Who is it who wants to destroy our heritage buildings?

An architect, of course. Let him go get "playful" with himself. Thank goodness Prince Charles stomps on such critters in London. We need the Prince here too

TOO many buildings in NSW have been preserved in aspic for sentimental reasons instead of being sympathetically adapted and reused, the newly appointed head of the NSW Heritage Council, Professor Lawrence Nield, said yesterday.

He supports preserving "genuine heirlooms". However, very often preservationists, particularly those in local government, confused heritage with sentimentality, preserving anything old and Victorian and destroying valuable buildings from the 1930s, '40s and '50s, he said.

Part of what made for a livable city such as Sydney or Barcelona was "getting the balance between old and new right" and juxtaposing the "playful with the serious".

For example, the Cook and Phillip Aquatic Centre, which he designed, is located between two of Sydney's most august buildings, St Mary's Cathedral and the Australian Museum. He also designed Canberra's Questacon, the second-most visited building in the ACT. It was a "huge decision to put something as popular" as a science museum for children and teenagers within the parliamentary triangle, next to the National Library and a short skip away from the offices of Treasury, he said.

During his 45 years as an architect, Professor Nield has won awards around the world, including the Australian Institute of Architects' 2012 Gold Medal for Outstanding Achievement and the French Republic's Order of Arts and Letters in 2007. One of his designs, the Caroline Chisholm High School in the ACT, completed in 1986, has already been listed as a heritage building in the ACT.

As the council's new chairman, Professor Nield said he was very interested in "living heritage" rather than museum pieces. "We need to have milestones that tell us about our past. It may be a disused blast furnace in Newcastle or a shipwreck," he said.

To illustrate his planning philosophy, he used the term "palimpsest", which means to scrape something clean, and start again without destroying the foundation. [The fact that a palimpsest is regarded as a work of vandalism among paleographers is apparently unknown to him] The transformation of Sydney's Mint, which added a new wing, and the QVB, which was once a market and is now a shopping centre were examples of the principle in action.

"People want to see buildings grow and change over time. We don't want them frozen," he said.

The Minister for Heritage, Robyn Parker, said Professor Nield would also drive heritage reforms to make the system more transparent. The council will now have a 14-day window to make recommendations on listings to the minister. The changes include a website which will track an application's progress, and a requirement that listings by the minister be made public.


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