Re: Re: List of Protected Structures

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Oh alright. I’ll take your bait (in the spirit of the question!).

There is a number of ways a building can end up on the RPS (technically there’s nothing called the ‘List of Protected Structures’, it’s ‘Record of…’, although it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some LAs were still using ‘List’- but I’m just being provocative;) ).

The original lists were prepared in a very ad hoc manner in the early 1970s, principally by Maurice Craig and William Garner, on behalf of An Foras Forbartha, driving around the countryside saying ‘Ooh, there’s a good one!’ Well, I jest a bit, but not much. The first sweep was only ever intended to be a preliminary examination, but as is the way with this country it became the body of knowledge on which many decisions were based and was rarely supplemented by additional research or examination. Some LAs, notably urban ones, did more work themselves, but that was pretty much the state of play until the early 1990s. (Most of these lists were transferred wholesale onto the RPS after the 2000 Act- somewhat problematic, but that’s a question for another day.)

In about 1992 the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage was begun informally in the OPW to fulfil Ireland’s obligations under the Granada Convention (only about 10 years after the Convention was passed) to compile a systematic record of the country’s built heritage. This was transferred to the Dept of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands when that Dept was established, then passed to Duchas The Heritage Service, then to DEHLG where it resides today (though in practice the work never really changed, just the admin and the politics). The NIAH was formally established in 1999 by legislation, at the same time as the new provisions re heritage were made law (ultimately becoming Part IV of the 2000 Act). The work carried out by the NIAH is today the principal way in which buildings become Protected Structures.

The Recorders with the NIAH have been a diverse bunch over the years, comprising architects, architectural historians, historians and archaeologists, with a smattering of others. In latter years, a conservation qualification such as the MUBC from UCD has featured more prominently too. Some of them are now respected academics and professionals (I’m not naming names), some of them spend a bit too much time on certain internet discussion boards:o . And so it goes… (I’m talking about myself here, lest the other former NIAH affiliate and regular Archiseeker thinks otherwise).
The main qualification is experience. Looking, looking again, researching, understanding. I was two years in the job before I did any real field-work.

In a nutshell, the NIAH procedure is three steps- Recording, Controlling and Assessing. Recording is field-work – written description, research and images, Controlling is checking the Recorder’s work. Each party ascribes certain values (= your ‘criteria’) to the structure and decides on a rating. The values (8 No.) are Architectural, Historical, Archaeological, Artistic, Cultural, Social, Scientific and Technical. The ratings (5 No.) are Record Only, Local, Regional, National and International. If there is a discrepancy between Recorder and Controller, it is referred to an Assessor – usually a senior in-house architect – for arbitration. So every case goes through at least two pairs of relatively knowledgeable hands.

Where I see a problem with the current system (= your ‘controls’) is that contracts for recording work are based on an arbitrary number of buildings rather than on an in-depth survey. In the past, fully comprehensive surveys were undertaken, though the down-side was that they were never published, but now, while the material is published relatively promptly, it lacks the certainty that every possible site was examined. Take your pick, I guess.

Conversely, it is very hard for an ‘unworthy’ structure to make it through the hoops.

In theory, anything of Regional and above is recommended ‘by the Minister’ for inclusion in the RPS. It is then up to the Councillors to decide whether to accept or reject the Minister’s recommendations, though they must provide reasons for the ones they reject. The involvement of Councillors in the process is one of my main concerns and grievances with the whole system. In essence, heritage justifications are rarely to the fore in their analysis- see the recent example of the pier in Co Clare as an illustration. (I think Councillors should be the next focus of your provocation.:) ) Once a structure is on the RPS, it is simply protected. We have no gradings here, unlike Britain and Northern Ireland.

There are other methods of getting structures onto the RPS too. The LA can hire someone to carry out a survey (or do it in-house, but few LAs have the skills) instead of waiting for the NIAH work programme to get around to their functional area. In this case, it’s really just the word of a Recorder that goes to the Council.

Also, owners can apply to have their building included (or excluded), on foot of which the LA is obliged to look into it. In truth, I’ve never heard of anyone asking to be put on the RPS. I’ve a feeling if we had a sufficiently resourced grants system there would be more applications for inclusion, but as it stands currently many owners see PS designation as an onerous burden. In many cases they’re probably right.

So a LA can thus be pretty confident that anything on its RPS has been fairly assessed, and should thus be able to stand over their RPS. If mistakes are made there is a mechanism for ‘de-listing’ srtuctures- kind of like Recording in reverse.

As to the question of ‘is it right that so few should have a right determine what is of value for so many’, I would say in essence Yes. We’re entering the realm of morality and subjectivity here a bit, so I must be careful, but there is an educational aspect to it too. By highlighting good work, notable historic sites, innovative practices and design, it would be hoped that the wider public should gain an understanding of what constitutes the best of Irish Architectural Heritage. In the long run, then, perhaps the job of the few would become redundant as the many value their (and it is their, not the preserve of an elite) cultural heritage. Lofty, I know, but a man can dream.

To give a practical example: Some architects with the NIAH had a hard time understanding the merits of a vernacular corrugated shed. Equally, I have a liking for certain styles and types of buildings more than others. But I developed the ability to see the quality in something I didn’t like, and the ability to understand that not everything I like might be widely appreciated (harder to develop than the former:) ). I suppose you could say that it’s like the ‘third ear’ that very good musicians are said to have- the ability to step outside themselves and hear their playing as if it were the playing of another, and judge it accordingly. It’s about putting aside your personal bias and aiming at the ever-elusive objectivity.

Sure the system has its flaws, and they’re the things that often get highlighted, but it has many strengths too. It is certainly an improvement on what went on until the mid-1990s, not least in its incorporation of objective criteria into the assessment process. Now all we need is the money to back it up.

Does this answer your question?

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