Context 151 - September 2017

28 C O N T E X T 1 5 1 : S E P T E M B E R 2 0 1 7 Between land and sky Speakers: Kate Martyn and Victoria Perry, Donald Insall Associates Evidently air transport in its early days had an entirely different context from other forms of transport. Unlike road, rail and water, airfields were set in wide, flat, open countryside. Passengers viewed expansive areas of sky when boarding aircraft before they soared upwards. The luminosity of Eric Ravilious’s paintings gave powerful anticipation of taking to the air and gliding in hazy sunshine, remote from the patchwork of fields below. Historic England has recently updated conserva- tion guidance on Historic Military Aviation Sites . This advises that most airfield buildings are capable of adaptation to new purposes without harm to their essential character. If the preservation of standing structures is unsustainable, it might be appropriate to maintain their footprint as a ghost. For example, Bleriot’s landing in Dover in 1909 is commemorated by the silhouette of his plane laid out in granite setts on the rolling downs nearby. A timeline explains the rapid developments of both military and civilian airfield organisation from airship hangars before the first world war; home defence arrangements in the inter-war period; jets in the cold war; and the continu- ing rapid expansion of civil flight. Examples such as Duxford (museum), Ventnor (NATS outpost and former radar station), RAF Coltishall (solar farm) shows that a particular approach is effective. The speakers analysed the significance of structures in terms of technology, organisation and associated functions to arrive at positive opportuni- ties for change. A decade ago there was little public recognition of the importance of airfield history. Thus conservation and management plans were seen as negative preservation. Now there is a more balanced perspective which recognises airfields’ role in defend- ing a beleaguered island. Early surviving buildings can be found at Farnborough, where hangars for airships survive from 1911. Few early sites survive in anything like their orig- inal condition, and few are designated heritage assets, but some of the best surviving structures have been listed or scheduled, and some complete aerodromes or stations have been designated as conservation areas. Protecting the character and setting of aviation sites while accommodating new uses can be difficult. RAF Coltishall in Norfolk, one of the longest-serving fighter stations of the second world war, was designated as a conservation area following its closure in 2006. Use as a solar farm with careful design to maintain buffers around buildings and protect long views has protected the visual setting of the older structures. A particularly interesting project that Donald Insall Associates worked on recently is at St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance at Biggin Hill, Croydon. This former fighter station played a critical role in the Battle of Britain, and the chapel was built in 1951 to commemorate the airmen who lost their lives flying from Biggin Hill. Now listed Grade II, it contains fine memorial stained glass windows and a parquet floor made out of wooden propellers. The former RAF station continues in use as an active, commercial airport, but the chapel is indepen- dently operated by a trust. A grant has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a museum and interpretation centre on the site. Kate Martyn and Victoria Perry worked on a conservation manage- ment plan and schedules of repair, with Robin Lee Architects developing plans for the new building. The setting and context of the chapel played an important role in designing the scheme, which has sought to reinforce the connection with the sky and the active airport.The new design presents as a garden wall to the existing chapel and consecrated memorial garden, framing views of the sky and intensifying the experience of openness. At Upper Heyford old utilitarian buildings are now used for historic car displays of a similar period. What about the future for heritage protection? Stansted was designed to echo the romance of earlier flight. Passengers inhabit a spacious open hall, with skywards glimpses through the-tree like structure and canopy above. It is a piano nobile set over baggage and service areas with clear views of aircraft taxiing. Under the 30-year rule such romantic connotations should give an impetus to listing in 2021. Graham Arnold and Penny McKnight The impact of air development Speaker: Christina Petrides, technical director, ITPEnergised Christina Petrides asked: is airport development affecting our heritage legacy? Her talk considered the growth of aviation over the past 50 years, the cost of that growth and how the impact on heritage should be assessed. The growth of aviation could be measured by the increase in the number of regional airports, the expan- sion of international hubs such as Heathrow and the Victoria Perry (left) and Christina Petrides take questions from the audience