In Scotland we are blessed with numerous buildings and areas of distinction, and these are commonly protected through the assignation of listing or conservation area status. While these tags are often seen as a curb on development, this is absolutely not the case. As an office, Loader Monteith love this type of work, and this post talks through some of the implications if you are privileged enough to own or manage such a property or site with a listing or conservation area status.
Undertaking work to a listed building or one in a conservation area can bring additional complexity, however it can also produce some of the best and most exciting architecture. Constraints inherently demand careful analysis, sound logic and a good imagination to develop an appropriate solution - and the best architecture is always underpinned by these three cornerstones.
Our Potter's House Project in Lenzie Conservation Area.
There is resistance to affecting change to these areas - quite rightly - they have been awarded their listing or conservation status for good reason, and there are plenty of once beautiful areas which have been eroded through poorly considered, inappropriate or unlawful change.
Listed status is not necessarily due to a building’s beauty, but its significance - culturally, technically, aesthetically (or a combination of these.) A listing or conservation area does not mean that buildings should not change - indeed, it is vital that they do. If buildings are not allowed to flex and adapt to a changing world, they risk becoming irrelevant and, ultimately, unused and derelict.
Our Carpenter's House project in Stenton, East Lothian
Buildings are a functional response to an identified demand, and if we can’t make them suitable for today’s demands, then their core purpose becomes defunct. The statutory guidance is clear on this – Historic Environment Scotland publish an excellent document ‘New Design in Historic Settings’ (link below) shows how a rational analysis can help result in an unexpected and wonderful outcome.
New Design in Historic Settings
If you are privileged enough to live in a conservation area or a listed building, here is out how to guide on altering or extending your property.
1. Understand the consents.
You may require planning, or listed building consent (LBC), both or neither. Planning permission and LBC are usually applied for at around the same time, although they require two separate applications. Your architect should be able to guide you through this process and help you understand what works are likely to require approval.
2. Thorough analysis on the building /area - why is it significant? A conservation led approach.
The reasons why a building is significant must first be understood before developing a sensitive solution. This requires comprehensive analysis of the property and the area and results in an ‘assessment of significance’. This forensically determines which are the most important parts of the building and where it might be possible and appropriate to adjust it to meet a changing demand placed upon it.
Our Extension to Carnbooth House Hotel, with Cameronwebster Architects
3. Let the analysis drive the strategy for change, not the other way around.
The logical outcome from the above. People occasionally ask us for ‘an extension here and an alteration there’. This pre-determined action sometimes results in a poorly considered piece of architecture – an ‘uncomfortable fit’. The analysis should come first and help shape an appropriate outcome, and not be used as a post-rationalised document to justify the means.
The Shieling in Fintry Conservation Area.
4. Dialogue with the planning department - flexibility of approach.
We like to liaise with the planning and conservation team at an early stage – they can provide valuable insight and help to steer schemes towards a scheme which will be supported through the application process. We like to show our full analysis and how this has manifested in the architectural response – so that the planners can understand the logic behind the scheme and how we have arrived at what we believe to be appropriate and sensitive.
Our Hidden House project, in Glasgow's West End and in the curtilage of 2 listed buildings, with Cameronwebster architects.
5. Expect the unexpected - contingency planning.
It is almost inevitable that at some point during the planning and delivery of a building in a conservation area that you’ll hit hiccups. Our Carpenters House scheme in East Lothian for example, required multiple versions to be developed – and these were lined up so that when we entered into dialogue with the local authority, we knew we could ‘step back’ from one scheme to another so arrive at one they were happy to support. Again, this required open and frank dialogue with the planning department and HES, however we understood one another’s positions and could allow the architectural response to move into the areas where it was likely to be supported.
An Artist's studio in the curtilage of a 'B' listed buiding in Dennistoun, Glasgow
6. Good risk management
Good risk management is vital with all old buildings. They almost always throw up ‘unknowns’ and having a working risk register which identifies and mitigates these risks as far as practicable is key to not having a stressful time when the ‘unexpected’ is discovered. It is also good practice to start works on site with a healthy contingency – so that when unexpected discoveries are made, they don’t spell doom for something else on the scheme due to the budget being so tight.
Detail of slot window to The Carpenter's House project in East Lothian.