The European Education Directory

European Urban Conservation


The term ‘conservation’ is no longer limited to the preservation of historic buildings, important though that process remains, but encompasses such issues as the re-use of obsolete buildings and the regeneration of declining historic urban areas. Nearly all European countries have a legal inventory of buildings of special importance yet not all countries have mechanisms in place to guarantee their survival. Central agencies, therefore, are required which can co-ordinate built heritage priorities and town planning matters such as new housing, retail and commercial developments in city centres.

Since the early 1960s many European Countries have introduced statutory ‘conservation areas’ where the existing architectural and historic character sets the framework for ongoing development. In such urban conservation areas the crucial aim is to establish a balance between continuity and necessary change. Many successful conservation areas in Europe have formed the basis of new housing policies which have promoted a revival of inner city neighbourhoods, primarily by means of rehabilitation. The tourism industry also has benefited from the restoration of buildings and streets in formerly rundown community areas. Indeed, the reuse and restoration of historic buildings and neighbourhoods have helped to foster local, urban identity throughout Europe.

Ideally, education related to the conservation of buildings and urban areas should be conducted on a multi disciplinary basis. Only then can students see the relationship between the historic built environment and the greater social and economic aspects of towns and cities. While many educational programmes specialise on the technical aspects of architectural restoration, others attempt to provide students with a broader range of subject topics including town planning factors and issues related to heritage management and tourism. The career destinations are wide ranging also. Graduates are required at national agency level where statutory lists are established, controls operated with regard to development proposals, and guidance notes and policies prepared for local government use. Many graduates in Europe choose to work at city council level where the challenge is to ensure that the unique built heritage is respected, restored and reused. In this way, the best features of any city’s environment can be safeguarded from wilful destruction. Liaison will be necessary between officers at city and national levels, not only with regard to policy matters but also in terms of grant programmes related to major regeneration projects. We have come a long way from the Modernist assumptions, so dominant in the 1960s, that each city in Europe should be planned in the same way and that, due to obsolescence, most of our historic neighbourhoods should be demolished.

However, urban conservation in Europe does not attempt to prevent change per se, but to minimise unnecessary demolition, thereby achieving high quality, varied environments. And this ongoing ‘conservationist’ planning can achieve the successful restoration and revival of Europe’s buildings, streets and neighbourhoods.

The European Urban Conservation Postgraduate Programme
University Of Dundee, Scotland

The postgraduate programme, European Urban Conservation [EUC] commenced at the University of Dundee in 1990. Since then it has produced a high number of graduates (on average ten per year) who now work in a variety of posts related to the preservation and enhancement of the built heritage. As its name suggests, the programme deals with issues related to nationally and locally protected buildings and urban areas from a European standpoint. However, as international charters and methods are analysed, the programme would be suitable for those students from outside Europe. Indeed, one graduate recently has returned to her native Australia to work, and exchange students from Canada and Egypt also have completed elements from the EUC programme as part of their studies.

Taught Courses

The range of taught courses is wider in the EUC programme than in most other UK conservation programmes: Historic urban area conservation and regeneration; Building Conservation and Restoration; European Conservation and Rehabilitation practice; Heritage Management, including archaeology, site presentation and historic gardens. A further taught course – ‘Analysing Architecture’ – introduces the main elements of architectural composition, and illustrates how these contribute to distinctive architectural styles.

Supplementary to these conservation courses, the EUC programme includes a vocational IT course which examines the potential use of the computer in conservation planning. Each student completes a series of supervised tasks thus achieving skills which will be of use in practice work projects: preparing data bases, using applied graphics, and learning advanced word-processing techniques. A special lecture course is run in conjunction with the Architectural Heritage Society for Scotland [AHSS]. Each Tuesday evening, two lectures are presented by national experts drawn from all the main fields covered by the EUC programme. Students, therefore, have access to the latest thinking with regard to conservation theory and practice from around the UK and beyond. During the interval, when wine is served, students have the opportunity of discussing matters with the guest speakers. Indeed, many research topics have been fostered by such informal discussions. The lectures are open also to AHSS members and members of the public, and constitute an important part of the EUC programme.

Given the range of taught courses, it is not surprising that, since 1990, the EUC programme has appealed to graduates from a wide range of subject disciplines: town planning, architecture, art history, history, geography, building surveying. The common denominator amongst each student intake group, however, is a strong interest in preserving and enhancing the built heritage of Europe. In the various practical work exercises – for example conservation area analysis – the varied backgrounds of students enables a full range of group analyses to be undertaken in a multi-disciplinary manner. While the majority of EUC graduates have been UK citizens, a number of students from other countries have completed, or participated in, the programme: Germany (2); The Netherlands (1); Bulgaria (1); Greece (2); Spain (1); Egypt (1); Turkey (1); Bosnia (1).

Vocational Diploma/MSc by Dissertation

The EUC programme falls into two distinct parts. Firstly, students complete the vocational Diploma which contains all the taught courses, practical work exercises and examinations. After successful completion of this element, students may proceed to prepare a Masters dissertation on a topic of their choice. While some students include aspects of their initial degree discipline in this study topic, the majority focus on a new subject area related to listed buildings, conservation areas, built heritage administration, finance and many other aspects of the historic built environment.

