The online resource for the historic environment

2.04 Architectural/aesthetic analysis

BS 7913: 2013 defines "aesthetic values" as:

“...derived from ways in which people draw sensory and intellectual stimulus from a place". [The subjective assessment.]

In the former 1998 version of the BS "Aesthetic Value" was defined as:

"The beauty of a building as a component of its cultural value is quite independent of the contribution which that beauty can make to the immediate environment. It is intrinsic to the building like that of a painting or a piece of sculpture". [The objective assessment.]

What, in your opinion, is the difference between these two definitions of aesthetic value?

"The authenticity of an historic building or monument depends crucially on the integrity of its fabric and design, which may be original or may incorporate different periods of addition and alteration. The unnecessary replacement of historic fabric, no matter how carefully the work is carried out, will have an adverse effect on the appearance of a building or monument, will seriously diminish its authenticity, and will significantly reduce its value as a source of historic information."
Brereton, C. (19xx) The Repair of Historic Buildings English Heritage

“The… appearance of a building – both its intrinsic architectural [or aesthetic value] merit and any group value - is a key consideration in judging… [significance]”
PPG 15

“Consult the genius of the place in all.”
Alexander Pope 1688 - 1744

As referred to earlier the assessment of aesthetic value may be both objective and subjective.

In order to minimize damage to the aesthetic value of a place you must be able to structure a response to any works of intervention and formulate a strategy that is informed by a clear evaluation about what elements, proportion, use of material and detailing are important about the subject structure.

“Before considering any alteration, it is essential to assess the elements that make up the special character and interest of the building [or asset]…”'
Building Regulations and Historic Buildings. English Heritage 2002

The subtle interaction of mass, space, materials and detailing, if inappropriately assessed or incorrectly understood may lead to an irretrievable loss of those elements that define the aesthetic appeal perceived by others (the subjective assessment) and inherent in the building (the objective value).

Inappropriate intervention must be avoided; by careful processes of assessment involving the following criteria:

  • Formal concept
  • Spatial relationships
  • Massing and proportion
  • Influence of light colour and texture
  • Detailing
  • Use of materials
  • Loss of patina as a demonstrator of age.

You should be able to identify existing qualities, assess the particular value of an ensemble’s quality and, by assessment, identify areas of vulnerability. Such assessment should be followed by formulation of a planned intervention strategy informed by that evaluation process.

Even the simplest of structures will be damaged by inappropriate intervention and use of materials. Consider the images in the following photographs and evaluate the impact of the various repairs, ‘improvements’ and alterations.

Note: Original lime mortar of the property on the left and cementatious pointing of the property on the right. Note inappropriate replacement windows of the property on the left as opposed to original sashes on the right. Note original door on the right and inappropriate replacement door on the left. Note use of plastic rainwater goods.

It is also important to understand how these changes came about: were they incremental, carried out without the benefit of eventual control etc. They may only become collectively detrimental over a period of time.

How might such changes be monitored and measured.

Note how the absence of appropriate maintenance has caused erosion of the stone lintols, exacerbated by the use of cementitious re-pointing and painting of lintols. Note plastic rainwater goods.

Look at the following simple structures and evaluate their aesthetic appeal as well as their cultural significance and context.

Beach huts at Well-next-The-Sea Norfolk, D. Ancell

Our contemporary society, influenced as it is by the need to provide, respond and impose requirements instantly, tends to forget that, historically, change and development was achieved within a much less frenetic time scale. Consider for example Norwich Cathedral developed originally over a period of about 300 years and still developing. You may wish to visit the
Norwich Cathedral

From the photographs and information contained in the web sites above (and others) it is easy to identify various periods of architectural influence.

Consider, in respect of Norwich Cathedral why and how the various periods of influence will have culminated in the finished appearance, as it presently exists.

You may wish to identify from the web sites the periods of architectural styles that are obvious from the external façade and interior. You may wish to consider Norman, Early English and Decorated styles. You should be able to identify (or not) those styles in the photographs. You should be able to label the various periods of influence. There may be other periods of intervention that you may wish to identify, including those of the Refectory and Library.

Identify a building, structure, asset or area, local to your vicinity, and carryout an investigation about how it has been affected by various periods of intervention.

You may wish to consider how those various periods of intervention have affected the structure, both adversely and for the good and how those previous interventions may be used as a reference to historic progression.

See BS 7913: 2013 for definitions of various architectural types contained within section 0 Introduction 0.1 - 0.7.