The home page ‘Future’ image shows the 2010 extension to the Wiltshire Council offices at Bourne Hill in Salisbury, by Stanton Williams architects. This unashamedly modern extension to an early C18th building, originally a substantial house, was given an award by the Civic Society in 2011, and is seen by the Society as demonstrating that new developments in a medieval city do not need to timidly follow traditional styles of architecture. Indeed, it can be argued that the general tendency in recent times to go down that route has compromised and devalued the city’s architectural legacy.
Other challenges to that legacy can be identified, less blatant than the erection of sub-standard imitations, but often equally insidious. Starting from the positive possibilities demonstrated by Bourne Hill, the various aspects contained within the ‘future’ title are explored under the following headings.
Trying to achieve high quality modern development. The Bourne Hill extension is an excellent example of what can be achieved when no attempt is made to imitate traditional styles, and a completely contemporary idiom is sought. It is however a fairly exceptional case, and the challenge of achieving new developments of good quality is quite a complex one.
Inappropriate work to historic buildings. Listed buildings (of which there are around 1200 in Salisbury city, and around 3000 in the area of South Wiltshire covered by the Society) should be protected from such work, but unlisted ones have much less protection. This is the case even when they are in a conservation area, a designation which can be ineffective.
The setting of buildings. The spaces between buildings, what in urban environments is generally known as the public realm, can be as important as the buildings themselves. If a place like Salisbury, in particular, is to be seen at its best, attention needs to be paid to such things as paving, street furniture, street trees, and signs. Standards are often depressingly low, and means of remediation hard to find.
Making the most of the planning system. One of the key jobs undertaken by the Civic Society is the vetting of planning applications, starting from those affecting listed buildings or conservation areas, and from time to time widening that remit when particularly important applications which fall outside it come up. This is an often frustrating task. The planning system, by itself, is a long way short of being able to promote the kind of ‘future’ the Society would like to see.