Best Practice in Cultural Built Heritage

Professional Associations



House_in_Killara__NSW_AustraliaBritish Standards (UK) has issued a guide to the conservation of historic buildings (BS 7913:2013). The standard describes best practice in the management and treatment of historic buildings. It applies to historic buildings with and without statutory protection. It takes one through all stages from initially looking at a building through to the completion of appropriate work. The standard does not apply to below ground archaeology or any other type of heritage asset such as movable objects or vehicles, but only to cultural built heritage including basements. It sets out to;

  • provide background information on the principles and practice of the conservation of historic buildings and sites when setting conservation policy, management strategy, procedures and implementation.
  • provide professional expertise: the conservation of historic buildings requires judgement based on an understanding of principles informed by experience and knowledge to be exercised when decisions are made. British Standards that apply to newer buildings might be inappropriate.
  • balance conflicting pressure: such pressures often need to be balanced to assist good decision making. The standard offers good conservation guidance based on sound research evidence and the use of competent advisors and contractors.

1840s_house_in_Bourke_Street_Surry_Hills__NSW_AustraliaThe standard assists those who own, use, occupy and manage historic buildings as well as guiding professional contractors and others employed to work on their behalf and is used by decision makers and funders. It provides general background information on the principles of the conservation of historic buildings and sites, when setting conservation policy, management strategy and procedures for:

  • Building owners
  • Building managers
  • Archaeologists
  • Architects
  • Engineers
  • Surveyors
  • Contractors
  • Conservators
  • Planners
  • Conservation officers
  • Local authority building control officers

The community of heritage practitioners has long recognised the need for new approaches to conservation, which reflect the increased complexity of their work and facilitate a positive interaction with the larger environment in which their properties exist with particular attention paid to local communities. This is especially important for cultural heritage properties, whose very meaning is often the subject of contention among multiple stakeholders, in the face of rapid socio-cultural change (UNESCO).

Whatever the management system applied, it is necessary to have an agreed basis for managing heritage. This is an important fact. In recent decades there have been two main approaches: one is called the ‘conventional’ approach, and the other the ‘values-led’ approach, which is increasingly predominant, being the more adaptable. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive. Many management systems contain elements of both approaches. Below is a brief summary of the comparison and an attempt to explain why the values-led approach is the more appropriate one for conserving and managing heritage properties (UNESCO).

The ‘conventional’ approach

Refurbishment_Surry_Hills__NSW_Australia_The ‘conventional’ approach refers to the methodology adopted by conservation professionals with the birth of the modern conservation movement in the Western world. The main focus was placed on the conservation of the materials or the fabric of the past which was identified as monuments and sites to be preserved for the sake of future generations. Conservation experts themselves began to identify and define what needed to be protected which was later supported by legislation established for the purpose. Examining the existing condition of the fabric led to various interventions for prolonging the life of the materials. In the middle of the 20th century, this approach received global recognition through doctrines such as the Venice Charter and the work of organizations such as ICOMOS.

The ‘values-led’ approach

The values-led approach is in many ways a response to the recognition of the increasing complexity of heritage. It evolved in various parts of the world, for instance in Canada and the USA and became better known through the Burra Charter, first developed by Australia ICOMOS in 1979 and subsequently updated. The Charter promoted the assessment of the significance of a place based on the values attributed by all stakeholders (not only by the experts) and the use of a Statement of Significance as a basis for developing conservation and management strategies. This concept was developed further by the work on Conservation Plans of James Kerr (1982). He brought a systematic approach to developing conservation and management plans based on values and, more importantly on the cultural significance of a heritage place to society. This approach adopts the premise that people in society ascribe various values to heritage.

1840s_terrace_house_in_Millers_Point__NSW_Australia_More and more countries are turning towards a values-led approach to heritage conservation UNESCO). In this approach, the significance of a heritage property is first established in a participatory process involving all those who have an interest in it. Having defined the significance (statement of significance), this becomes the framework for developing conservation policy and strategy where the condition of the property, rules and regulations and the needs of communities, etc. is taken into account.

The World Heritage Convention follows an early example of a values-led approach since. It focuses on the identification and protection of OUV (outstanding universal value) which is the significance that makes a place of importance to all humanity. The aim of managing World Heritage properties is therefore to guarantee the protection or the long-term maintenance of the OUV of a given property.

This values-led approach is therefore very suited to the conservation and management of heritage sites. A values-led approach has the benefit of not concentrating on fabric alone but on a broader set of values that are important to a group of heritage experts and to a variety of legitimate stakeholders. However, management approaches need to be responsive since these heritage values are not static. They depend on the social groups that participate in ascribing them and they can change over time, aligning themselves with or reacting to shifts in wider social, cultural, environmental and use values (UNESCO).

Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21 – 19 June 2015

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