Conservation at the Cutting Edge

This week I travelled to London to hear Sir Donald Install talk at Chandos House, sponsored by VMZinc

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Chandos House made an elegant and fitting venue for Tuesday’s Architectural evening. The main speaker, Sir Donald Insall of Donald Insall Associates, won the RIBA Award of Architecture, Conservation Commendation in 2005 for his work there.

As is the case with these events, there was a warm reception with refreshments before we went to hear the evening’s speakers, the first of which was the sponsor VMZinc. I’m still pretty susceptible to falling for a good sales pitch, but it was very interesting to learn about their work with zinc and to see great examples such as Clapham Bandstand.

Our second speaker was Sir Donald Insall. He began by saying “We are not restorationists, nor preservationists, but we have a sympathy for the continuity of a building’s life”. As buildings naturally move and require maintenance it is important “on all scales, from toys to town”, to adapt them as society’s fashions and needs change to ensure the building’s survival. Sir Donald also talked about his time in Chester where he served as the City of Chester’s consultation consultant for 18 years, which was of particular interest for me as I grew up there. He finished by encouraging us, when working on a conservation project, that our work should follow a sequence of “Eyes – Mind – Hands”. Only after we have observed the building and its use, and thought about its origins, should we begin to act upon it. Sir Donald’s philosophies can be found in his book Living Buildings: Architectural Conservation, Philosophy, Principles and Practice (RIBA bookshop) – I have my own copy and it’s full of interesting case studies and his beautiful hand sketches.

Following Sir Donald’s talk, Tanvir Hassan, the director at Donald Insall Associates, took to the floor.  She discussed the respect and compromises that must be considered in conjunction with the building’s historical value. You should have a look at their work at the Regent Hotel in London, a fantastic example of retention and renewal.

I always enjoy talks because I find it so inspiring to listen to an expert talk passionately about a topic, and this was no exception. A thoroughly enjoyable evening and many thanks to all involved.

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