What Does a Conservation Professional Do?

Professional Associations


In accordance with a recent UK publication (jointly authored by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation, the Historic Towns and Villages Forum and Civic Voice – 2017), the scope of professional practice for conserving historic places and buildings is wide. The document lists the following activities as intended to illustrate some of the common areas of practice.

ADVICE: Interpreting heritage protection and other planning legislation and policy, and providing advice on the management, adaptation and use of historic buildings and proposed changes to historic areas including new development.

ADVISING POLITICIANS AND ELECTED MEMBERS: For professionals working for local or central government, part of the role can involve advising elected members on planning policy, planning designations (e.g. of conservation areas) or planning applications. This involves advice on planning legislation and special statutory duties relating to heritage and associated cultural values. Such specialist advice is essential in ensuring that elected members make well-informed and lawful decisions.Fig.1 - Goulburn Town Hall, Goulburn - NSW, Australia

 Fig.1 – Goulburn Town Hall, Goulburn – NSW, Australia

DEFINING SPECIAL INTEREST: Analysing and defining the special architectural or historic interest of historic places, buildings and structures in line with law and policy. This can include, for example: townscape analysis; historical research; archaeological investigation; study of construction and materials; identifying underlying planning or architectural theories and principles; evaluating community interests; or assessing urban design.

STATUTORY APPLICATIONS AND ASSESSING IMPACTS: Whether preparing applications for planning or listed building consent, or dealing with these, comprehensive knowledge of planning and development is required. This includes an understanding of how heritage protection legislation and policy interact with wider planning legislation and policy. It requires cultural heritage values to be considered within and against the context of the widest range of planning and design concerns (social, economic and environmental).

GRANT SCHEMES FOR BUILDINGS AND AREAS: Preparing applications for funding bodies, establishing schemes and managing historic building and area grant schemes. This requires specialist knowledge of historic buildings, structures and areas, and other skills like business planning, programme management and financial management.

POLICIES Statutory policy and guidance on heritage can be included in local plans and (sic) neighbourhood plans. Policies affecting heritage are not just those specifically about conservation, but also those dealing with issues like growth, change of use, infrastructure and urban design. Integrating heritage with wider social, economic and environmental policies and strategies is necessary to make policies effective and help deliver conservation outcomes. Economic viability and deliverability are key considerations in plan-making.

BUSINESS PLANS FOR HERITAGE ASSETS AND RESOURCES : Preparing business plans for the conversion and reuse of heritage assets and resources can include consideration of the capital (construction) stages and revenue projections for the future operation of a facility. Such plans need to be based on a clear understanding of the issues and costs involved in the conversion and operation of historic buildings, in addition to more common business planning issues.

EVIDENCE BASES: Preparing heritage evidence is an essential part of preparing for local development plans and (sic) neighbourhood plans. This can include identification and analysis of heritage assets and resources, use trends and vacancy and consideration of economic viability based on analysis of the local land economy. of an area and the impacts that designations can have.

CREATIVE SOLUTIONS: Working with heritage is about reconciling the different requirements of building owners, users and occupiers, within the framework of planning and other legislation and against the context of other considerations, such as public interest and economic viability. This requires a creative and flexible approach. Most heritage assets are capable of being used and are economically viable. Where this is not the case, creative strategies are required, which may include grants, fundraising, phasing, temporary uses, partnerships or setting up community organisations to take on and develop heritage assets and resources.

DESIGN: Design can cover new buildings, extensions, alterations and improvements, urban design, landscape – including gardens and designed landscapes – public realm and other changes that have an impact on historic places and buildings. It requires an understanding of how heritage fits into wider place-making, including how buildings and places work, aesthetics, economics, sustainability, use, movement and other factors. Consideration of the different dimensions of design is a fundamental part of conservation professional practice.

STAKEHOLDER AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Engaging with communities and stakeholders is an essential part of planning, project design and development, designations and ongoing management of historic places. Early stakeholder and community engagement identifies issues, views and relevant information. Later engagement can involve local people and stakeholders in looking at options and finding solutions. Late-stage consultation can test things like planning policies, project proposals or masterplans.

REPAIR SPECIFICATIONS: The specification of repairs to historic buildings requires knowledge and understanding of the building technologies utilised in their construction and the specification of repairs, using appropriate techniques and materials. It also requires an understanding of the craft skills, techniques and practices necessary to undertake works to historic buildings and structures.

PREPARING PLANS: Design professionals can be involved in preparing scale plans of existing buildings and places, including plans, elevations and sections. They also design alterations, refurbishments, extensions or new development. This requires an understanding of the processes of change that created the historic environment. Design is about reconciling functional, economic, social and environmental factors and creating places and buildings that support current and future needs, all within a framework informed by sustainable development.

PROJECT DEVELOPMENT: Developing schemes for historic places and buildings requires a wide range of project skills, in addition to an understanding of the cultural value of heritage assets and resources. This is necessary to manage different stages, including the design process, repair specifications, business planning, project planning, costings, quality assurance, procurement of professional teams, contracts and other activities.

PROJECT AND CONTRACT MANAGEMENT: As with project development, project management requires project skills to be meshed with an understanding and empathy for dealing with historic places and buildings. It also demands an understanding of the importance of clear specifications and application of quality assurance measures.

HERITAGE STATEMENTS AND CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT PLANS: These and related terms describe a range of heritage and conservation documents. A heritage or conservation management plan may define the special interest of a heritage asset and set out strategies for management, maintenance and adaptation. It can also deal with issues like procedures and responsibilities for gaining consents and following legislative requirements (for example for major infrastructure projects). It can seek to reconcile different social, economic and environmental aims with ongoing use and conservation. Care is required, as the meaning of the term ‘conservation plan’ varies greatly in different contexts.

URBAN DEISNG ANALYSIS: Urban design analysis includes assessing townscape characteristics, which are an important part of defining special interest or significance. Urban design analysis also identifies uses, movement and the ways in which an area functions. This is an essential basis for planning change and development in historic places.

 Site management: Managing construction on-site includes supervision of suitably skilled construction staff, health and safety compliance and quality assurance.

RETROFITTING: This is about designing and making changes to historic buildings to improve their performance in terms of carbon use. It can include improving insulation, installing more energy-efficient heating systems, heat recovery and other measures. The challenge is to upgrade the building, whilst maintaining its heritage value, and without causing long-term damage through using inappropriate materials.

CONSTRUCTIONAL IMPACTS: When undertaking construction works, it is sometimes necessary to assess impacts on heritage assets and resources (such as land movement and vibration) and specify or agree protective measures and methods of monitoring.

 Recording and documentation: Recording and documentation of assets and resources, and of works undertaken, are critical stages in their understanding, care and development. They can involve the use of text, photographs and digital records and projections, and other media, to create a record of the current state of historic assets as well as the impacts of any works proposed or undertaken.

Paul Rappoport – Heritage 21

27 July 2017


Conservation Professional Practice Principles – 2017 conjointly authored by:

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