From transit to tapas and trinkets

Coal Drops Yard has now opened behind King’s Cross Station, London. Whilst snagging jobs are still being completed, and with retail units still to fill, the site remains a work in progress in a rebirth that has seen the area’s legacy of historic buildings change from hosting goods yards and activities associated with the railways and canals, to retail and catering outlets at the ‘craft’ and ‘high end’ of the commercial spectrum. New architectural interventions have been added, such as the striking new roof over the west side of the coal yard, and in fully redundant plots brownfield redevelopment is seeing new office and retail blocks with strong design signatures distinctly of their time. Residential blocks combine old and new forms, including the striking Gas Holder blocks of flats.

Following the successful heritage-led redevelopments previously of the main King’s Cross and St. Pancras Stations, the whole area is now a fascinating amalgam of old and new, and epitomises our shifting relationship with places of transit which now tempt us to dwell longer rather than pass through.

Academic journals: Future Anterior

Journal summary: An international point of reference for the critical examination of historic preservation. Future Anterior approaches historic preservation from a position of critical inquiry, rigorous scholarship, and theoretical analysis. The journal is an international forum for the critical examination of historic preservation, spurring challenges of its assumptions, goals, methods, and results. As the first journal in American academia devoted to the study and advancement of historic preservation, it provides a much-needed bridge between architecture and history. The journal also features provocative theoretical reflections on historic preservation from the point of view of art, philosophy, law, geography, archaeology, planning materials science, cultural anthropology, and conservation.

Publisher: Minnesota University Press on behalf of Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP)

Website: https://www.upress.umn.edu/journal-division/journals/future-anterior

Access: Subscription

Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed

Reflecting on the RSA’s #HeritageIndex

RSA heritage index 2015 coverThe RSA has recently launched the first iteration of the Heritage Index in association with the Heritage Lottery Fund.  For the first time it has brought together a disparate range of data outputs which can be categorised according to whether they are heritage assets or heritage activities.  Correlations are then made between them, with factoring for density of activity / asset, population, and weighting according to the perceived importance of the the category type.  The methodology is explored within a short film, accompanying technical report, and data which can be explored through manipulation of the summary dataset in an excel file, or via the web-based visualisations which make good use of spatial data presentation techniques.

This forms part of a larger project which the RSA is working on, looking at the opportunities and challenges for ‘place development’ – of importance in a political and public services landscape of regionalisation and localism and expectation of ever greater value for money for public investment.  The historic environment (to give heritage it’s policy-world moniker) is under pressure, and is regularly flagged as being under-resourced and at risk, so the Heritage Index data is a useful tool in terms of reanalysing and reconceptualising the role of heritage assets within our living environment.  The work has thrown up some interesting initial findings – which at first may seem counter-intuitive, but perhaps when reflected upon, were staring us in the face.  Areas with high levels of heritage assets don’t always have high levels of engagement with those assets, and areas suffering from deprivation with low density of heritage assets to access may actually have higher levels of engagement.  There is of course variability across the country and the methodology can be pored over for what it does and doesn’t do – but nonetheless, it does show the potential for arguments of what heritage can potentially do within communities.

The Index also brings to the fore the use of proxy measures – useful at a time when in Scotland, discussion has come round again on whether the Scotland Performs framework indicator for heritage – the state of Category A Listed Buildings at Risk (equivalent to Grade I in England) – is suitable to act as a measure of the state of the historic environment.  Proxy measures are liked and disliked in equal measure, and care must be taken with them – but it does not mean that they cannot raise interesting analytical results and dialogue – as has happened with the Index.

The publication and commitment to continue to support the development and evolution of the Index is welcome, and I’ll take this opportunity to sound like a broken record (stuck in the same groove for over a decade, since I assisted with the creation of Heritage Counts as an evolution from the Heritage Monitor produced by the English Tourism Council (now VisitEngland)), flagging the need for a heritage observatory function to pull together the large amounts of data and grey literature which can add to the evidence base for the role of the historic environment in society.

A debate was held at the RSA last week, entitled ‘Why heritage is our future‘ to explore issues associated with the Index, and enable commentary on the links between communities and their historic environment.  What was noticeable throughout the debate, which was lively and interesting, was the lack of consideration of heritage organisations themselves (apart from the HLF which was represented at the debate by the Head of Research and Evaluation, Gareth Maeer).  This was surprising to me – having spent much of my professional life working with the inner machinery of conservation agencies, heritage NGOs and policy analysis. Perhaps these organisations aren’t as visible or at the front of the mind of people engaging with heritage as much as we think within community settings?  This is something I need to explore further.

Link to audio recording of the RSA debate on 8th October 2015.
https://www.thersa.org/link/bc55acf32c5e4c4191898263b18778fb.aspx
Storify feed of #heritageindex tweets

Ipswich Revealed: Heritage Fortnight 12-26 Sept.

It is a particular pleasure to see heritage taking centre stage in Ipswich in the coming month.  It is supported by the town’s business improvement district (BID), All About Ipswich, and a passionate supporter of the town’s heritage (and a great media ally), Terry Hunt, editor of the East Anglian Daily Times, as well as a collaboration of the town’s borough council, UCS and the Museums Service.  It is a great extension of the national Heritage Open Days, and the work undertaken locally by the Ipswich Society, which we are corporate members of.  UCS has its own lectures slot in the fortnight, with talks by Professor David Gill and Dr Geraint Coles, which we’ll blog about separately.  What is particularly important is the role of the BID in this – as the protection and celebration of the historic environment is seen as a business issue for the town, beyond simple tourism promotion.

A very smart brochure has been produced, available online – showcasing the places and activities around the town which is showing exciting developments across its heritage management arena.  We like to think that UCS is playing a key role, and with a small dedicated team has achieved a huge amount in developing and embedding heritage as a subject at the University over the past couple of years.