The online resource for the historic environment

2.05 Area analysis

To assist your understanding of this Unit see also BS 7913: 2013
para 5.6 "Conservation and historic area appraisals and management plans"
para 5.8 "The role of significance within place shaping and utilisation of local distinctiveness"
para 6.14 "Context and setting".

“Conservation area: Area of special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which is desirable to preserve or enhance" BS 7913:2013 section 3 definition 3.2.

See also BS 7913: 2013 paras 5.6 "Conservation and historic area appraisals and management plans" plus 5.8 "The role of significance within place shaping and utilisation of local distinctiveness" plus 6.14 "Context and setting".

Buildings of special or historic interest do not exist in a vacuum, as might an exhibit within a museum. The context or setting of a building, or group of buildings or assets, – their dynamic – contribute symbiotically to how they are perceived or valued by society. The removal or damaging of one detracts from all within the ensemble. The delicate balance of mass and proportional interaction can be destroyed by inappropriate intervention. Equally important is the space between the buildings. The dynamic of interaction between buildings and their attached pedestrian and vehicular space and indeed the simple proportion of open space providing the setting between buildings, can be adversely affected without an understanding of how the delicate balance of that space has developed and might be affected by inappropriate change.

The dynamic of the previous photograph of York quickly changes (within a few hundred metres) to the above, open aspect, with green space and open skies. The photograph opposite of York Minster viewed from The Shambles quickly changes to the open aspects in the immediate vicinity of the Minster.

Identify an area, group of structures, asset or buildings local to you and assess its importance to your society.

You may wish to consider:

  • How it has developed
  • Why it has developed in the way that it has
  • How such development has contributed to your society’s value of it
  • Why it has become redolent of your society’s history

Cromer front east of the pier. Note the yellow painted house – it originally had a pitched roof but it was removed in the 19th century to ‘improve the view’ from the Regency Terrace behind.

An important fact about groups of buildings that interact as an ensemble is that they interact on a multiple facet basis. They may demonstrate a developmental process. They may present evidence of a pattern of social development. They may simply need to be allowed to remain, unaltered, purely because society wants them to be there to remind them of its roots. Therefore, to revise them without reference to how society sees, and values them, will do disservice to that society.

It is therefore incumbent upon you as the conservation practitioner to understand the social interaction and response to aesthetic value offered by the ensemble. There will be a complex system in place; therefore to intervene without clarity of understanding is likely to be very dangerous –ignorance and dogmatism are not virtuous in conservation; but humility almost certainly is! To which might be added – there are no definitive answers, only points of view.

Consider within the subject of area conservation the importance and process of creation of Conservation Areas and why there is a need to offer protection to groups of building and areas. See English Heritage and Historic Scotland websites for useful information and guidance on Conservation Areas, their importance, status and protection methods offered.

See also BS 7913:2013 section 3, para 3.2 "Setting" 3.16 for definition of conservation area and setting. See also section 4 "Heritage values and significance" and para 4.2 note (b) plus 4.3 "The assessment of significance" note (b) 1) 2) plus (c) "Characteristics". Also 5.6 ... and Historic area appraisals... 5.6.1 also 6.14 "Context and setting".

As a potential example of how conservation might be appraised for recognition and protection by a Conservation Area Order see Cambridge Historic Core Conservation Area Appraisal

“The special quality of these areas does not come from the quality of their buildings alone. The historic layout of roads, paths and boundaries; characteristic building and paving materials; a particular ‘mix’ of building uses; public and private spaces, such as parks and greens; and trees and street furniture, which contribute to a particular view – all these and more make up the familiar local scene.”
English Heritage What is a Conservation Area? (web document 2440)

You should be able to:

  • Identify and survey an area or group of structures, or asset in terms of its fundamental nature or inherent characteristics
  • Analyse and assess gathered evidence in relation to any proposed intervention
  • Understand how and why components of an ensemble relate to each other.

Consider what is most important when introducing a new building into an existing historical context.

You may wish to refer to BS 7913: 2013 para 5.9 "Heritage impact assessment" together with reference to paras 6.11, 6.12, 6.13 and 6.14.

You may wish to consider:

  • Scale
  • Character maintenance
  • Use of materials
  • Assessment of significance of the existing ensemble
  • An understanding of historical development
  • The need to establish an iconic architectural statement of a 21st century building
  • Assessment of the effect of the new build on the group value
  • Respect for all periods of intervention

See BS 7913: 2013 section 6.11 "Intervention and judgement" paras 6.12 and 6.13