Casework campaigning and advice has always been a key element of the Society's work. Today, in England and Wales, the Society has a role in the secular planning system. We must be notified by local planning authorities of all applications that involve total or partial demolition giving us an opportunity to comment on the proposed scheme. We have a similar role in the systems operated by the religious bodies that hold an exemption from secular listed building control.
Q. What is the SPAB’s remit in terms of the casework that it handles?
A. Our casework resources are very limited and therefore we concentrate on commenting on listed building consent applications that will have a physical impact on individual buildings with fabric dating from 1720 or earlier. We are not generally able to get involved in cases related to more recent structures or to address wider concerns about the implementation of conservation area controls and local planning policy issues at this time. We cannot take up all cases, but if the fabric of an important ancient building is threatened by neglect, or by proposals for significant alteration, please contact the Society via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. Does the SPAB deal with issues affecting the setting of listed buildings?
A. Generally no, but there are other sources of advice on this issue and other organisations that may be able to assist:
Q. Does the SPAB support good modern design?
A. Yes, we believe that new work should ‘complement not parody’ the original and that ‘modern needs should be expressed in a modern [architectural] language.’ We therefore advocate high quality design and craftsmanship which is sympathetic to the original but does not attempt imitation. Work that sets out to replicate or emulate the original designer’s work will inevitably confuse the history of a building or mislead the onlooker. It is also unlikely to be successful and risks compromising the original’s integrity. Where a change or alteration is justified, we urge that it is done honestly and in a sympathetic manner, but in a style of our time.
Q. Why does the SPAB not condone conjectural restoration?
A. Our ideas about how to treat old buildings have evolved from the Manifesto written by William Morris in 1877 and are elaborated in our Principles. A key tenet of our philosophy is the view that when an old building or parts of it are lost it is better to create something new but respectful rather than recreating something that no longer exists. Essentially, we believe that attempting to restore a building to an arbitrary and unknown point in time is damaging to its authenticity and integrity as it creates a false and misleading impression of its history and evolution. Restoration also removes the opportunity to add to the architectural record by creating something new and so there is a double loss. There are also further negative consequences when a building is restored to a certain degree but then altered to suit new needs and uses – in this case it is neither an academic / historically accurate restoration nor something new and of its time.