Study Visits

During the taught Diploma element, students participate in a number of study visits to city centres, historic towns and individual building projects. In April, a two week field visit to a mainland European country is undertaken. In the last few years, this has been based in Malta which has an extensive range of building, archaeological, urban area and tourist related problems for students to grapple with.

As well as field visits to places of interest, students receive talks from Maltese national experts related to current key issues. Each student then prepares a study report on a topic of particular interest to them.

Work Experience Placement

After this study, and following the Diploma examinations, all students complete a six week work experience placement in the office of their choice. Apart from allowing the students to gain an insight into the workings of a specific conservation agency, the placement gives students the confidence to apply for specific posts after completion of the EUC programme. During the six week period, many students prepare a study report for their employers related to a topical issue. The employer, therefore, also gains from the student’s placement. A typical range of work prepared for different employers by students’ from one EUC session would be: conservation area appraisals; street improvement projects aimed at national grant funding; building restoration feasibility studies; enhancement schemes for historic places.

Statutory Town Planning Basis

As the EUC programme is based in Dundee’s School of Town and Regional Planning, students gain a very sound understanding of the statutory basis of building and urban area conservation - which, in the UK, is embedded in Town Planning legislation. Indeed, the EUC programme deals with all aspects of conservation within the context of the development process – from small scale additions to buildings to major infill developments in city centres. This prepares graduates for employment as Conservation Officers within local authority planning offices. Here, they would deal with planning applications relation to alternations and extensions to listed buildings. Appraisals of conservation areas would be their responsibility also; these documents providing a framework for appropriate high quality change and any necessary control measures to ensure that the special character of these places is maintained. A very large number of EUC graduates now work as Conservation Officers. In 1997, Westminster City Council advertised nationally for three conservation assistants. After two full days of interviews, which included practical tests, all three posts were awarded to Dundee University EUC Diploma graduates! A further two EUC graduates now work for this authority which has one of the largest concentrations of listed buildings and conservation areas in the UK.

Professional Accreditation

Related to this potential career route, in 1998 the EUC programme gained initial professional accreditation from a new professional body, the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). Established in 1997, the IHBC is a development of the former Association of Conservation Officers (ACO) which was made up of conservation practitioners working mostly in the public town planning sector. Other possible employment routes relate to the private planning sector, central government conservation agencies [in the UK, English Heritage, Historic Scotland, Cadw (Wales), and DoE (N Ireland), private trusts [National Trust, National Trust for Scotland, Georgian Society, Victorian Society, 20th Century Society etc], and building preservation trusts.

The Tayside Building Preservation Trust

In terms of the latter, the EUC programme is very fortunate in that one of three staff members, Neil Grieve, is Chief Executive of the Tayside Building Preservation Trust. This means that students have first-hand access to live projects, and can gain an insight into the Trust’s working methods. Many of the postgraduate students become closely involved, and undertake practical work for the Trust, varying from day to day administration, to feasibility and development work. With the full support of staff, a number of students elect to tailor their course-work submissions in order to undertake projects which are of benefit to the Trust. Some also decide to work for the Trust during their six week work placement period.

Tayside Building Preservation Trust is constituted as a charitable company, limited by guarantee. Its objectives are to purchase, restore and establish long term uses and owners for buildings of architectural and historic importance throughout Tayside. The present Trust grew out of the Dundee Building Preservation Trust, which was formed to save the Sea Captain’s House and Calendar Works, Dundee, from demolition. Gardyne’s Land is a large complex of important historic buildings located in the heart of Dundee. The Trust has recently completed a feasibility study that proposes its future conversion to a city centre youth hostel. This property’s rehabilitation and restoration will form the centrepiece of the Trust’s work over the next few years.

The Conservation Ethos

Overall, the ethos of the EUC programme is that ‘conservation’ is a wide ranging discipline related to all aspects of the built heritage. While many wrongly see the subject as relating primarily to ‘preservation’, the EUC programme embraces architectural and planning matters related to inevitable change. In many situations, for example in old town areas of European capital cities, ‘conservation’ is part of rehabilitation and regeneration programmes. The major aim in such historic quarters is to avoid comprehensive redevelopment which would destroy the multi-layered character of such places. ‘Conservation’ also requires an ability to liaise with owners and renters of property, and to ensure that the social and economic aspects of ‘character’ are not neglected. In 1994, a study prepared by EUC students, and which addressed such complex conservation matters, won the prestigious Eco award for the best environmental project produced by students of a Scottish University. The winning project, prepared by four EUC students, consisted of a report and exhibition panels outlining enhancement proposals for Dundee’s central conservation area. The cheque for 500 and the specially designed bronze trophy was presented by the well known television personality Magnus Magnusson.

Conservation and Urban Tourism

Nor surprisingly, the result of successful conservation planning is often a strong tourist market. City and historic town tourism depends on a product that is distinctive and well maintained. In turn, the tourist industry can provide much needed new uses for disused property – for example in the form of small hotels and holiday apartments. Care must be taken, however, that such welcome economic input does now overwhelm the existing community areas. The EUC lecture course ‘Heritage Management’ deals specifically with these fascinating issues. Furthermore, the study visit to Malta allows students to analyse the interactions between built heritage and tourism development.

Overall, therefore, we see the main strengths of the EUC programme as relating not only to the diversity of the topics covered, but also to the framework it provides for exploring the many connections between these topics.


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