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Frank Hovis

Listed buildings - time for reform

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Whilst there are two schools of thought on here about buying listed builidngs - @spunko2010 likes them and nobody else would touch them! - the system seems to me to be deeply flawed.

Listing to my mind should be for architectural gems, buildings that we take pleasure from seeing and want our descendants to see in hundreds of years times.

Something like, to take an example from Plymouth as I know it reasonably well, the Elizabethan Merchant's House:

 

73+Merchants+House+Musesum+Plymouth.JPG

Wow, amazing.  Yes list to preserve.

 

But also in Plymouth, this monstrosity:

Plymouth_Civic_Centre_2016.jpg

 

These were the old council offices.  Leaky, drafty, expensive to heat, horrible to work in, massively expensive to maintain.

The council was going to demolish them and rebuild a modern office block in their place in 2007 until four people applied to English Heritage to have it listed.  And it was.

Since then the council has moved to new offices (in 2014), the building was sold to Urban Splash for £1 who had vague plans to turn it into a hotel.  No work has been done and it has stood empty and crumbling since 2014; dropping the occasional bit of concrete onto the pavement.  No work will probably ever be done until finally after a few decades it is demolished for being unsafe.

Great work English Heritage's listing department.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Civic_Centre

 

Anyway that second is just an individual example of the listing system's unfitness.

 

To show how unfit it is on a wider scale have a guess at how many listed buildings there are in England.

Wrong.

Spoiler

we estimate that there are around 500,000 listed buildings

 

https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/what-is-designation/listed-buildings/

 

 

 

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Well, that is a monstrosity but it may have some historical merit, without looking it up I don't know. The 60s and 70s were a low point for architecture, a lot of historic buildings were lost and replaced with carbuncles. That said, a few of them have some hidden historic merit, for example there's a pedestrian motorway bridge near Bluewater that some DOSBODers may have driven under and not realised is actually Grade II listed  as it was the first IIRC pre-stressed concrete bridge built in the UK, so it should be protected.

https://goo.gl/maps/b9a16tuujns

Another good example if you've ever been to London and seen this "eyesore" , Trellick Tower, is Grade II* listed.

stringio.jpg?1414198475

It may be considered ugly but it's pretty unique https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1246688

That one you mentioned @Frank Hovis I couldn't comment on though.

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Just researched the Plymouth Civic Centre one, they had their reasons for doing so. I can't say I disagree with them per se, based on their reasoning. It's not like it'd be pulled down and turned back into fields, it'd be replaced by some identikit cedar clad box I suspect.

https://c20society.org.uk/casework/plymouth-civic-centre-listing/

The listing at Grade II of Plymouth‚Äôs Civic Centre has caused a furore in the city. The Twentieth Century Society asked English Heritage to assess it in April 2006, due to its innovative design, important art collections and its historical significance to Plymouth‚Äôs rebirth after the devastation of WWII‚ÄĒwe were convinced that it was a nationally important example of post war architecture

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https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@53.5108277,-2.1576718,3a,75y,173.34h,89.97t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s7cuAcXSav7CBUszTIRvy3Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
This bit of wall should be listed. It's the outside wall of Firs mill that was on the site just behind (The flats are supposed to echo the mill shape)
Ignore the thai brothel up the stairs. The council are.

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7 minutes ago, spunko2010 said:

Just researched the Plymouth Civic Centre one, they had their reasons for doing so. I can't say I disagree with them per se, based on their reasoning. It's not like it'd be pulled down and turned back into fields, it'd be replaced by some identikit cedar clad box I suspect.

https://c20society.org.uk/casework/plymouth-civic-centre-listing/

The listing at Grade II of Plymouth‚Äôs Civic Centre has caused a furore in the city. The Twentieth Century Society asked English Heritage to assess it in April 2006, due to its innovative design, important art collections and its historical significance to Plymouth‚Äôs rebirth after the devastation of WWII‚ÄĒwe were convinced that it was a nationally important example of post war architecture

I however return you to my figure of 500,000 listed buildings.  There is no sense of proportionality with these things.  Why not just list all of Berkshire?

Absolutely it would have been replaced by a new office builidng for the council which would have saved council tax payers money (not me, don't live there).  It was no longer fit for purpose and is standing empty and rotting; it's an eyesore.  I see no benefit in having it there as compared to having a few big photographs of it in the reception of its successor building.  It has no charm or beauty and if it is only of historical significance then fully record it before pulling it down.

