Learning from the Past

Winston Churchill once wrote: "We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us". The failure of so many post-war housing developments and the parallel breakdown in society suggests that Churchill was right, and therefore to study our built heritage will do more than provide knowledge of the built environment, it will also provide an insight into the British psyche. Furthermore, if we are now to create meaningful new developments, that provide a sense of place and respond positively to their locality, then the result will be more than just pleasant places to live; they should also help society to evolve in a more positive manner.

But there is more to learning from the past than a blind study of old buildings and spaces. It is necessary, to also understand the significances of those buildings and spaces, and the values that society places on them; values which are likely to have changed over time. Finally, if our intention is to create something more than a clone of an historic environment, then it is also necessary to understand how to apply these lessons in the design of new places. These issues will be explored in more detail in my session within the Historic Towns and Smarter Growth conference in Cambridge on 30 April.

David Grech
Historic Areas Adviser
English Heritage, East of England Region