The online resource for the historic environment

3.02 Unit overview

Old [assets], indeed all existing [assets], regardless of importance or merit, represent substantial investment in terms of energy and resources. They are nearly all maintainable, capable of beneficial use and adaptable where necessary, and it is often their replacement rather than their retention which requires to be justified.
Historic Scotland. The Care of Historic Buildings & Ancient Monuments.

…the Government, constantly aims for the highest standards of conservation and will ensure that those responsible for its historic buildings are aware of the importance of the heritage they hold in trust.
White paper 1990, This Common Inheritance

The most effective way of ensuring energy efficiency and sustainability is to keep historic buildings in good repair so that they last as long as possible ...
BS 7013: 2013 para 5.3.1 Sustainability

This Unit is designed to stimulate and encourage you to ask yourself some fundamental questions about why and how you intervene in the historic environment. Perhaps an even more fundamental question to address to yourself is – what, why and how is this place or object important enough to make me question my motives for intervention and how shall I plan and execute any works of intervention?

Additionally, it is intended to stimulate you to improve your understanding of the reasons why it is necessary to investigate significance, subsumed within which process is a requirement to carryout a condition survey, investigate decay and defects, their symptoms and causes and formulate a conservation strategy to protect significance. There is a need to understand these processes of deterioration, and how they might affect significance before contemplating any works of intervention. It is important to understand how this assessment informs, assists and underpins any intervention process in respect of the historic environment.
This Unit offers pointers as to how such investigation might be structured and what needs to be covered.
It demonstrates the importance of combining the knowledge gained by investigation and how such knowledge assists pre-intervention planning and helps to structure a conservation strategy. It outlines personal challenges, skills and procedures necessary to enable you to improve your knowledge of the cultural asset, its fabric, structure and pathology and how this helps define an understanding of how such factors affect intervention planning and may affect significance.

The idea is gaining currency that old buildings, even of modest architectural quality, represent a past investment of energy and materials, the care and sensible use of which can eliminate unnecessary new assaults on the earth's resources. Earl, J. "Building Conservation Philosophy". The College of Estate Management 1997

Aim of this Unit

“There is a need to impart knowledge of conservation attitudes and approaches to all those who may have a direct or indirect impact on cultural property.”
ICOMOS Guidelines for Education and Training

The Unit is divided into eight sections that are equivalent to and in compliance with the 1993 ICOMOS Education and Training Guidelines clauses 5b, 5d, 5e, 5f, 5h, 5i, 5j, & 5m.

Each section comprises textual and illustrative information that together with essential reading, recommended reading, additional reading and web sites to visit will assist you in gaining an understanding of the importance of the need to investigate and assess physical condition, how to evaluate it and use the knowledge gained to determine intervention policy.

Questions are designed to test your understanding and comprehension of each section and the overall need to establish facts about condition, and use this knowledge in formulating a strategic approach to intervention and conservation management. They are rhetorical in nature and require you to respond in your own way. The in text questions are progressive in nature and build up to a better understanding and decision making about what to include in your portfolio.

You should answer these questions by reference to both the text of this Unit and by reading the material suggested. Omission of these actions may reduce your understanding of the text. Completion of the reading suggested will provide better understanding of the discipline of conservation and how professionals within it function and operate to preserve and protect the historic environment: You should consider how the body of conservation knowledge is constantly being questioned, expanded and added to by specialists within the field and how the principles, ethics and philosophy of conservation informs and structures any intervention work. A personal acceptance of this fact will help you to understand that you must also continue to expand your own knowledge of conservation philosophy – it is subject to continuous change and your understanding of it requires constant updating. The important fact to recognise is that it is a process of personal improvement that must be self-generated through enthusiasm for the subject!

All of this assists your understanding of what needs to be contained within your individual portfolio for accreditation assessment.

“The nature of the conservation process… must encourage the ability to:
  • Hypothesise (and test hypothesis) from a clear understanding of the basic principles, and
  • Synthesise the implications of disparate factors
  • Think laterally and creatively in the search for a minimally interventive solution”

Bell, D. 2001

Within this Unit the term SME will be used to describe heritage assets and is derived from the words: sites, monuments and ensembles. The word asset is also used in this regard.