Preserving historic buildings is essential to understanding our nation’s heritage. In addition, it is an environmentally responsible practice. By reusing existing buildings historic preservation is essentially a recycling program of ‘historic’ proportions. Existing buildings can often be energy efficient through their use of good ventilation, durable materials, and spatial relationships. An immediate advantage of older buildings is that a building already exists; therefore energy is not necessary to create new building materials and the infrastructure is already in place. Minor modifications can be made to adapt existing buildings to compatible new uses. Systems can be upgraded to meet modern building requirements and codes. This not only makes good economic sense, but preserves our legacy and is an inherently sustainable practice and an intrinsic component of whole building design.
Some practical and/or intangible bene fits of historic preservation include:
- Retention of history and authenticity
- Commemorates the past
- Aesthetics: texture, craftsmanship, style
- Pedestrian/visitor appeal
- Human scale
- Increased commercial value
- Materials and ornaments that are not affordable or readily available
- Durable, high quality materials (e.g., old growth wood)
- Retention of building materials
- Less construction and demolition debris
- Less hazardous material debris
- Less need for new materials
- Existing usable space—quicker occupancy
- Rehabilitation often costs less than new construction
- Reuse of infrastructure
- Energy savings
- No energy used for demolition
- No energy used for new construction
- Reuse of embodied energy in building materials and assemblies
Following passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Secretary of the Interior established Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties to promote and guide the responsible treatment of historic structures and to protect irreplaceable cultural resources. Today, the Standards are the guiding principles behind sensitive preservation design and practice in America.
Four Treatment Approaches
Within the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties there are Standards for four distinct approaches to the treatment of historic properties: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction.
Preservation focuses on the maintenance stabilization, and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time.
Rehabilitation acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property’s historic character.
Restoration depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods.
Reconstruction re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes.
The Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties illustrate the practical application of these treatment standards to historic properties.
Additional Standards and Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Resources such as landscapes, archaeological and maritime resources, etc. are maintained by the National Park Service.
While each treatment has its own definition, they are interrelated. For example, one could “restore” missing features in a building that is being “rehabilitated.” This means that if there is sufficient historical documentation on what was there originally, a decorative lighting fixture may be replicated or an absent front porch rebuilt, but the overall approach to work on the building falls under one specific treatment.
Weatherizing and Improving the Energy Efficiency of Historic Buildings: Learn how to undertake those measures in ways that have minimal impact on the historic building’s design and materials.
Preservation Briefs: provide guidance on preserving, rehabilitating and restoring historic buildings.
Preservation Tech Notes: provide practical information on traditional practices and innovative techniques for successfully maintaining and preserving cultural resources.