A Little bit about me...

I'm a Structural Engineer, specialising in conservation, at Hurst Peirce + Malcolm in London. I don't wear tweeds, am not particularly "cultured" and I'm not that old, but I do care passionately about the conservation of old buildings. I am a Chartered Structural Engineer, a member of The SPAB (formerly on the founding committee of the reborn Berks, Bucks & Oxon Regional Group), a Friend of SAVE Britain's Heritage and have recently completed a PD Diploma in conservation at West Dean College, with a view to achieving CARE accreditation. I hope to give you regular updates on my trials and tribulations as well as some insight into projects I am involved with and things I believe in.

Be patient with me - I'm no writer and I'm normally up to my eyeballs at work........

All views expressed here are my own.

Hurst Peirce + Malcolm, Celtic House, 33 John's Mews, Holborn, London WC1N 2QL

07854 624692 - richardsalmon9@gmail.com

Sunday, 17 July 2011

'Built Heritage' Terminology for the Layman

I'm posting this, not just because of 'Restoration Home', but what has come out of a few separate conversations on both Twitter and in real life. For the purposes of this exercise, I am trying to gauge what the public at large think they will get when offered a TV show entitled "Restoration Home", so I would be very grateful if non-heritage bods could leave their thoughts (before reading this) as comments below. I would also ask if you would be happy with a TV programme that showed a building conservation project done properly, without any dramas - let's call it 'edutainment'? (I also welcome comments from Heritage peeps if you think what I'm about to say comes straight from my backside!)

During the kerfuffle about 'Restoration Home' last week (of which I was as vocally critical as anyone), alarm bells started ringing in the back of my head about the application of this word "restoration". As a member of the SPAB, I abide by it's manifesto (easier said than done at times), as penned by founder William Morris. The SPAB was founded in 1877 largely in response to a certain type of Victorian "restoration" that Morris and others objected very strongly to, namely to "restore" buildings to their perceived "original" condition based on nothing more than conjecture and using whatever materials came to hand that 'looked about right'.

I am used to the British Standard (BS7913) definitions, but as this is for the layman I wanted to look in the most obvious non-specialist place, so I grabbed a small dictionary (Oxford, concise), the sort of dictionary found in most houses across the land, and looked up some definitions:-

HERITAGE (n.) - What is or may be inherited, ones portion or lot.

So, our built heritage is something we have "inherited" and we have a duty to look after it until its time to pass it on to the next generation, and so on...

CONSERVATION (n.) from CONSERVE (v.t.) - Keep from decay or change or destruction.
PRESERVATION (n.) from PRESERVE (v.t.) - Save or keep from death or injury or loss or oblivion or desuetude or decay.

Now obviously on their own, these words can be confused with other things, so we have to put 'building' in front of either term ('preservation' is the current preferred word used in the US in particular, though that may be subject to change if certain Twitter convo's are to be believed). But they can be misunderstood (or maybe not?) to mean a museum-like status where all is 'preserved in aspic' etc.

However, I like to consider the new modernised definition of conservation to mean 'managing change' i.e. promoting minimal intervention, like-for-like and reversibility techniques where things do need to 'change' for whatever reason.

Now the big one:

RESTORATION (n.) from RESTORE (v.t.) - Give back, make restitution of, replace, put back, bring back to former place or condition or use, re-establish, infer and set forth the original state of,.... by rebuilding or repainting,..... reconstruct it conjecturally.

Now herein lies a problem. Reading between the lines we have more than one meaning here. There is 'good' restoration, where things are renewed because they need to be (from loss, accidental damage, fire, rot etc) and there is 'bad' restoration - the faux period detailing or losing layers of history, etc so despised by Morris et al.

If you also look up RENOVATION and REFURBISHMENT you get very similar definitions. Conversely, 'good restoration' could also be described as REPAIR.

Confused? You're not alone. I like to think each project can be located on a scale bar that has conservation at one end and restoration at the other. Any project that departs from this scale is being done wrong.

By the way, I am not going to mention CONVERSION or ADAPTATION here, that can wait for another day!

(Note: Definitions stolen directly from the Oxford English Dictionary, copyright whoever, blah, blah, blah.....)


  1. Great topic! I also have a problem with the terms and this problem goes deeper once one starts to translate them. In Romania the preservation of heritage is quite new and confusions are to be found between specialists also, so no wonder about the untrained “civilians”. For instance, we use more and more the term rehabilitation, although in Romanian dictionary applies only to humans (from drugs etc). I was planning to start making a compendium of terms and it’s nice to see you started explaining the English ones. Thanks!

