Context 155 - July 2018

20 C O N T E X T 1 5 5 : J U L Y 2 0 1 8 DAVID MITCHELL and CAITLIN DeSILVEY Care, repair and adaptive heritage practice If not all places can be preserved, what can be done with them? If we are in danger of loving some heritage to death, should we let it fade away while giving it the respect it deserves? The following is excerpted from a conversation between David Mitchell, director of conservation at Historic Environment Scotland, and Caitlin DeSilvey, associate professor of cultural geography at the University of Exeter), in March. Their conversation focused on some of the issues raised in DeSilvey’s book Curated Decay: heritage beyond saving (University of Minnesota Press, 2017), which has been noted for its potentially transforma- tive contribution to heritage practice. ‘We know that not all places can be preserved,’ wrote the jury who awarded the book the 2018 UMW Historic Preservation Book Prize. ‘But if they can not be preserved, what can be done with them? How do you let things fade away while giving them the respect they deserve? This book gives us space to breathe and have flexibility in our response.’ DM: How’s your book doing? It seems to be really popular. CD: I guess it is. I get most excited when I have people connect with me about it who are in posi- tions like yours, because it feels like people are actually finding it useful. One of the things I am interested in chatting with you about is whether you see the ideas in the book being applied to shift perspectives and practices, or whether it is just reinforcing and reframing things that were already happening. DM: Climate change is a big thing for Historic Environment Scotland. From one perspective it is about the acceleration of the process of decay, and it has meant that the environment in which we look after this stuff has fundamentally changed, and increasingly some of our approaches are becoming no longer viable. In that respect your book came along at a really opportune moment. Did you have a sense of that when you were writing your book? CD: I think I did, but it has become more apparent recently how profound some of the changes are that we are going to be facing in the future. When I came to the UK and started to think about how to apply the ideas that I had been working with around decay and heritage, it seemed like the coastal context was the most appropriate place to ground-test my ideas, and I was very lucky to connect with the National Trust early on. Ten years on what has become apparent to me is that there is a lot more work to do. It is one thing to embrace change and adaptation from a philosophical position and very much another to practically implement approaches in specific places that involve rolling back, or dismantling, or accepting the loss of a feature like a harbour or a lighthouse. DM: Heritage bodies across the British Isles evolved from the Ministry ofWorks, and we inherited a par- ticular approach and a particular style. So if I go on to a Cadw site, it feels familiar: scraped back, consoli- dated and somewhat sanitised within the landscape. We have perpetuated that.We are not always honest about the levels of intervention conducted in the past. Some of the large interventions that were done in the 1930s for the ministry are coming to the end of their life.They often used the wrong materials, and climate change is accelerating decay.At Lochmaben Castle in Dumfriesshire parts of the upstanding walls had been robbed of their ashlar for building elsewhere, and the Ministry ofWorks consolidated the loose wall core. It is failing and has led us to close off parts of the site. In that kind of scenario we need to take a different approach to before. In private discussions, people who actually look after the assets are often really pragmatic and very practical, because they have to The Admiralty pier at Throsk, near Stirling