Our contact with history is often through the buildings that make up our street scenes and landscape - windows are intrinsic to this. The look and feel of a building or a street scene is fundamentally altered with a change in fenestration, be it window or door. This is why windows are a key part of the conservation debate and why RICS highlighted replacement of traditional windows as number one in the top crimes against period homes.
WWA guidance helps homeowners and conservation officers to assess their options, whether to Repair, Replicate, Replace, and our members work hard to preserve this heritage. Often repair is the best option and we have companies within our membership who are masters in restoring windows (often hundreds of years old) to their former glory. However, in some cases, sensitive replacement must be considered. This is where our industry is unsurpassed, offering timber windows expertly crafted to replicate and preserve the look and feel of our heritage, whilst providing modern comforts, security, durability and low maintenance. The industry has produce a range fact sheets on Narrow Cavity Units and articles on subjects such as Glazing Bars and CPD Training. We have worked closely with the various heritage groups and feed information through to conservation officers around the UK. However, inconsistency abounds and from time-to-time we see horrific decisions made. Only this week, via social media, we were introduced to another planning application that has been submitted with PVC windows to replace the original 19th Century windows on the fascia of some shops down on the South Coast. This short-sighted thinking is perhaps even more shocking when you consider the importance of heritage to driving tourism in that region.
To address this in a more structured way and support the work of our Heritage and Conservation Group, the BWF has added our weight to The Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance (STBA). This is a collaboration of not-for-profit organisations that acts as a forum for sustaining and improving traditional buildings in the UK. The STBA aims to promote and deliver a more sustainable traditional built environment in the UK through high-quality research, education, training and policy. Formed in late 2011, the Alliance draws its support from three main sectors – Heritage, Industry and Sustainability. ‘Heritage’ in this context does not confine itself to historic and protected buildings, but refers more broadly to any pre-1919 traditionally-constructed building.
The STBA is a natural ally for the BWF and has already produced excellent short and usable guidance (e.g. Planning Responsible Retrofit of Traditional Buildings) based upon best current research and practice, which is holistic and realistic in its understanding and aims. The aim of the STBA's work is to reduce risk and liability, while also improving outcomes in reality, not only in terms of energy, but also health and heritage. We will be working with the SBTA to provide better access to information on windows and we very much hope to develop joint training for conservation officers and to highlight the issues.
A final thought - this week, I attended the launch of RIBA Publishing book by Richard Wilcock: RENOVATIONS AN INSPIRATIONAL DESIGN PRIMER and listened to the charming Phil Coffey (young architect of the year 2012) talking to us about the nuances of modern renovation. Whilst the whole talk was fascinating, a phrase jumped out at me “there are two types of materials in the world, those that get better with time and those that don’t” – wise words indeed and very much linked to why timber windows remain a key part of our heritage and a vital part of its future.