Conservation of Functional Heritage Railway Buildings as an Archetype for the Conservation of Functional Heritage Buildings

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Conservation of heritage buildings has a theoretical basis dating from the Renaissance, popularised by the 18th Century ‘grand tour’ and codified by the 19th Century. This approach recognised great works of architecture and artistry, while consciously eschewing contemporary ‘functional’ buildings developed throughout the Industrial Revolution. Subsequent writers identify that these functional buildings are an integral part of a wider cultural significance and equally worthy of conservation, while recognising that these buildings present new problems in applying the accepted principles of building conservation. One suggested approach to defining an approach to conservation of these functional buildings is to identify the context and narrative presented by these buildings, possibly by using a survey process to identify the taxonomical values.

There is an apparent hesitancy in recognising the development of functional buildings, with discussion of the revolutionary nature of structures associated with Industrial Revolution transport tending to concentrate on the engineering aspects, such as bridges or passenger station train sheds. However, many of the functional buildings developed as railways matured during the 19th Century were innovatory. Included in these innovatory structures are railway signal boxes, small specialist structures that present difficulties in conversion to a different use without losing the original significance, presented as an exemplar of functional buildings. After defining the case and imposing a constraint of mainland Great Britain, the chosen sample for taxonomy survey covered a range in terms of type, age, location, and custodianship. The taxonomy survey identified the context of each building and applied a narrative to a sample as conceptually perceived by a casual observer of the building.

For each sample case study building it was possible to identify a context and apply an effective narrative. Results suggest that for functional buildings such as railway signal boxes there is a clear divergence from accepted theories of building conservation, with a sense of context more critical than the purity of location or building. Furthermore, this conservation is strongly narrative driven, requiring a wider participation than a purely academic discourse that, nevertheless, needs protecting from an idealised, even sentimental, mythologising narrative that this wider discourse could potentially attach to functional buildings. There is a further weakness that the custodians of functional buildings predominately have a limited motivation, and may even be hostile, concerning accepted philosophies of building conservation. To apply the principle of using a narrative to define conservation of heritage functional buildings, this narrative must encapsulate the history, articulate the social aspects, reinvent excellence, and facilitate the experiential.

Research findings that include narrative results present a potential cultural shift in building conservation, a shift that fully encompasses conservation of heritage functional buildings. Applying to every building a clearly defined evidential value that looks beyond traditional values provides a multifaceted perception, thus creating an approach that draws upon the perception of disparate people connected with a heritage building rather than only the custodian or building conservationists. This process is dynamic and transferrable, so using a narrative that includes intangible values strengthens the processes for conserving heritage functional buildings.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Pesce, Gianluca, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2022

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