Heritage buildings: conservation or restoration?

PUBLISHED: 10:13 16 December 2019 | UPDATED: 10:13 16 December 2019

American Museum at Claverton Manor

American Museum at Claverton Manor

Mark Ashbee

If you own a property with a past, ‘conservation’ and ‘restoration’ are words you may be familiar with. But they do not mean the same thing. Project Design Director Kevin Balch from Nash Partnership talks us through some subtle differences.

Heritage properties come in all shapes and sizes. Whether your property is large or small, ancient or more recent, and listed or not, you may need to commission some work to make it fit for your purposes. But when we look closely at the options available, we can see that 'conserving' and 'restoring' are two quite different approaches. Conservation is looking to retain and enhance a building's history, whereas restoration is to take out 'non-original' elements and return it to an 'as new' condition.

In conservation terms, understanding a property's past is a vital part of shaping its future. An in-depth knowledge of what has happened to a building, with whom the building is associated, why and when helps tell the property's 'story' and gives clues about its significance in evidential, historical, aesthetic, and communal terms.

As conservation architects, our role includes conserving buildings to prevent any further decay, degradation and loss of significance. It may, however, also include reversing inappropriate work that is detrimental to the building's significance aesthetically, historically, technically or materially. It may be helpful to think about this as 'maintaining' or 'managing' change with a goal of sustaining the property's significance, rather than reverting to a particular past period.

Our team managed several phases of work at this Grade II listed property to help sustain its local significanceOur team managed several phases of work at this Grade II listed property to help sustain its local significance

While conservation is about maintaining or managing change, it's also about:

o Enhancing the understanding of a property and making it intelligible to others

o Diagnosing intrinsic causes of decay as a basis for appropriate action

o Identifying the social, cultural and use significance

After being damaged by arson, the roof needed restoring to conserve this property for the futureAfter being damaged by arson, the roof needed restoring to conserve this property for the future

Restoration, on the other hand, implies 'improving' something that dates from an earlier period by returning it to an original 'as new' condition. It can be an appropriate term to describe work to part of a building - for example, a metal window or a timber door. People often assume that returning a building to an 'as new' condition is good for a building, but it is rarely used because usually layers of history are inevitably removed. In fact, it was because of the loss of history through 'restoration' that the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings was founded by Morris and others. The two can be linked, though, as 'restoring' a specific part of a building may help to 'conserve' it more generally.

An example of this can be seen on a project we handled at a grade II listed farm complex. The properties included a 17th century cottage and a late 19th century house, plus three small barns. These properties were isolated, without services and were badly decayed after years of water ingress on top of arson damage. The owners wanted to repair the buildings before bringing them back into use as part of a wider planning consent.

We started our conservation work by considering the fabric and significance of the listed building and its furnishing, fittings and contents. Next, we carried out extensive inspections to the structures to draw up detailed schedules of repair, and from surviving fragments we reproduced the joinery details. The first phase of the work was to 'restore' the stonework and roofs so that the properties were structurally sound and watertight and could be 'conserved' for future generations.

Whether you're looking to conserve your property or restore elements of it, our specialist heritage team can help. Contact us on:

Kevin Balch Project Design Director, Nash PartnershipKevin Balch Project Design Director, Nash Partnership

Phone: 01225 442424


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