Athena

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

‘It’s steadily re­mov­ing the hon­esty, au­then­tic­ity and sim­plic­ity Mor­ris fought to save

ANY­ONE who has vis­ited Kelm­scott Manor will re­mem­ber its soft and gen­tle form: a time­less ex­pres­sion of an an­cient Cotswold house in an un­spoiled Ox­ford­shire set­ting. Kelm­scott’s spe­cial qual­ity is owed in large mea­sure to its cel­e­brated 19th-cen­tury owner, Wil­liam Mor­ris, founder of the Society for the Pro­tec­tion of An­cient Build­ings in 1877. Mor­ris pub­lished an illustrated book on the house and lov­ingly re­paired and dec­o­rated its interior as an ex­am­ple of how old and his­toric build­ings should be pre­served with­out in­tru­sive al­ter­ation or self-con­scious mod­erni­sa­tion.

Since 1962, Kelm­scott has be­longed to the Society of An­ti­quar­ies of Lon­don, an elected body of more than 2,900 fel­lows founded ‘for the en­cour­age­ment, ad­vance­ment and fur­ther­ance of the study and knowl­edge of the an­tiq­ui­ties and his­tory of this and other coun­tries’. The Society opens Kelm­scott to the pub­lic and keeps it in good re­pair.

In­evitably in to­day’s her­itage world, there is a de­sire to im­prove vis­i­tor in­ter­pre­ta­tion and fa­cil­i­ties—in other words, to add a new cafe, shop and loos. The suc­cess of this ini­tia­tive will be mea­sured by the im­pact— or, ide­ally, non-im­pact—of the new ad­di­tions. The se­lec­tion of an ar­chi­tect, there­fore, is ev­i­dently a daunt­ing task. What would Mor­ris him­self have done? Cer­tainly not the process that the Society of An­ti­quar­ies has be­gun.

It has ap­proached a firm of com­mer­cial project man­agers that seeks some­one with £10 mil­lion of pro­fes­sional in­dem­nity in­sur­ance and an ap­petite to form a ‘con­sor­tium’. The ap­pli­ca­tion form is wary even of spec­i­fy­ing that an ar­chi­tect is re­quired at all. In­stead, re­sponses are in­vited from ‘Eco­nomic Op­er­a­tors’, which are sup­posed to come to­gether to form ‘a sep­a­rate le­gal en­tity, such as a Spe­cial Pur­pose Ve­hi­cle (SPV)’.

This per­haps means that the in­di­vid­ual se­lec­tion of ar­chi­tect, struc­tural en­gi­neer and ser­vices en­gi­neer can all be lumped to­gether into one easy block with­out hav­ing to be both­ered with en­gag­ing the con­sul­tants in­di­vid­u­ally. The se­lec­tion, made by the project man­agers and on a point-scor­ing ba­sis, will bal­ance past ex­pe­ri­ence with ‘De­sign De­liv­ery man­age­ment of staff and sub-con­trac­tors’, ‘man­age­ment of stake­hold­ers and statu­tory Con­sul­tees’ and ‘com­mu­nity en­gage­ment/out­reach in line with Her­itage Lot­tery Fund grant con­di­tions’.

In the project man­ager’s world of con­struc­tion risk-man­age­ment, a safe team will be ap­pointed, from large well-known con­sul­tant firms that have done this all be­fore.

In so do­ing, the owner of Kelm­scott will achieve the ‘de­liv­ery’ of its pro­pos­als with­out hav­ing to en­gage in the larger and more con­cern­ing ques­tion as to how we can stop our his­toric sites, whether they be owned by the Na­tional Trust, English Her­itage or any­one else, from be­com­ing the same ho­mogenised mix of bland com­mer­cial con­ve­nience that is steadily re­mov­ing the au­then­tic­ity, hon­esty and sim­plic­ity of places that peo­ple such as Mor­ris fought to save in the first place.

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