It’s Grade II listed’ – That’s a phrase we’re used to hearing in any discussion of architecture. But have you ever thought about what it really means? Isn’t it just there to stop us pulling down old buildings and doing any home improvements? Well, no, there’s much more to it than that.
Elain Harwood is one of the country’s leading experts on postwar architecture; when she’s not travelling across the country writing reports about stunning buildings for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (who ultimately choose who makes the prestigious list), she’s writing attractive and informative coffee table books. Her latest, England Post-War Listed Buildings, includes examples of some of the
finest architecture in the North East.
‘Listing doesn’t mean that buildings can’t change,’ Elain reassures us. ‘Really a listing encourages owners and local authorities to give a building a second chance before it is demolished or radically altered. It tries to ensure that any renovations add to the building’s character, rather than take things away.’
So how do you decide which buildings are worthy of listing? ‘I suppose architectural good looks comes first,’ Elain explains, ‘Or technical innovation, if it fulfills the purpose it was designed to do, or if it has some particular historic interest.’ Believe it or not there’s a garden shed listed in East Anglia, as it was where Benjamin Britton wrote his last operas.
Buildings are then listed as Grade I (those with international importance), Grade II* (outstanding) or Grade II (special interest), and 90 percent of all England’s listed buildings are Grade II. Elain’s latest book is a catalogue of all the listed buildings built since 1945. There are 650 in total, 15 of which are in the North East. A whopping six of those are Grade I listed or starred, meaning that we come out well above the national average.
Newcastle Civic Centre, the Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel, Kingsgate Footbridge, Billingham Forum Theatre – these are buildings that we pass everyday, but have you ever stopped to admire the architecture? Whether it is the concrete radio mast that adorns the Durham County Police Station, or the cubic design of Trees (a property in Woolsington), it’s clear that the North East has been leading the way with its building innovation and
design flair for years.
‘I really love the North East examples,’ Elain says. ‘I’m a real fan of Ralph
Erskine and I think the Byker estate is his finest work. I love the humanity of it – the colours and the planning, the way the building fits with the landscape, and the heating pipes with the little bird boxes.’
We couldn’t agree more. So next time you’re walking through Newcastle, enjoying the Durham countryside or catching a play in Stockton, look up, admire the beautiful buildings and feel assured that, thanks to Elain, they’re being preserved for future generations.
England’s Post-War Listed Buildings by Elain Harwood and James O Davies is published by Batsford, £40. Click here to buy.