Historic Halls: How Historic Buildings Are Maintained and Preserved


There is no question about the intrinsic need to preserve historic buildings. The outlandish idea of archaeologists being left without jobs due to historic building preservation does not pass muster these days as many European nations have learned the tangible benefits of preserving their architectural history. These benefits include increased tourism, civic pride and preventing the construction of new structures that may produce a stronger carbon footprint.

The process of historic building preservation includes the following steps:

Decision Making and Planning

In the United States, the Secretary of the Interior sets the standards to be used by owners of structures that could potentially be designated as historic buildings. Ultimately, historic buildings should meet the criteria required for inclusion into the National Register of Historic Places.

The decision to prepare a structure for the purpose of historic registration should be precluded with a few considerations. First of all, the ownership and potential use must be established. Second, property owners must consult with experts with regard to their rehabilitation or restoration options. Project managers should also figure out the features that must be preserved in terms of architecture and historical character and techniques for proper historic preservation of city buildings. When it comes to planning, the intention to repair shall always be greater than the intention to replace.

Major Preservation Actions

Historic building preservation consists of two major actions that involve engineering and artistry: building envelope analysis and facade restoration. The former requires a comprehensive survey and a property condition assessment while the latter is more closely related to aesthetics.

The most significant capital expenditures tend to come from major repairs made to the building envelope, which must be brought to compliance with current municipal and construction codes. The facade restoration process is also crucial because this is the part of the structure that is most visible to the public. Property owners must be realistic when they receive the building envelope analysis; the structure may not always be in a condition to receive an occupational permit unless major repairs are performed. Modern property condition assessments are often conducted with laser scanning to avoid invasive and unnecessary demolition.

The process of restoring the facade often requires historical research in terms of looking at photos, blueprints, diagrams, and architectural books. Even if some of the original construction materials are no longer in use, experts can recommend sensible replacements.

Additions and Alterations

Not all historic buildings have to be restored to their absolute original condition. When historians are involved in the restoration project, alterations and additions can be proposed and evaluated. As long as the integrity of the historic property can be preserved and enhanced by the modification, an addition or alteration may be welcomed.

The Historic Building Preservation Cycle

All preservation projects start with an inspection and a wish list followed by the development of preliminary concepts. Refining the concept should involve the opinion and advice of historians, architects, master landscapers, teachers, and community elders.

Once the master plan is finalized, the process of stabilization is carried out along with immediate repairs. Infrastructure takes precedence over the building envelope. This being the 21st century, the project should include energy efficiency unless there is a substantial historic lesson to be gleaned from keeping original energy schemes.

Cosmetic work often comes last in the restoration cycle, and it may be an ongoing process that will last a few years. In some cases, historic properties that are turned into museums showcase the cosmetic restoration process as part of their living history curriculum.

In the end, historic building preservation may seem like a complex process to some property owners; however, nothing compares to the feeling of seeing people enjoying a restored piece of history.

Emma is a freelance writer currently living in Boston, MA. She writes most often on education and business. To see more from Emma, say hi on Twitter.

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