What does a conservation architect do?

Conservation architects are not the same as restoration architects. A restoration architect will transform an existing building as it previously would have been designed. While they will include features of the original building, there’s no ambiguity about their intentions: to restore the building to its original glory. The provenance of the building is the most important aspect during this consideration.

English Heritage states that “to restore a property means putting all the interiors and exteriors back to their original state, such as plastering and repainting walls. In cases where the originals are too fragile or degraded to restore, replicas would be put in their place.”

Conservation architects care about preserving the character of a building from this moment in time, showing all of the changes that make up the rich history of the building. Their projects primarily involve helping to conserve buildings. They want to ensure that the building does not degrade further and fall into neglect.
“To conserve a property and its contents means that the building, its interior and contents are kept as they are, and only necessary repairs are made.” English Heritage advises.

We believe in three fundamental ideas; Conservation, Sustainability and Regeneration. A conservation architect may well work on a building that can be saved from demolition in order to make it more sustainable, regenerate the building and surrounding area and to conserve the structure for the future generations. London is filled with a rich and varied history of architecture; therefore, a conservation architect’s intention is to conserve the building including modern alterations, not to restore it.

Preservation and Conservation are not to be confused either. Conservation promotes the sustainable use of a building and can make a building useful for contemporary tenants. Preservation, in contrast to conservation, attempts to maintain in their present condition without further alterations.

The majority of work that conservation architects do is concerned with saving decrepit buildings from destruction. Often a conservation architect will be introduced to a building with potential, but where alterations have been made throughout its life. The job, therefore, involves a frank assessment of what can be conserved and in which areas renovation should be undertaken.

They look at a building and then come up with a rescue plan that will help return it to its original form. It’s not about finding ways to rearrange matter so that it resembles the original building. It’s about putting a contemporary design to protect the building from further decay and make it useful to generations to come. A conservation architect’s primary goal is to celebrate the workmanship that went into the original design and renovate it to today’s standards.

It’s only when you actually work on a conservation project that you see the importance of engineering. Many plans require wholesale building work to reconstruct what can essentially be a ruin. Conservation work is rarely about repairing some plasterwork and reinstating windows: many buildings are in a dire state. The only solution is to engage in some heavy building work, which inevitably involves engineering.

The main work of conservation architects is in the planning stages. Working on older buildings presents a host of challenges that you don’t find in many other projects. You have to consider everything, from the strength of the foundations to the building regulations which apply.

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Read about our Conservation Architecture work