Masterclass: "Complexity and Coherence in Architectural Conservation"

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


After the very substantial advances of the last century, architectural conservation is going through a period of palpable regression. Theories and principles of good practice, agreed by the international scientific community and embedded in current legislation and guidelines, are often ignored. This is largely due to a lack of adequate education in conservation, which has devastating effects in buildings and sites, and thereafter in the culture, education, economy and well-being of current and future generations.

As history clearly shows, in architectural conservation, practice precedes theory. But only when the practice is reflective, based on a thorough knowledge of architecture, its history and the culture of conservation, and with a critical approach. This type of practice requires specific interests, ethics, methodological approach, skills, knowledge, experience and collaborative approach in order to deal with the complexities involved. It includes understanding buildings and their contexts, so that well-informed decisions are taken to achieve a coherent result.

Architectural Conservation should be integrated within the overall architectural practice, as its ultimate scope should be to achieve a good architectural result. This is in many occasions compromised by a partial focus on the repair of materials or the energy improvements, with a detrimental effect, for example in the architectural composition and environmental performance of buildings and sites. There is also very little theoretical discussion during architectural conservation projects: most of the time narratives focus on technical resolutions. Crucially, architectural conservation professionals do not engage enough with the wider architectural production and criticism. It is, for example very little-known the influence that the practice and theory of architectural conservation had in important developments in architecture, such as Carlo Scarpa’s architectural production and Robert Venturi’s seminal book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (MoMA, 1966).

The lecture will use the ICOMOS CIF 2023 Decalogue for Education in Architectural Conservation as a framework to discuss these issues. The work of Giacomo Boni, Carlo Scarpa, Cesari Brandi and other practitioners and theorist will help to illustrate the discussion, which will extend to the legislative implications and a proposed way forward.
Period26 Apr 2023
Held atUniversity of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational