Don’t call me a ‘conservation architect’!

St Pancras new wing by Richard Griffiths Architects

Vitruvius’ principles are no less relevant when working with old buildings. Richard Griffiths calls for an end to a false distinction

Architects working with old buildings are increasingly called “conservation architects” and treated as mere specialists in the technical aspects of repair and of achieving statutory consents for historic buildings, or in the functional aspects of converting old buildings to new uses.

In neither field does the idea of beauty get much of a look in, yet architecture has the ability to move people just as much as literature, music or art. As Vitruvius wrote, architecture consists of commodity (function), firmness (construction) and delight (beauty).

Functional and constructional considerations have largely shaped architecture since the early 20th century, yet the modern movement’s emphasis on function and construction has too often been at the expense of beauty. “Conservation architecture” seems to be going the same way.

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