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History of Conservation Philosophy in the U.K. since the 19th Century

Old Conservation Philosophy in the todays world: case study "Oberbaum-City", Berlin

Essay 2012 9 Seiten



I Introduction

1. Development of the Philosophy of Conservation (in the U.K.)
1.1 The Gothic Revival and Restoration: Wyatt, Viollet-le-duc and Scott
1.2 The Change - Pugin and Ruskin
1.3 The Establishment of Todays Conservation Philosophy: Morris, SPAB and the Venice Charter

2. Conservation Philosophy Today
2.1 The Conservation Principles in England today
2.2 Significance and the Influence of SPAB

3. Case Study: Oberbaum-City, Berlin
3.1 Location and Brief History
3.2 Restoration
3.3 Statement

4. Conclusion

II Reference List

I Introduction

Nowadays one can act on the assumption that in developed countries people have in general an idea of the meaning of conservation even though it is a highly complex field. Historic Conservation deals with the cultural heritage of all humankind. „The Concept of a historic monument embraces not only the single architectural work but also the urban or rural setting in which is found the evidence of a particular civilization, a significant development or historic event“ (Venice Charter, 1964). To be engaged with historic buildings always comes with the wide spectrum of conservation activities such as restoration, preservation, repair, renovation, refurbishment and facadism. It is a challenge to find the right solution given that each building or area has its own character and value and therefore will need different reflection and an individual treatment.

People working in conservation are always confronted with the need for those unique solutions. However there rarely will be answers, rules or definitions. Nonetheless, within the time and as a result of conflicts during the 19th Century the philosophy of conservation and its guidelines have been formed.

1. Development of the Philosophy of Conservation (in the U.K.)

Conservation has always been influenced by historical circumstances. There were two oppositional generations of conservation thought in the 19th Century each with few primary representatives. In the beginning of that century Wyatt and Viollet-le-Duc renovated buildings on a big scale partially with mandatory interventions (Earl, 1996). The change came with Scott, who had several good ideas about the way how restoration should work but he did not practice them. The final change however was established by Ruskin and Morris, who founded Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). The Manifesto of SPAB was written by Morris and published in 1877. All documents and guidelines on conservation after that were built on that Manifesto.

1.1 The Gothic Revival and Restoration: Wyatt, Viollet-le-duc and Scott

In the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth Century the Gothic experienced a revival. Amongst other things this revival occurred because of the big demand of new churches. It was not only cheaper to build Gothic churches but also quicker (Thomas, 2012). Additionally the interest in medieval building revived. James Wyatt (1746 -1813) was primary restorer and later even surveyor of Westminster Abbey. He was educated in classicism which means that his aesthetic approach was the unity of design. However that does not combine with the Gothic Style. So „apart from structural and functional improvements, Wyatt [...] generally aimed at the unification of the whole internal space by removing any hindering obstacles; as a result screens and fonts were removed, chapels were opened“ (Jokilehto, 1996, p.236). When Wyatt restored a building it usually meant significant and harmful alteration.

Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) was like Wyatt in England the primary architect and restorer in France. –Viollet-le-Duc believed that if you studied architecture of the gothic cathedrals accurately, their architectural details and means of building, he could accurately rebuild entire parts of the building (Thomas, 2012). He said: “to restore an edifice means neither to maintain it, nor to repair it nor to rebuild it, it means to re-establish it in a state of completion which may never have existed at any given moment in the past” (Vinegar, 1998). Those heavily harmful interventions by Wyatt and Viollet-le-Duc resulted in the loss of authenticity and the confusion of Architectural design and historical evidence. This repair theory is known as the Scrape Movement.

Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was a prolific architect and an expert investigator of old buildings. He saw himself as a conservationist that demanded the strengthening of buildings first and only repairs if necessary. Also he was against scraping of plasterwork and advocated for the use of original material if alterations were inevitable (Erder, 1986). This might be taken as a change of the philosophy of conservation – however Scott ignored his own principles on many buildings during his career.

1.2 The Change - Pugin and Ruskin

The destructive nature of the restoration work of Wyatt forced the formation of the oppositional conservation movement headed by Ruskin and Pugin. Pugin named Wyatt ‚the destroyer‘ and Ruskin saw Wyatt’s work as „insensitive and unnecessarily deconstructive“ (Earl, 1996, p. 38). Ruskin (1819 -1900) along with others such as Carter and Webb had a rather different view on how to restore historical buildings. In 1849 Ruskin gave this movement a voice by writing an article in The Seven Lamps of Architecture in which he attacked the dishonest and false restoration: „[restoration] means the most total destruction which a building can suffer ... that spirit [...] can never be recalled“ (Erder, 1986, p. 172). For Ruskin even the word ‚restoration‘ always had a negative connotation. He saw no difference between the restoration and the abandonment of a building; to him both were synonymous to demolition (Erder, 1986, p. 172).

1.3 The Establishment of Todays Conservation Philosophy: Morris, SPAB and the Venice Charter

With the Manifesto of SPAB, which holds similarities to the document written by Ruskin, Morris became the head of the new movement. Ruskin and Morris established the new conservation philosophy and attracted the attention of the public to monuments ruined through restoration. This rapid increase of interest is shown by the number of people that joined Morris’s group (Erder, 1986).


ISBN (Buch)
453 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Oxford Brookes University – Department of Planning
2012 (November)
England Conservation philosophy morris wyatt spab nppf history uk pugin ruskin oberbaum-city berlin



Titel: History of Conservation Philosophy in the U.K. since the 19th Century