Preserving Post-War Heritage: The Care and Conservation of Mid-Twentieth-Century Architecture

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Preserving Post-War Heritage: The Care and Conservation of Mid-Twentieth-Century Architecture, Susan MacDonald (ed.), Shaftesbury, Donhead, 2001, 235 pp., £37.50 (h/b)

During the 1970s and 1980s in particular, architectural modernism and conservation were portrayed as conPicting forces. The collapse of modernism in the early 1970s was welcomed by conservationists appalled at the damage that had been wrought to British towns and cities in the previous decade, an experience paralleled in many other countries. Thus as the attention of the conservation avant-garde in the 1990s shifted to protecting architectural monuments of the period that had been synonymous with the desecration of British townscape it was an issue laced with controversy. It touched on old antagonisms and it was unclear whether public taste was ready to accept the listing and protection of Brutalist concrete structures alongside comfortable brick Georgian buildings. However, in addressing the protection or conservation of Modern Movement buildings conservationists were re-establishing the link with modernism that had been evident in earlier periods such as the 1930s when the MARS Group of modern architects had close links with the newly formed Georgian Group. It was evident that the listing of post-war buildings in the 1990s would be very selective, using criteria based on an art historical canon. In Elain Harwoodfs excellent survey of English post-war architecture in this volume, it is clear that the conservation movement is principally interested in the 'one-offsf, the important works of important architects, rather than the more banal but representative prefabricated and systems-built structures typical of the post-war period.

Preserving Post-War Heritage is the product of the 1990s conservation focus on the modern, the outcome of an English Heritage conference of 1998, succeeding a 1996 volume along similar lines, Modern Matters. It is organised in four parts. Part 2 focuses on technical issues of structures, materials and services. It constitutes over half the volume and is the least accessible part of the book to the non-specialist. The significance and problems of the conservation of concrete are evident in that four of the nine chapters in this section deal with elements of this issue. There are also interesting and, to this reader, novel contributions on services and plastics, this later covering the conservation of materials, such as GRP and uPVC often considered to be the bane of conservationists' lives.

Initially post-war architecture very often, of course, had a strong social purpose as housing, schools and so on were built as the public sector dominated construction in the physical creation of the Welfare State. The social issues connected with the architectural legacy of this period are most directly addressed in Part 3 of the text, which contains a series of case studies. Park Hill in She eld would be many people's epitome of where post-war housing policy went wrong. An enormous deck-housing scheme of almost 1,000 dwellings it has experienced significant physical and social problems in recent years. …