Context 159 - May 2019

C O N T E X T 1 5 9 : M A Y 2 0 1 9 63 been unoccupied ever since the death of George II in 1760. It was her specific wish that they should be ‘opened to the public during her Majesty’s Pleasure’. The works were completed in 1899 and, as a contemporary noted, ‘never before… has the restoration of any historic building been carried out with quite the same amount of loving care’. He went on to comment that careful attention had been paid ‘never to renew any decoration where it was possible to preserve it – least of all ever to attempt to “improve” old work into new’. Such an approach can be rightly seen as a significant landmark in the conservation of historic buildings and their presentation to a wider public. The opening was an instant success and apart from brief interludes around both world wars, the palace and its gardens have remained accessible ever since. This beautifully produced guide book is a tribute to the thoughtful way in which they are presented to the public today. Malcolm Airs, Kellogg College, Oxford Recovering history Historical versus Modern: identity through imitation Barbara Engel (editor) with Johannes Blechschmidt, Max Mutsch and Philine Schneider, Jovis Verlag GmbH. Order , 2018, 213 pages, many urban plans and colour illustrations, ISBN 978 3 868594 98 0, €29.95 In an age of rapid urban growth, the longing for stability and rooted- ness has often fostered a return to historical forms and local identities. Across the world, city districts are being historicised during the process of reconstruction. This German (English language) publication examines a number of international projects exemplifying the trend. The authors’ aim is to understand the motivations behind them and whether they provide models of good urban design.The 14 selected exam- ples vary widely, from reconstruction after loss with the aim of recovering their history, to new ‘Old Cities’ that provide an invented past. There are also copied places where imita- tion becomes an urban development principle in order to create a tourist magnet. The book is edited by Barbara Engel, who has followed the con- tested discussions on this topic over several years. In most instances she has found that public opinion, which predominantly supports historicising new constructions, is diametrically opposed by conservation profession- als, urban planners and architects. This makes it a difficult subject and the book skilfully avoids tak- ing an unduly partisan approach. Yet there is a sense that collective memory is a powerful driver for recovering history. The book raises many interesting lines of enquiry, for example, can lost identities be retrieved with reconstructed build- ings, and is the multi-faceted nature of urban history accurately reflected in present-day recreations? The book is divided into four sections, each featuring between two and five urban development plans. The first is Reconstruction after Loss, which includes the Polish city of Elbing, which was largely destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt in a contemporary interpretation of its original historic form.This makes for a townscape that recalls the original merchant town, but it is criticised by many local historians and architects as a vision of what an old town might look like rather than the reality of the one that was destroyed. A more polarised debate has taken place between traditionalists and modern- ists over the Dom-Römer area of Frankfurt. This resulted in a mix of both historical reconstructions and contemporary designs, but with little thought given to their harmonisa- tion. Section 2, titled Copied Spaces, considers China’s practice of imi- tating western European landmarks and districts. Two new satellite towns in Shanghai are featured. Anting is intended to represent a modern ecologically-based model of a German city, while Thames Town imitates British small-town typol- ogy, with Stratford-on-Avon used as the template. Next comes New Old Cities, a concept involving con- struction of an imagined past, with the aim of fostering neighbourliness, social cohesion and sense of place. The prime example is Poundbury, but more remarkable is the post- modern historicism displayed at the new town of Haverleij in the Netherlands, and a brave attempt to challenge the American love of the suburbs at the Mercado District in Tucson, Arizona. The final section examines Transformations of History, which see cities not as static constructs but as places subject to constant change. An example is Skopje 2014, a state-sponsored regeneration proj- ect focused on the urban core of the capital city of the Republic of Macedonia, which aims to project a new interpretation of national his- tory. Populist in nature, this involves renovating existing buildings, facade- cladding buildings of the Socialist era, and creating monuments, sculp- tures and even a triumphal arch. Although the examples chosen to illustrate these international approaches to ‘heritage-based’ regeneration are difficult to com- pare, given the lack of consistency in planning regimes, politics and cultural values, the book raises many pertinent questions about the meth- ods that are being used, their capac- ity for strengthening local identity and their lasting value. Peter de Figueiredo, heritage consultant