Kevin McCloud: New Ambassador for the SPAB

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A familiar name, face and voice to anyone interested in architecture and design, broadcaster Kevin McCloud is also a thoughtful and informed advocate for building conservation. The Grand Designs presenter has just become the SPAB’s first official Ambassador.

At first glance, it might seem surprising that someone often associated with modern design and innovative architecture should be a passionate and eloquent supporter of the Britain’s oldest heritage charity (SPAB was established by William Morris in 1877), but Kevin McCloud has been a member of the SPAB since 1991.

In an interview in the Society’s spring magazine*, he explains: “I joined the SPAB because I admired its steadfast adherence to a philosophy steeped in rigour, but underpinned by romance. And because I have always loved ancient buildings and places.”

Wryly describing SPAB as ‘the paramilitary wing of the conservation movement,’ he adds:  “SPAB is still relevant – more than ever when UK conservation has become muddied with nimbyism and when the majority of consumer and lobbying groups peddle a soft soap and ambiguous approach to the historic environment. The one thing I’d like people to understand about SPAB is that it is progressive, and pragmatic. It takes the wisdom of its learning and of practice in the field to constantly evolve and reinterpret its approach.”

Although the buildings featured in Channel 4’s popular Grand Designs are generally cutting edge new-builds, when it comes to home, McCloud’s heart seems to belong to the past. He tells readers: “I make programmes about new architecture and seemingly nothing else. And yet I have lived in, since I left school, only old buildings, which I’ve repaired and cherished. I took a degree in the history of art and the history of architecture, and by nature I’m a conservationist, so I haven’t yet fully resolved the paradox of what I do and where I live.”

Appropriately, along with respect for historic fabric and patina, the SPAB approach endorses good, imaginative new design in the context of old buildings, so McCloud’s dilemma is a neat encapsulation of the Society’s interests and concerns

SPAB Director, Matthew Slocombe says: “We were delighted when Kevin responded so enthusiastically to our invitation to become our first official Ambassador. He has been a member of the SPAB for more than a quarter of a century and in that time has actively supported our work and projects, ranging from the Philip Webb Award to National Maintenance Week. We are grateful for his articulate, informed enthusiasm for our future as well as our past, as well as his clear-sighted understanding of the challenges facing conservation today.”

Responding to a question on these issues, McCloud concludes: “The old challenges remain – how we square conservation and repair with their long-established uncomfortable bedfellows; how buildings are used in the 21st century; our expectations of comfort; the more liberal alternatives of restoration and dramatic reconstruction that seem popular at the moment; and historical revisionism (which seems to change tack with each generation).

“But I’ll add one more group of challenges which are enormous: those, of course, of  climate change, sustainability and energy efficiency and we how now, therefore, allocate resources to our historic environment – which is recognised (for example, in One Planet Living) as a key component of resilient and sustainable society”.

*The full interview is the main feature of the spring edition of the SPAB Members’ Magazine, published April 2018

Notes to Editors
For further information please contact: Kate Griffin SPAB press office 0207 456 0905 / Alison McClary, SPAB press office: 0207 456 0908

The SPAB is Britain’s oldest building conservation body. It was set up by William Morris to oppose the destructive restorations of the Victorian era and promote the alternative of “conservative repair”. By law it must be notified of applications to demolish listed buildings in England and Wales and comments on hundreds each year. Today its broad remit is to advise, educate and campaign.  The Society, a registered charity, also trains architects and craftspeople; produces a range of helpful publications and campaigns on issues affecting our built heritage.

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