Associate and Heritage Team Leader from Purcell's East region, Rowenna Wood, discusses adapting historic education environments to meet today's needs.
Rowenna explores the range of tools and approaches that can be used to gain the required heritage consents for the creation of enduring and successful educational environments for now and the future.
Built heritage contributes significantly to the character and therefore the attractiveness of a university or college to current and prospective academics and students alike. However, the designations that accompany built and landscape heritage assets can equally be seen as a constraint to evolving those buildings to meet contemporary expectations.
There are a range of tools that can aid practically in future-planning and gaining the required heritage consents. These provide meaningful advice to estate teams and consultants whilst demonstrating to statutory authorities that the institutions are following the correct approach.
The statutory authorities (the local planning authority only for Grade II listed buildings and the local authority and Historic England for Grade I and Grade II* buildings) base their advice and decisions on whether a proposal causes harm to the significance of a heritage asset (usually a listed building).
A sound understanding of the significance of a heritage asset, together with using that understanding is the basis for proposals for change, helps avoid harm and makes it easier to gain consent for works.
A Statement of Significance is a document that articulates why a heritage asset is important. It should be based on detailed historical research that makes use of online and archival sources as well as estate management records. This research should provide an understanding of the overall narrative of the university or college site as well as more detailed information about the historical development of specific buildings. It should also identify important people or events associated with the institution, especially where there is a connection to specific rooms or buildings.
Complementing the historical research should be an analysis of the site itself. This should encompass inspection of the built fabric, especially in relation to the understanding of the historical development based on documentary sources, and also an assessment of the setting and views to, from and within the site.
Using this information, a Statement of Significance can be written that identifies what makes the place special as a whole and the contribution made by individual component parts. Armed with this, those responsible for planning change can begin to see where change might be acceptable and where there are possibly existing areas that are detrimental to the significance where change would be beneficial.
The Statement of Significance also provides the basis for developing the justification for change. Meaningful discussions can be had with the statutory authorities and the Statement of Significance can form the basis of the Heritage Statement required for listed building consent.
Potential for Change Plans
The next step on from a Statement of Significance are a set of potential for change plans, which use an understanding of significance to explain what kind of changes might be acceptable in different areas and where change should be avoided. Such plans provide those planning change with a greater understanding of how the site or individual buildings could be altered and possibly where heritage benefits could be gained to help mitigate essential but perhaps less sensitive changes elsewhere.
Often known by its abbreviation of CMP, this is a yet more detailed tool for planning sensitive change in the historic built environment. A typical CMP contains similar information as the Statement of Significance but with additional sections that explore issues (sometimes called risks or vulnerabilities) and opportunities and provide conservation policies and actions that guide decision-making.
The issues and opportunities section can identify problems ranging from physical fabric issues to procedural or management processes that need review alongside revealing opportunities to enhance the significance of the heritage asset and potentially address the needs of the institution simultaneously.
The conservation policies provide a framework for future decision-making to encourage the preservation and enhancement of the significance of the heritage asset without precluding future change. Developing proposals for change within such a framework is likely to generate plans for alteration that have a greater chance of receiving consent from the statutory authorities.
For a very large historic building or a group of buildings, especially if a large site with several heritage assets, it is beneficial to the heritage assets and to the institution that owns them to develop a heritage-led masterplan. This entails understanding the historic development and significance of the site to comprehend where past forms of the site or the design philosophy that underpinned it may provide the answers to problems in the present.
For example, there may have been a corridor that has been turned into small rooms but which, if reinstated, could solve circulation and access issues; or there may have been a now-lost building on the site which, if rebuilt, would provide much-needed accommodation. Alternatively, the original vision of the architect for the site may have been left incomplete and returning to those original plans may enable the construction of new buildings or justify other change.
A masterplan should provide a blueprint for a programme of works that may be delivered over a period of years. Identifying the works, at least at a conceptual level, helps to plan delivery efficiently and avoid abortive work. If presented to the statutory authorities for consultation, it can also provide a level of understanding and comfort on both sides as to what will be happening over the coming years.
What are the benefits?
This generation are stewards for future generations. Understanding the significance of a historic building and undertaking works in accordance with that significance will help minimise change that will be regretted by those responsible for the care of the place in the future.
In the present, any proposals for change, whether small or large, will be more sensitive to the significance of the heritage asset if that significance is understood at the outset. Moreover, articulating the significance of a place can sometimes help to justify considerable change provided that the significance is preserved.
The process of understanding the significance of a heritage asset and managing and proposing change to the building accordingly enables better conversations with Historic England and the local planning authority. Issues can be easily identified early on and worked through to give a higher chance of success in obtaining planning and listed building consent.
Understanding the history and significance also can help to reduce costs associated with the expedited enhanced listing service offered by Historic England. This provides the owners of historic buildings the chance to obtain official clarity on what is and what is not listed, what is significant and why.
Tools such as CMPs enable future planning of management and maintenance as well as more significant change. This, in turn, assists with planning future spending.
Finally, in researching the history and articulating the significance of a place, compelling stories emerge and interesting reports produced. These can be used to inspire donors and assist with fundraising.
The stones, bricks and, from the twentieth century, concrete and steel of educational buildings are the embodiment of the institutions that occupy them. Understanding these buildings not only helps preserve what is special about the buildings for their own sake; it unlocks the potential for change that will ensure these places remain useful and sustainable for decades and centuries to come.