Narrative Theory in Conservation : Change and Living Buildings book cover
1st Edition

Narrative Theory in Conservation
Change and Living Buildings

ISBN 9781032173122
Published December 13, 2021 by Routledge
244 Pages 26 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Narrative Theory in Conservation engages with conservation, heritage studies, and architectural approaches to historic buildings, offering a synthesis of the best of each, and demonstrating that conservation is capable of developing a complementary, but distinct, theoretical position of its own.

Tracing the ideas behind the development of modern conservation in the West, and considering the challenges presented by non-Western practice, the book engages with the premodern understanding of innovation within tradition, and frames historic buildings as intergenerational, communal, ongoing narratives. Redefining the appropriate object of conservation, it suggests a practice of conserving the questions that animate and energize local cultures, rather than only those instantiated answers that expert opinion has declared canonical. Proposing a narrative approach to historic buildings, the book provides a distinctive new theoretical foundation for conservation, and a basis for a more equal dialogue with other disciplines concerned with the historic environment.

Narrative Theory in Conservation articulates a coherent theoretical position for conservation that addresses the urgent question of how historic buildings that remain in use should respond to change. As such, the book should be of great interest to academics, researchers, and postgraduate students from the fields of conservation, heritage studies, and architecture.

Table of Contents

List of Figures

Preface and Acknowledgements

List of Abbreviations

1. Context: people and change in conservation

1.1 Beating the bounds: the scope of the argument

The question of living buildings

Fixity, fluidity and the problem of change

Buildings as people

Framing conservation as applied ethics

1.2 Conservation as ‘making’ and ‘keeping’

Conservation, preservation and monuments

Significance and values in the contemporary conservation framework

A new heritage paradigm?

1.3 Wider heritage concerns

Heritage studies

Agency and material vitality

1.4 Structure of the book

2. Modernity: conservation, discontinuity and the past

2.1 The development of conservation



2.2 Modernity and the past

2.3 But is it art? – non-aesthetic interpretation

Romantic and classical approaches to hermeneutics

Genius and authorship

2.4 Waking up to context

Cultural landscape and the palimpsest


Case Study: Carlo Scarpa, William Morris and the Castelvecchio, Verona


Murphy on Morris

The instructive relic

Extending the narrative

3. People: community, language and power

3.1 Where are the people?

Experts, universalism and the local

Intangible heritage

The uses of intangibility

People and social value

Heritage as discourse

Community discourse

3.2 Living heritage

English parish churches


Case Study: St Alkmund, Duffield and the ecclesiastical exemption

Parish churches and the Faculty Jurisdiction system

The case of St Alkmund, Duffield

Critiquing the original judgment

Justification and enhancement

Theology and community


4. Tradition: change and continuity

4.1 Modernity, tradition and continuity

Tradition and conservatism

Tradition and the canon

4.2 Hermeneutics

Gadamer and tradition

The fusion of horizons

Understanding the other

4.3 Virtue ethics

MacIntyre’s contribution

The vitality of tradition


5. Narrative: time, history and what happens next

5.1 Temporality

History and transition

Double temporality

5.2 Narrativity

The nature of narrative


Community and the fitness of narrativity

5.3 The relevance of narrative for conservation

The central metaphor

Benefits of the narrative model


6. Application: the narrative approach to conservation

6.1 Questions of principle

Explanatory competition

The cultural whole

Continuity of character

Completed narratives

6.2 Questions of everyday practice





6.3 Questions of meta-practice

‘Who need experts?’

People power

Difficult heritage


6.4 Compatibility with tradition

Case Study: The SCARAB Manifesto


The text of the Manifesto


Ancient buildings exude LIFE

Ancient buildings expect CHANGE

Ancient buildings embody TRADITION

Ancient buildings form COMMUNITY

7. Conclusion: conservation ‘as if people mattered’

Conservation futures

History in the gap

Hybridity and the via media


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Nigel Walter is a Specialist Conservation Architect based in Cambridge, UK, a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and a member of two ICOMOS International Scientific Committees. He specialises in living heritage, combining practice with research, and holds a PhD in conservation of historic buildings.