City Evolution - digital
1980s to present day
From the 1980s growth in home ownership encouraged more people to buy up and restore dilapidated Victorian and Georgian homes, and grants became available for restoration, and getting older buildings back into use. Two parallel trends were occurring; a boom in property redevelopment and a growing awareness of the need for more sustainable construction.
Interest in a much wider range of historic buildings also grew, including those relating to Britain's industrial heritage. However though listing diversified many exceptional industrial and 20th century buildings still came under threat.
The most famous industrial building in London in the late 70s was Battersea Power Station, immortalised on the cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Animal album’ in 1976. Battersea was one of the super power stations planned in the 1920s to concentrate energy production. It was strategically placed to address the growing electricity demands of west and central London and initially met with public protest at its prominent position opposite St Paul's, and anticipated pollution levels. This led to the appointment Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who redesigned the exterior, creating the iconic design, we see today.
In 1979 The Thirties Society (now the Twentieth Century Society), concerned that Battersea might be demolished following its proposed decommissioning, worked with SAVE, and the local community to press for its protection. It was listed in 1980.
Over the next thirty years local residents, campaign organisations, and English Heritage worked together to watch over Battersea, as private development proposals came and went. The removal of its roof however, despite its listed status, meant much of the exceptional interior was lost.
In 2012 a new development company began to work with conservation groups, to create the development being carried out today. The jury is still out on how successful this vast new development will be, with little other older fabric to draw on other than Battersea's shell.
However, in September 2013 40,000 people queued over a single weekend to get a glimpse of Battersea’s interior, showing how far the conservation movement had come in the century since scheduling first began.
'Almost Lost' highlights how the recording of historic sites and structures as well as campaigns by residents, conservation groups and the press, and new legislation and designation, helped save many of London’s most important historic buildings and areas during the 20th century.
However though the socio-economic value of the historic environment, and problems caused by comprehensive redevelopment are more clearly understood than a century ago, poor quality development, and the demolition of unprotected areas - whose character and fabric have developed organically over very long periods of time - continues today.
Improvements to public housing, transport and infrastructure will always be required and pressure for commercial development will always exist. New schemes will still need local and specialist engagement to ensure that designs integrated within the local built context in a sustainable way. Carbon reduction legislation is also now requiring areas such as the energy efficiency of older buildings be assessed,
Huge progress has been made in the designation of older buildings but these only constitute an estimated 7% of the UK's stock, a proportion which which are also in severe state of neglect. As public funding tightens, and the speed of change accelerates, the work of residents, campaign groups, and those recording, designating and bringing old buildings back into use, is becoming even more vital as ever before. However neither extension of designation nor increased reliance on campaign groups to sort out planning problems are either cost effective or viable.
However a much wider debate on resource conservation in cities is underway, as part of the intelligent cities debate, to which the conservation movement has much to contribute. The opportunity now exists to harness the vast body of collective knowledge held within the conservation sector and to couple this with advances in mathematical modelling, machine learning and spatial analysis. This will enable a body of scientific evidence to be developed to demonstrate the value for urban economies, needing to develop long-term sustainable strategies, of retaining older buildings. Such evidence is also need to convince government that changes to planning legislation are urgently required with regard to the demolition of buildings and the assessment of socio economic and environmental values embedded within our building stock .
Other areas of this site run by The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis , including its blog, provide up-to-date information on progress at UCL in these areas of research.