The maintenance of heritage buildings is the key to longevity. Poorly maintained buildings fall quickly into disrepair and abandoned heritage buildings suffer the indignity of vandalism, squatting and the usual train of destruction, most often resulting in fires and the loss of fabric. An important concept to grasp with heritage buildings is that lost original fabric can never be replaced. There are ways of inserting look alike elements but they remain non-original. On the other hand, well maintained heritage buildings retain their originality and heritage significance for long periods.
However, heritage maintenance is not cheap and the trades associated with skilful maintenance have become extremely rare. Rarity of skill always means higher prices and therefore, it is important for facilities managers whose role it is to maintain and care for heritage buildings and places to plan ahead. Realistically, the starting point is a ‘Conservation Management Plan” which is referred to in the abbreviated form of a ‘CMP. CMPs comprise historical research, physical analysis and comparative analysis of the building.
From these, a ‘Statement of Cultural Heritage Significance‘ is drawn up. Effectively, the statement summarises the key aspects of the building’s significance. Next, conservation policies are drawn up which spell out what in the building has high significance, moderate significance and little significance. Through the filter of ‘Constraints and Opportunities’, the policies are set out the future management strategy for the building and often, a maintenance plan is attached to that. Such documents are time consuming and can cost between 12 and 50K depending on the size, condition and significance of the place. Simpler documents can however achieve similar results and usually cost between 5 – 7K.
A ‘Schedule of Conservation Works’ known as SCW effectively analyses the condition, significance and conservation actions for each of the building elements such as the roof, ceilings, floors, walls, architraves and skirting, windows and doors, cladding, landscaping etc. after careful on-site inspection by trained personnel. The SCW is set out in table form and tells the facilities manager which items are important and which are less important through a grading system which ranges from ‘exceptional’ to ‘intrusive’. In between those two extremes, the fabric may be deemed of ‘high significance’, ‘moderate significance’ or ‘little significance’ and suitable conservation actions are specified for each element. The SCW usually has information about maintenance of the elements and will show how often each element will need to be inspected i.e. under what maintenance cycle regime.
In accordance with best conservation practice, it is important for managers to know what they are dealing with. This is the reason for engaging a conservation architect to analyse the condition of each of the elements and determine their significance at close range. Without this initial study, future management will be vague, disjointed and potentially intrusive.
The other aspect to be aware of is the intensity of government scrutiny in the process. Heritage buildings are considered highly particular building types by councils and the state government when it comes to approvals and modifications. These government bodies expect high levels of documentation to show that managers understand the fabric and have considered wisely what changes need to be made. There are tried and tested methods when it comes to modifying heritage buildings but there are also quick fix approaches. The latter needs to be avoided because they end up costing more.
Thus, a key aspect of management is the notion that facilities managers need to seek specialist advice from trained conservation architects who understand fabric and can specify the correct cleaning or repair methods at the outset. Some very costly mistakes have been made in the past.
The classic one that emerges from my 30-years’ experience as a conservation architect is the cleaning of Central Station in the 1960s when an acid solvent was applied to the sandstone on the northern façade. The acid leached out all the characteristic ‘Yellowblock Sandstone‘ colour and permanently turned the building into a ghastly grey edifice. This calamity can never be reversed and was probably applied without much thought.
The Burra Charter, which is an Australian-wide conservation charter strongly encourages research before taking any action. Conservation is considered to be both a high art and a rare science and old, fragile buildings need to be treated with care and respect. Yes, conservation is costly and this is another reason why planning intelligently is central to the whole process i.e. in order to avoid abortive work.
The best investment a facilities manager can make when engaging a heritage building or place is to commission the services of a trained and experienced conservation architect in order to ascertain the condition, significance and future maintenance actions for each element in the building. The best results will always be achieved with careful forward planning in mind. As they say, forewarned is forearmed. It is this principle that has guided conservation practice for the better part of 160 years since the days when the great Englishman; John Ruskin first started thinking and writing about heritage conservation in the 1850s.
Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21 – 30 June 2013