Thursday, 12 November 2009

Black Building

The demolition of the 'Black Building', Orkney's war-time communications hub, has begun this week. It has been a controversial decision for some who view the old RAF building as an irreplaceable piece of Kirkwall's history.

For years, small efforts had been made by members of the public to prevent the deterioration of the objects and papers still left in the vacant rooms and we have a very small collection of official (blank) forms and jotters as well as an annotated OS map in the archive. Empty buildings do not take long to destroy themselves, however.

But does something still have to be physically present to serve as a reminder of the past?

Before demolition began, the entire building was laser scanned by Historic Scotland so that a 3-dimensional model can be made, even when the original no longer exists. The Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (or RCAHMS) hold plans, and photographs of exteriors, interiors, building details and aerial views:

Surely it is the information that counts, especially when any atmosphere of a bustling communications hub must have disappeared as soon as the damp infiltrated and mould, moss and mice took up residence?


  1. Where does it stop though? - lets laser scan Edinburgh Castle and knock it down - you could get loads of houses there!

  2. I think that it stops when a building has been properly preserved and its historic significance has been recognised in time.

    It would have been wonderful if the Black Building had been looked after and not allowed to decay like it did.

    As I said in the post, small efforts were made by members of the public to either rescue documents or preserve parts of the building over the years (I know that a sheet of protective plastic was mounted over a blackboard full of information, for instance), but it was not enough.

    We need to keep an eye on buildings and sites of historical significance and act as soon as possible to preserve them.

    Edinburgh Castle looks pretty well looked after to me. Not about to collapse on teenage weekend boozers or children playing 'man-hunt' any time soon.


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