April 09: Anti-Scrape

2012/04/09 § Leave a comment

During this month in 1877 the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) was founded in England.

The awesomely-missioned (but unfortunately acronymed) SPAB was founded by High Constable William Morris and his field marshals, Philip Webb and members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, to wage war on aggressive “restoration” projects in Victorian England.  Morris believed that overzealous architects were guilty of scouring away layers of historic material from a building or site, earning his group the nickname “Anti-Scrape.”

Like so many great movements, this one starts with a manifesto. Unlike most of them, this one is still active and new members are required to sign on to this century-plus-old document (read it right here).  Written by Morris, the SPAB’s manifesto recognizes one of the drawbacks of the nineteenth century’s vastly developed historical awareness was a desire to pigeonhole buildings in discreet timeframes.  Even though buildings are altered, changed, repaired, and generally messed around with constantly after they are built, the most pristine approach to restoration is to pick one significant period (not always the moment of the building’s completion) and remove everything that disagrees with that particular dot on the timeline.  But this approach robbed buildings of that sense of life, development or evolution through time–most importantly , the various hands of human agency that affected the building’s life as it framed theirs.  Morris argued against restorations that arbitrarily shaved some elements of the building’s “life” while maintaining others; he believed that most restoration work was mere “forgery.”

The SPAB is still alive and kicking today, remaining true to Morris’ principles, working on behalf of buildings that they judge worthy of preservation by being “old and interesting,” even admitting to a wonderful and rare “romance” in building culture that does not have to be historically verified, scientifically measured, or politically motivated–they are willing to be fight for the buildings that delight us for whatever reason.  They stand for repair rather than restoration, complements not parody, believing that “age can confer a beauty of its own;” they accept the “bulging, bowing, sagging and leaning” that comes with the passing of time, and God bless them for it.

Join SPAB here

Image: Bryn Coch Uchaf, Powys, Wales (from this source)

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