  2. Very interesting post. I'm not sure I count as a non-heritage bod as our company does work on listed buildings - one ongoing project involves a Grade II listed Mill. And as the woman behind the infamous husbitect, I'm not a complete layman.
    But I am very interested in the semantics of the words scattered around this area and the way this has been presented by the Restoration Home series.
    Restoration: to me this means restoring a building to its original state. This doesn't mean it has to maintain its original use, but should restore and keep the features that make it a Heritage building.
    Heritage: doesn't necessarily mean old. It can include buildings from the 1970s, 80s, even 90s. And yes, they may need restoration.
    Conservation: the process of restoration should involve conservation to maintain heritage. It's also about conserving the traditional skills needed to carry out restoration.
    Preservation: should be left for turning fruit & veg into jams and chutneys.
    Renovation: you can renovate any building, whether heritage or bog standard. A bit like my 1970s built home. It needs renovating, not restoring, and is in no way heritage!
    Refurbishment: like renovation but a word I associate with offices/industrial buildings.
    Reinvention: this is my word for what our company is doing in relation to our Grade II listed Mill. It's a huge hunk of a building left behind as industry changed. Yes, it's conserved & restored in accordance with its listed status but the building's use has been reinvented to meet present day needs.

    When it comes to Restoration Home, the first episode at least made a stab at showing people restoring a recognisable Heritage building. The second episode didn't. There was no restoration, no conservation and little renovation. Both the BBC and the building owners got it wrong.
    But this is what TV does. It's just a shame that BBC2 has taken the Restoration genre it began when Griff Rhys Jones got the nation voting, and turned into a Channel 4 style property drama.

  3. A complete layman's view ~ if I saw a listing for a TV show called "Restoration Home" I'd imagine something ramshackle being restored to its former glory and probably be quite interested in watching, (unless it was a docudrama). The second show you mention sounds interesting as long as it wasn't dumbed down with lots of flashy graphics.


  4. Sadly I think that the two words you don't want to discuss sum up last weeks episode of Restoration Home! Te BBC definition as in their reply to my complaint was 'This series follows owners of crumbling historic buildings as they save them from ruin by restoring them into 21st-century dream houses' which is not what I would define as restoration. I have worked on lighting design for a few 'heritage' projects including Windsor Castle but would not consider myself as a heritage professional.

  5. I can't help but cynically think the "restoration" tv genre is a passing fad aimed at box ticking. They are cheaper to make than "home improvement" shows and with the current economic climate more of a draw than "property" shows.
    As an artist I had to endure the similarly ridiculous, tv does how to make it in the art world. While infuriating this was not as dangerous or misguiding as so called restoration tv is to our historic buildings.
    It encourages the kind of naivete I've witnessed this week. If you want to buy a period property you need to be prepared to put the work and money in, if not buy a Barratt Home and get a fireplace put in!
    These programs are more conversion than restoration. The dictionary definitions of Heritage, Conservation and Restoration do not apply to making television, I wish they did...

  6. it looks like i am not alone in being frustrated at tv programmes taking us on a stroll down memory lane and making out that craft skills are either long lost or just as bad...easy to do if you have a go. i am a blacksmith and our craft is having to set up a body to establish standards and train skilled craftsmen in specialist ironwork restoration to ensure these standards are being met. it is called the national heritage irowork group NHIG.

  7. Like you I am a member of SPAB I the reasons for joining where firstly interest and secondly to learn the correct ways to restore buildings. This being from the basic two up tow down to the historic castle.
    As a company we specialise in renovation of defects mainly due to dampness and water ingress and we are also a member of the PCA . It is vital in my opinion to both find the correct reason for the source of dampness and decay and not simply cover it up, with a cement render.
    I agree that a tv program which was information based and showing the correct process at the varying stages from start to finish would be of more general interest, without the tail of hardship by the owner and his family, who is obviously being paid by the tv show and if they couldn’t afford it in the first place should never have taken the project on.

  8. I think "correct" restoration, using building materials identical to those used at the time of original construction is an excellent idea. Using materials of modern composition, however carefully, may cause unintentional changes to a building's appearance.

    For the record, I am a non-heritage homeowner in Savannah, GA where conservation in our historic areas is taken quite seriously, from the roofing to the drainpipe without, and from the wallpaper, paint, and flooring within. If a television programme on historic restoration is aired in the UK, I hope it will be given access by one of our stations.

  9. Thank you all for your kind words and interesting inputs.

    I've come to the conclusion that the TV types just use the word 'restoration' as a word that the majority of Joe Public will understand the jist of.

    Of course most 'restorations' on TV are not restorations, but more often conversions with a nod to restoration.

    Do I feel like a pedant for pointing this out?
    Yes, sometimes.....

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