Restoration and the urban environment

by Chris Bertram on September 14, 2003

In recent weeks the hit TV programme on British TV has been Restoration, which invites viewers to vote for the dilapidated country house, castle, factory or mausoleum they most want renovated. Patrick Wright has been a shrewd observer of the “heritage industry” since the publication of his landmark _On Living in an Old Country_ in the mid-1980s. He has a good essay in the Guardian on the ambivalence of restoration and on the often -attached social snobbery. He reveals, among other things, that it was veteran anarchist Colin Ward who coined the phrase “heritage industry” in the first place. I’ve been active in Bristol Civic Society for the past few years, and the tension Wright points to between a backward-looking conservationism and the desire to preserve and build a well-functioning urban environment is one that I see played out all the time. Read the whole thing.



Damien Smith 09.14.03 at 9:46 pm

One thing I though of when I heard the idea of “Restoration” is that I though the show’s premise was somewhat disingenuous, especially the “other buildings will die” part. What the show’s voters are doing is less choosing a building to survive than sequencing–picking one to jump the queue. It’s likely that the “heritage industry” will ensure that most, if not all, of the buildings survive. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it is a bit less dramatic

Like you, though Chris, I enjoyed the series. The buildings really do have fascinating histories.


dsquared 09.15.03 at 1:45 pm

I still think that the cast should have included, in the Simon Cowell role as it were, a property developer explaining what a kick-ass retail development or set of luxury flats could be put there instead.


Rivka Wald 09.16.03 at 4:10 am

My city, Baltimore Maryland, has done a really nice job of preserving the essential features of old buildings and reinventing the interiors for modern use: a power plant became shops and a gym, a deconsecrated church became apartments. a superannuated high school became a state-of-the-art theater.

I think it’s the best of both worlds. The bones of the old buildings connect us to the city’s past, but there isn’t a sense that the old is preserved at the expense of current residents.

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