Heritage buildings are very valuable to the UK. From ancient monuments like Stonehenge to the castles and stately homes across the land, these structures tell the story of the nation’s history.
Our heritage buildings are also hugely valuable to the economy. They generate some £31 billion in GVA each year according to Historic England. Not to mention that they create hundreds of thousands of jobs in tourism, construction and engineering.
The upkeep of these buildings is, of course, vitally important. Let’s look at some of the key challenges in heritage building conservation and then see how technology can support professionals working in this field.
What are heritage buildings?
A heritage building can be defined as: “a structure that requires preservation because of its historical, architectural, cultural, aesthetic or ecological value”.
These structures span thousands of years of history and include a huge range of architectural styles and functions. They also use a wide range of building materials and technologies. The skills needed for heritage building conservation around, say, a Roman villa, will be very different to those required for a medieval pub or an Elizabethan church. Most heritage buildings have protected status. This means that it is the responsibility of local authorities – or in some cases, national bodies – to protect the building.
10 challenges of heritage building conservation
Over the last 100 years, we have learned far more about good practice when it comes to the conservation of heritage buildings. However, while our knowledge keeps on growing, plenty of challenges remain.
Here are 10 key heritage building conservation challenges:
Physical maintenance of heritage buildings
Maintaining heritage buildings is notoriously difficult due to a number of issues. These can include decaying wood, lost or forgotten building methods, damp, and many of the other issues that affect older buildings. Property managers need to constantly monitor the status of the building to prevent major problems from setting in.
Documentation in multiple formats
Heritage building conservation teams typically find that blueprints and floor plans of these structures can be available in a dizzying range of formats. From relatively modern CAD/BIM files to basic historical drawings, you may have to compare everything to find out which is the latest document. In some cases, no documentation exists at all!
Heritage building documentation is often held in several different places. Sometimes the information is managed by family members, libraries, solicitors, town councils, universities or the church. Accessing all this documentation so you can make the best decisions about building maintenance is often extremely challenging.
One of the biggest challenges facing heritage building conservation is changing patterns of use. For example, many stately homes now receive high levels of tourist footfall. Although tourists provide a valuable source of income, these old and fragile buildings experience far more disturbance than is ideal.
Natural and manmade hazards
Heritage buildings face a range of both natural and manmade hazards. Many buildings contain very old, very dry wooden beams which are at serious risk of fire. Meanwhile, others are located close to rivers and related flooding threats, or ancient trees that could blow over. Many heritage buildings are also homes to bats, birds, mice, woodworm and weeds which, over time, damage the structure.
Air pollution is a significant worry for many building conservation professionals. Pollution from manufacturing, road traffic and ‘acid rain’ can, over time, lead to the deterioration of materials used in the exterior of these structures.
Heritage skills shortages
One of the biggest challenges for heritage building conservation is the skills shortage. Many structures have unique features or used unusual building methods, which means that it can be difficult to find craftspeople who have the knowledge to maintain them. For example, traditional masonry is just one of the skills listed as endangered by the organisation Heritage Crafts.
While the UK has a strong tradition of maintaining its heritage buildings, accessing finance can still be a challenge. This is especially true for less well-known heritage buildings.
Sensitive adaptation of heritage buildings
Where heritage buildings are in private hands, it is more and more common to see them re-adapted for new purposes. Sometimes they are transformed into flats, cafes, cinemas, museums or other cultural facilities. While this is generally positive, sensitively adapting these old buildings – and making sure that the original features are maintained while meeting modern building codes – is a real challenge.
Another major challenge for heritage building conservation is sourcing the correct materials when working on these structures. It is important to use the same kinds of wood, stone, brickwork, tiles etc., as used in the original. However, these are not always available or they may be extremely expensive.
How heritage building conservation software can help
A growing number of businesses in the heritage buildings conservation sector are turning to software to support the maintenance, management and upgrade of these structures. Technology like PlanRadar – used by leading conservation firm Thomann-Hanry – can help by:
- Providing a single place to store all documentation, including CAD and BIM files, blueprints and other drawings. You can then access them whenever you need them.
- Helping you to share information with partners, subcontractors, heritage agencies and builders.
- Supporting collaboration when it comes to managing projects such as upgrades, adaptations, or cleaning and replacing damaged features.
- Task allocation – helping you to dish out tasks to subcontractors and sign off completed work.
- Conducting inspections, including fire and flood risk assessments, health & safety inspections, and much more.
Heritage building conservation software is helping site managers to improve productivity, reduce costs, and save time. Book a demo today to learn how you can improve the maintenance of your heritage building with our easy-to-use platform, and manage buildings more effectively for future generations.