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Durham University

Department of Anthropology

Building on the Past

Project Overview

Buildings change in response to various social processes and emerge through the different practices and understandings of people who use, inhabit and work on them. Over time structures acquire a range of meanings as authentic embodiments of the past, including values attached to original fabric, period features, and the patina of worn and weathered materials. Such understandings are associated with cultural, social and economic values that lend support to the importance of conserving and caring for old buildings. However these ideas have the potential to conflict with an increasing emphasis on energy-efficient renovation, entailing a radical transformation of the built environment in response to fears about climate change. Concretely, a range of measures including the installation of micro-generation technologies, insulation, new windows and the adoption of 'smart' technologies, all have the potential to improve the energy performance of older buildings, but also to compromise the historic value of existing structures.

This project examines how ideas about heritage conservation, a set of beliefs about the value of continuity and tradition, exist in relation to ideas about the need for environmentally motivated changes to a range of historic buildings. The project aims to understand the cultural meanings and social dynamics through which heritage and energy futures are constructed, through a study of the attitudes, values and beliefs of a range of building professionals and home owners. The project uses a mixture of methods, including interviewing and sustained detailed observation in relation to case-study buildings, combined with analysis of the broader discourses and cultural understandings that inform the positions of the professionals and clients involved.

Project Lead: Dr Thomas Yarrow

Thomas Yarrow did his undergraduate degree in archaeology and anthropology (Cambridge University, 2000), before undertaking his PhD in social anthropology (Cambridge University, completed 2006). After completing his PhD he held a Leverhulme fellowship in anthropology at the University of Manchester. He has also lectured in anthropology at the Centre of West African Studies, University of Birmingham and at the School of Environment Natural Resources and Geography, at the University of Wales, Bangor....More

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