Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Past in our Future

John Rylands Library Deansgate © Ellen Leslie Ltd

The end of one year and the beginning of a new one tends to draw our attention forward. If you read newspapers or magazines at this time of year, 'trends' are the subject many publications are chewing over. What's the next big thing? What old attitudes or technology are we going to discard on the wave of newness?

Apparently we as humans are hard-wired to look for the new. Novelty is what drives our species forward. In reality though, despite the inexorable move forward, we are also living with our past. The past is what shapes us today. We would be formless and blank if we didn't carry the culmination of our lives, the kind of community we come from, the events we have witnessed, the scars sustained, the memories held on to. There is the valid opinion that we mustn't dwell in the past but at the same time, we are the walking, talking product of our past. It is what defines us. Our past has relevance today.

The same can be said of our physical surroundings. The world around us; the landscapes, roads, villages and towns we inhabit are the product of years, decades and centuries of life that defines us today. For me a 16th century timber-framed house, a Victorian warehouse, a parade of inter-war shops or the centuries-old camber of a village thoroughfare are just as much part of today as we are. But not everyone sees it like that. For some, the past is something irrelevant even less-than, that should be sacrificed for the needs of the present and plans for the future. Worryingly there are many people in positions of influence who want to and can put that attitude into action. Not a month goes past when I don't walk down a London street to find wholesale demolition and new, shiny buildings going up. And yet we do have success stories to refute such approaches. St Pancras Hotel once faced the prospect of demolition in the face of modernity and post-war sweeping away of the old. Today that building still stands in its High Victorian splendor while also being restored and adapted to be a 21st century hotel meeting the needs of today.

So I am not suggesting that our history be set in aspic.  I am suggesting that in a world of new architecture that reflects our modern times, we remember that when it comes to the built environment, the past is at the core of who we are and that it provides the depth, texture and context to our present and our future!

Happy New Year!

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel