A New History: Why Listed Buildings Are Becoming More Modern

There’s a quiet revolution going on. Historians, architects, and enthusiasts are coming together to protect some of the most iconic buildings in towns across the UK.

It’s an approach that seeks to make changes to listed buildings while also preserving their historical significance. Rather than building new houses or remodeling listed buildings, services that offer masonry, chimney repairs, and lime torching in Yorkshire and other areas are being preferred by owners. These services help preserve the history and architecture while still maintaining the structure and keeping it livable.

This is being done at a time when the traditional forms of preservation are under attack from new techniques and technologies, which have resulted in many important buildings being demolished for new developments.

Why Protecting History Matters

Many people believe that old buildings from the past should be preserved to stand as a reminder of how we got to where we are today. Some also feel that older buildings may use less energy, and when properly refurbished, can be more sustainable than newer counterparts.

How, though, do you determine what needs protecting?

The statutory system for listing places considers those buildings whose special interest is of more than special local interest. It doesn’t cover all buildings – only those judged to have achieved the highest level of historical significance.

The idea is that the listing system should preserve characteristic examples of different periods, genres and architectural styles – they make up our shared history, or heritage.

Historians aren’t alone in supporting this move. Architects are playing a role too.

Why The Built Environment Matters

The 1960s were an exciting time for a new generation of architects.

Many of them were moving away from the conventional styles of the past to embrace more modern forms inspired by the sleek lines and bold colours of science fiction and technology.

These new designs incorporated new materials, such as steel and glass, which enabled buildings to become bigger, higher and more open than ever before.

This led to some amazing buildings that still stand today – like the Pirelli Tower in Milan and Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House. It also led to some impressive experimentation – but also some design disasters, like Ronan Point in east London.

It’s not just incredible buildings in big cities that are being protected either, recently there has been a taskforce set up to save Swindon Oasis Leisure Centre, a large domed building that has seen many generations of use as a leisure centre and family swimming experience.

What Is Too Modern?

These new architectural styles were considered ‘modern’ because they took things in a new direction, away from earlier historical styles.

Traditional architecture historians said that the designs didn’t meet the traditional requirements for being ‘heritage’ – they weren’t old enough, and they looked too modern.

Historians, though, aren’t always the ones making the decisions about what gets listed. That’s often left to local planning authorities.

From their point of view, though, some modern buildings are more problematic than others.

A lot of new buildings are on a similar scale and have a similar look to historic ones – but that’s not true for all of them.

Some buildings are just too big or too different to be redeveloped in the same way as older properties on the same site.

Having a building on a site where all the other buildings are listed can significantly help it to retain its cultural significance.

It’s important, too, that buildings that have been altered and refurbished appeal to the modern eye.

Deciding Which Buildings To List

When deciding what gets listed, local planners want them to reflect the character of the wider area – but they also want them to work in modern terms.

Listed buildings are chosen for their historical significance, yet most believe that it’s about more than just this.

Keeping The Look Of The Area

Like any other developer, the planning agencies who work with listing bodies want to ensure that the houses that are built now will be sustainable and efficient – but also that they reflect the character of the area in which they’re situated.

These factors are important because they give a sense of place, ensuring that local people understand how the properties have changed over time.

As well as preserving an impression of history, these changes inform residents on what their future could look like – whether it’s new developments or older buildings being rejuvenated.


When it comes to listing buildings, there’s a new wave of modern architecture that is being preserved for future generations.

It’s being done not just to safeguard a historical building from future change, but to protect the area’s character too.

It’s a fine balance, though. On the one hand, it’s important to protect period buildings that reflect the character of the area they’re in. On the other hand, people want modern homes with sufficient space, good insulation and energy-efficient appliances.