500-scale reconstruction of the City's urban fabric), Edwin Lutyens' palatial Midland Bank (lately renovated and reopened as The Ned hotel), James Stirling's celebrated/notorious 1 Poultry (one of a series of 1980s Postmodernist buildings recently given statutory listed status), and the church of St Stephen Wallbrook (a miniature Baroque masterpiece by Christopher Wren with a huge central altar sculpted by Henry Moore).

The City of London model (left) and the Ned Hotel (right)

Our final call was at the offices of Historic England. This is the public body, until recently part of English Heritage, that gives statutory advice to central and local government on all aspects of the historic environment, from the selection of listed buildings and scheduled monuments to the giving of maintenance grants and the training of heritage professionals. Historic buildings inspector Claire Brady and her colleagues discussed current issues and gave us a tour of the office, including the extraordinary roof gardens suspended above the Thames between the twin Italianate towers of Cannon Street station.

On the roof at Cannon Street

Last stop: the pub - in this case the Ship, a tiny back-street tavern under the looming shadow of Rafel Viñoly's gargantuan 20 Fenchurch Street , a.k.a. the ‘Walkie-Talkie’. A suitable end to a day of startling contrasts.

The Ship and its neighbours

To find out more about the MSc Historic Conservation, take at look here:

MSc Historic Conservation - course details
MSc Historic Conservation - blog posts

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