By Blair Poole MIfA
Historic Building Recording is an introduction to the two investigative procedures used by specialists to record a buildings history.
Whether formally listed or not, there are many buildings across the country that are of either local, regional or national interest or significance. The Local Planning Authority have a commitment and duty to ensure that the history of these buildings is adequately understood before planning permission is given or modifications are carried out.
Historic building assessment or survey?
An Historic Building Assessment or Historic Building Survey will reveal construction methods and aesthetic merit and historical associations. Usually undertaken by historic buildings specialists or archaeologists that specialise in historic buildings, surveys and assessments are not restricted to planning applications; owners of historic buildings often request a survey of their property in order to better appreciate the history of the place in which they live.
The two distinct processes have two differing functions:
It will assess the overall character and existing historic fabric of a particular building, within the context of its structure and environment, but will not fully record the property or give a detailed account of its development or history.
Historic Building Surveys are more appropriate where the building needs to be recorded and more fully understood; often requested by the Local Planning Authority as part of a planning condition or part or pre-determination survey work.
There are four levels of building survey outlined by English Heritage in their Understanding Historic Buildings document published in 2006 (which superseded the earlier Recording Historic Buildings standards outlined by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England).
These four building survey levels range from a very basic approach looking at the aspects of the building, its context and any architectural fabric or fixtures and fittings of note at Level 1, through to a fully comprehensive analytical record of the structure at Level IV. This highest level of survey is usually reserved for major historical structures of national or international importance and significance. The most common grades of building survey encountered are Levels II and III, which give a good record of the structure, its context, elevations and plans as well as the building's history and development.
The levels of survey are not set in stone and there can be an element of 'pick 'n' mix' when it comes to what is required for the survey and it can be tailored to suit the property in question.
What do they consist of?
Depending on the property, the on-site aspect of a building survey or assessment may only take a matter of hours and the resulting report can shed light on those interesting features often found set into the walls of historic buildings. 'Desk-based' procedures, such as map regression analysis, digitisation and documentary research, aim to discover the past social uses of the building and can uncover unknown old photographs, and other evidence of the changing functions and even the original function of some rooms.
Are they actually useful to the owner?
Whatever the reason for undertaking an assessment or survey of an historic building they are well worthwhile in helping owners to better understand the structure and its evolution, and will aid any decision concerning remodelling, redecoration or renovation of the property.
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