Here is a historic momunment to the last war; Charles Church (sometimes known as Charles Cross).  Bombed and left standing, now on a roundabout, that pretty much everyone who visits Plymouth has seen.  This serves both as a monument to the war and to the post war devlopment by its contrast to its suroundings.  I agree with this being listed.

 

3995996228_d2956f84b8_b.jpg

 

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11 minutes ago, Frank Hovis said:

I however return you to my figure of 500,000 listed buildings.  There is no sense of proportionality with these things.  Why not just list all of Berkshire?

 

 

I suppose it depends if you think we are going forwards or backwards in terms of design. I don't think we are, sure a new building will be more energy efficient but it'll be done for the cheapest cost and timescale. If the council rebuilt it then it'd be some metal framed eyesore that will look like a bloody Travelodge.

If you look at Victorian Gothic Revival architecture which was only 150 years ago, it's light years ahead of where we are now, because it was expensive and done using traditional methods and materials. They don't do that any more, they just throw a bit of aluminium and glass together and hope it'll still be here in 150 years. Look at the buildings in London for example built over the past ~20 years, there are only a handful of ones I could name that are of any significant merit.

 

Example:
VictorianGothicarchitecture.jpg

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1 minute ago, spunko2010 said:

I suppose it depends if you think we are going forwards or backwards in terms of design. I don't think we are, sure a new building will be more energy efficient but it'll be done for the cheapest cost and timescale. If the council rebuilt it then it'd be some metal framed eyesore that will look like a bloody Travelodge.

If you look at Victorian Gothic Revival architecture which was only 150 years ago, it's light years ahead of where we are now, because it was expensive and done using traditional methods and materials. They don't do that any more, they just throw a bit of aluminium and glass together and hope it'll still be here in 150 years. Look at the buildings in London for example built over the past ~20 years, there are only a handful of ones I could name that are of any significant merit.

 

Example:
 

I entirely  agree with you.  Though I like that modern boat glass shaped office on the way in on the A4.

We should however be preserving the best examples from this age of mass building and however you cut it there are not 500,000 best examples.

The listing of the Plymouth Civic centre will have cost the council literally millions (their main office since has been leased while they search for a new one) and for what?  Preservation of an ugly inefficient and poorly constructed building for which there was no public campaign against its demolition because most people don't like it. 

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6 minutes ago, sarahbell said:

Great site Sarah.

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25 minutes ago, Frank Hovis said:

I entirely  agree with you.  Though I like that modern boat glass shaped office on the way in on the A4.

We should however be preserving the best examples from this age of mass building and however you cut it there are not 500,000 best examples.

The listing of the Plymouth Civic centre will have cost the council literally millions (their main office since has been leased while they search for a new one) and for what?  Preservation of an ugly inefficient and poorly constructed building for which there was no public campaign against its demolition because most people don't like it. 

Most Listed buildings are poorly constructed, or were. There's this fanciful idea now that all old buildings were built using the best materials by master craftsmen but they were in reality bodged and then some! In the intervening years they have been made good, or instead it has become part of the so called "character". My own kitchen extension for example is late Victorian and the walls are not even straight, you look at the floor tiles and your head goes dizzy.  How hard was it to use a tape measure or even just an angle measurer, around since the Ancient Greeks.. Also, they are also nearly always extremely inefficient, so that leaves only whether you consider something "ugly" or not. A lot of buildings from the the Palladian era I consider quite ugly, so it's pretty objective. In 200 years time they might be looking back and thinking Christ, that Plymouth Civic Centre isn't like anything today. It's probably because you are of the age where you don't hold 20th Century 'modernist' buildings in the same light as others from bygone days.

I agree that a lot of buildings are needlessly Listed though. There's a bloody duckhouse in Kent that is listed...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2449652/Otford-roundabout-duck-pond-voted-Britains-best.html

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1 hour ago, spunko2010 said:

Well, that is a monstrosity but it may have some historical merit, without looking it up I don't know. The 60s and 70s were a low point for architecture, a lot of historic buildings were lost and replaced with carbuncles. That said, a few of them have some hidden historic merit, for example there's a pedestrian motorway bridge near Bluewater that some DOSBODers may have driven under and not realised is actually Grade II listed  as it was the first IIRC pre-stressed concrete bridge built in the UK, so it should be protected.

https://goo.gl/maps/b9a16tuujns

Another good example if you've ever been to London and seen this "eyesore" , Trellick Tower, is Grade II* listed.

stringio.jpg?1414198475

It may be considered ugly but it's pretty unique https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1246688

That one you mentioned @Frank Hovis I couldn't comment on though.

