1st Edition

Narrative Theory in Conservation Change and Living Buildings

By Nigel Walter Copyright 2020
    244 Pages 26 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    244 Pages 26 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    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.

    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



    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.