Context 166 - November 2020

20 C O N T E X T 1 6 6 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 2 0 minor architecture and by the appalling scale of the road plans proposed’. From 1968 Curl had published a series of outraged articles in the Oxford Mail lambasting the city planners for their destruction of St Ebbes and the decanting of the inhabitants to soulless developments on the eastern outskirts of the city, their failure to recognise the contribution that traditional lighting, street furniture and trees made to the character of the city, and their obsession with a destructive road system. An expanded version of these articles, which set the agenda for the civic society, was published as The Erosion of Oxford in 1977. It is gratifying to note some of the articles’ recommendations have subsequently been implemented. Curl specifically excluded the buildings of the university from his book on the basis that they ‘can look after themselves for the time being’. That was written in the light of a major programme of restoration of both college and university buildings between 1957 and 1974, which was celebrated in the book Oxford Stone Restored, published in 1975. On the whole the university has been a good custodian of its historic buildings. It has also been a major architectural patron, and from 1960 when a Committee on Elevations and the Choice of Architects was established it has commissioned some outstanding buildings. However, some of its initiatives have been sufficiently con- troversial to have led to changes in planning policy. A 25-storey tower for the Department of Zoology proposed in 1962 was soundly rejected. The proposal caused the city council to adopt a policy that restricted the height of new buildings in order to protect its precious skyline. This has been largely observed down to the present day. Five years later, in 1967, the council was more sympathetic to the university’s ambition to build a new Pitt Rivers museum and granted planning permission for a strikingly ambitious design by Pier Luigi Nervi in partnership with Powell and Moya, which involved the demoli- tion of a large area of Victorian north Oxford, including two listed buildings. The project had the support of a number of influential advocates, including Howard Colvin, but the university failed to raise the money to build it and it was formally abandoned in 1970. The proposal had caused the OAHS to establish aVictorian Group specifically to lobby for the preservation of the north Oxford suburb. Its efforts have largely suc- ceeded, and the council subsequently extended the conservation area to embrace the site for the proposed museum. This is now the home of Kellogg College and all the distinctive 19th- century houses in this part of the suburb have been carefully restored. The OAHS has a long tradition of comment- ing on listed building applications throughout Oxfordshire. Until the re-organisation of local government in 1974 it had effectively provided the county council planning department with conservation expertise for its development con- trol responsibilities in the absence of a dedicated team. In 1972 the city council had taken the bold step of appointing its first conservation officer, and in 1974 the four other newly-formed district councils in the wider county followed suit. The voluntary societies still have a crucial role to play in the consultation process but, with the appointment of professionally-qualified officers, conservation has formed an important element in planning policies throughout the county. From the beginning, the conservation officers from all the district councils held regular meet- ings with their colleagues from Buckinghamshire and Berkshire to share common experiences and challenges. They were all members of the Association of Conservation Officers from its foundation in 1982, and the annual school of the ACO was twice held in Oxford. The last occasion was in 1996 when the theme was ‘Building Bridges: resolving conflicts in build- ing conservation’. At the AGM the motion to move towards institute status was overwhelm- ingly carried. The Institute of Historic Building Conservation was duly launched the following year. As we approach our 25th anniversary it is perhaps fitting that we should reflect on those tentative first steps that were taken in Oxford and to acknowledge the part played by the voluntary sector in establishing a sympathetic climate for the values that we uphold. MalcolmAirs retired as professor of conservation and the historic environment at Oxford University in 2006. Prior to that he was conservation officer for South Oxfordshire District Council. He was chairman of the IHBC from 1998 to 2001, and president from 2001 to 2003. Nos 60 and 62 Banbury Road, which would have been demolished as part of the Pitt Rivers scheme and are now part of Kellogg College (Photo: Malcolm Airs) Model of the Nervi and Powell and Moya proposal for a new Pitt Rivers Museum (Photo: Malcolm Airs)