Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Here in the UK it is just possible that we might be about to commit the same mistakes as we did in the 1960's when we bulldozed our way through large swathes of Victorian architectural heritage.

Apparently tens of thousands of 'terraced' properties are under threat, especially in the North of England - the traditional bastion of the terraced house. As was the case last century, many communities that are held together by the warp and weft of the terraced street are facing social dilution.

It is all too easy to provide a no-brainer solution such as demolition, especially when there is the golden ticket of prime real estate. The real cost of such a solution may be the continued fragmentation of our localities.

After all it isn't just about the terraced house - is it?

The proportion and scale of a group of C19th terraces; the stylistic expression and hierarchical use of the doors and windows; the meaning and use of name plaques; the messages contained within the group pattern - all can contribute to social cohesion.

Current legislative guidance for England notes that identity is an important factor. Planning Policy Guidance 15, (Planning and the Historic Environment 1994) notes that ' The physical survivals of our past are to be valued and protected for their own sake, as a central part of our cultural heritage and a sense of our national identity'.

The feeling one has whilst walking through the terraced houses of the north of England is obviously different than walking around, lets say, Cantebury Cathedral. Nevertheless, there is a feeling; especially for the families within the tight network of streets who were rooted into the community by the proportional and spatial dynamics which led to such symbolic and domain charged acts as donkey stoning the front door step. The sight of the worn curve of a doorstep for ex-residentials going back to such a place might bring about emotions just as powerful as those experienced with that of high architecture. Communities grow and evolve, and by a process of osmosis the built form interacts with such communities helping shape and create identity.

The Burra Charter (adopted by the Australian National Committee of ICOMOS) introduces the idea of 'cultural significance'. It talks about the importance of 'less tangible aspects of cultural significance including those embodied in the use of heritage places, associations with a place and the meanings that places have for people.'

If this is the case then the North of England is about to lose much of its cultural and social identity.

All images by Andy Marshall

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