Its awful for the people who have to live there, much like the Byker Wall. 

 

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I think you have to be careful.  The point at which all architecture is lost is when it is most hated.  Yet, often, a few years later, it becomes loved.

We lost loads of older houses pre-Victorian era because they were just old.  Victorian stuff was pulled down in the 20's because it was horrid.  20's stuff (art-deco) was pulled down in the 50's to make way for post-war expansion.  We're now in the era where 50's - 60's stuff (brutalist, new-town, structuralist) is hated.  I'm sure that in time it'll come to be 'liked' by normal folk.  (in the way that stately homes are 'liked' even though most people couldn't/wouldn't live there, so for Goldfinger's creations)

[I personally think the Minecraft generation will like brutalist by default]

Edited by dgul

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The thing is some buildings just reach the end of their useful life. I stay near a listed Victorian hospital that's been derelict for ten years. What do you do with an old hospital? There's no demand for offices in this area and it doesn't lend itself to housing (who wants to stay somewhere where tens of thousands of people have died?).

So if just sits empty and kids vandalise it. I'd be cool if the owner knocked it down as long as he had to pay a fine.

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Buildings are nice, but I don't mind them disappearing

I puzzle over when 'preserving a building' entered the psyche of 'modern man'. When did we decide that a building that was surpassed in its practicality should be saved simply for aesthetics or history, and why ?

I can't envisage anyone living in a stone hut saying, we must preserve this as one of the best ever built

And with climate change, I dread to think of the logistics of preserving an igloo for future generations

Edited by Hopeful

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8 hours ago, Frank Hovis said:

Whilst there are two schools of thought on here about buying listed builidngs - @spunko2010 likes them and nobody else would touch them! - the system seems to me to be deeply flawed.

Listing to my mind should be for architectural gems, buildings that we take pleasure from seeing and want our descendants to see in hundreds of years times.

Something like, to take an example from Plymouth as I know it reasonably well, the Elizabethan Merchant's House:

 

73+Merchants+House+Musesum+Plymouth.JPG

Wow, amazing.  Yes list to preserve.

 

But also in Plymouth, this monstrosity:

Plymouth_Civic_Centre_2016.jpg

 

These were the old council offices.  Leaky, drafty, expensive to heat, horrible to work in, massively expensive to maintain.

The council was going to demolish them and rebuild a modern office block in their place in 2007 until four people applied to English Heritage to have it listed.  And it was.

Since then the council has moved to new offices (in 2014), the building was sold to Urban Splash for £1 who had vague plans to turn it into a hotel.  No work has been done and it has stood empty and crumbling since 2014; dropping the occasional bit of concrete onto the pavement.  No work will probably ever be done until finally after a few decades it is demolished for being unsafe.

Great work English Heritage's listing department.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Civic_Centre

 

Anyway that second is just an individual example of the listing system's unfitness.

 

To show how unfit it is on a wider scale have a guess at how many listed buildings there are in England.

Wrong.

  Hide contents

we estimate that there are around 500,000 listed buildings

 

https://www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/what-is-designation/listed-buildings/

 

 

 

Maybe English Heritage should be forced to move into it?

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2 hours ago, Great Guy said:

The thing is some buildings just reach the end of their useful life. I stay near a listed Victorian hospital that's been derelict for ten years. What do you do with an old hospital? There's no demand for offices in this area and it doesn't lend itself to housing (who wants to stay somewhere where tens of thousands of people have died?).

So if just sits empty and kids vandalise it. I'd be cool if the owner knocked it down as long as he had to pay a fine.

That's already built into planning laws to be honest. If there's absolutely no modern use for it then a listed building can be torn down. However I'd be surprised if it couldn't be converted into flats. 

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11 minutes ago, spunko2010 said:

That's already built into planning laws to be honest. If there's absolutely no modern use for it then a listed building can be torn down. However I'd be surprised if it couldn't be converted into flats. 

They tried to remove the listed status...

I'm looking at the hospital now. The lead has been removed from the roof and there is vegetation 6 foot tall growing in the stonework. To put a new roof on and fix the stonework is liked to cost a couple of million. To subdivide the hospital into flats will cost another couple of million. The retail price of flats in this area does not justify the cost...

If someone offered the hospital to me for free I literally wouldn't accept it. 

There's another listed building nearby that burned down twenty years ago. It hasn't been touched...

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One of my dad's acquaintances owned a listed building. He started demolishing it on the Sunday and when the council came round on Monday he said "sorry mate, I know it's listed but I decided to knock it down. You can't stop me now as it would leave it in a dangerous state".

He paid the £2m fine and sold the site for housing...

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14 minutes ago, Great Guy said:

One of my dad's acquaintances owned a listed building. He started demolishing it on the Sunday and when the council came round on Monday he said "sorry mate, I know it's listed but I decided to knock it down. You can't stop me now as it would leave it in a dangerous state".

He paid the £2m fine and sold the site for housing...

That kind of thing normally makes the national news. In my borough in Kent there's never been a prosecution over damage to a Listed Building ever and there must be about 100 within a mile of here. Not saying it didn't happen just sounds a bit off. 

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The whims of council planning and conservation officers are something of a  problem with listed buildings. It can be enough of a PITA to get planning to alter a non listed building, but with listed, you get the additional problem of a building conservation officer flouncing around issuing often contrary requirements based on nothing in particular. Every reapplication costing more for new plans and more time, mostly waiting for the council to issue their next round of bullshit and make another all  important site visit.

I make a good chunk of my living working on historic buildings. More often than not, they can make great homes to live in, but it does take a different approach to the type of general building taught in college. A lot of the problems with old houses come from work carried out without understanding how the building works.

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On 22/08/2018 at 12:38, spunko2010 said:

Most Listed buildings are poorly constructed, or were. There's this fanciful idea now that all old buildings were built using the best materials by master craftsmen but they were in reality bodged and then some! In the intervening years they have been made good, or instead it has become part of the so called "character". My own kitchen extension for example is late Victorian and the walls are not even straight, you look at the floor tiles and your head goes dizzy.  How hard was it to use a tape measure or even just an angle measurer, around since the Ancient Greeks.. Also, they are also nearly always extremely inefficient, so that leaves only whether you consider something "ugly" or not. A lot of buildings from the the Palladian era I consider quite ugly, so it's pretty objective. In 200 years time they might be looking back and thinking Christ, that Plymouth Civic Centre isn't like anything today. It's probably because you are of the age where you don't hold 20th Century 'modernist' buildings in the same light as others from bygone days.

I agree that a lot of buildings are needlessly Listed though. There's a bloody duckhouse in Kent that is listed...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2449652/Otford-roundabout-duck-pond-voted-Britains-best.html

 

I know someone who bought an old cottage that was listed. It was originally a one bedroom cottage built onto oak logs placed directly onto the soil (that's how they did foundations back then). It had been extended although being an extension from 100 years ago it was hard to notice. The slope on the upstairs landing was so great that it was hard to keep your balance. Many of the strucural roof timbers were so riddled with woodworm holes I'm amased it was still standing. The external walls were lath and plaster, the 'craftsman' who did some repairs basically threw a mix of lime, mud and horsehair onto the wall, thats how it was done in the day (the idea is for some of the muck to get behind the lath so it grabs).

It might have looked pretty but I saw it as expensive, damp and unsafe. This was not a prominent building of any historical significance, it was just very old and was nothing more than a workers cottage that had survived all those years.

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5 minutes ago, null; said:

 

I know someone who bought an old cottage that was listed. It was originally a one bedroom cottage built onto oak logs placed directly onto the soil (that's how they did foundations back then). It had been extended although being an extension from 100 years ago it was hard to notice. The slope on the upstairs landing was so great that it was hard to keep your balance. Many of the strucural roof timbers were so riddled with woodworm holes I'm amased it was still standing. The external walls were lath and plaster, the 'craftsman' who did some repairs basically threw a mix of lime, mud and horsehair onto the wall, thats how it was done in the day (the idea is for some of the muck to get behind the lath so it grabs).

It might have looked pretty but I saw it as expensive, damp and unsafe. This was not a prominent building of any historical significance, it was just very old and was nothing more than a workers cottage that had survived all those years.

Have you been to my house or something? :ph34r:

Although luckily mine is standing on stone foundations. 

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