Are Architectural Conservators Worth Their Salt?
Paper presented at the 1986 Annual Conference, The Association for
Preservation Technology, October 1 to 4, 1986, Austin, Texas. Published
in The Journal of the Association for Preservation Technology,
Vol. XIX, Number 4, 1987, Washington, DC: The Association for Preservation
Are architectural conservators worth their salt? As practicing
professionals, we must determine the value of the technical services
we provide. Because the field is still new, there are other important
considerations; professional and technical standards, educational
opportunities, and liability exposure. If architectural conservators
are to play an equal role with engineers, architects, and other
professionals, they must develop standards that can justify their
A "well-seasoned" example points to potential problems. Suppose
a registered architect, troubled by unsightly efflorescence on
a historic building, calls in a conservator to evaluate existing
conditions, undertake testing, and present treatment recommendations
approved by the architect; specifications prepared; and the contractor
instructed to remove the salts, chemically clean the surface,
and apply a colorless coating. All executed work is approved.
Several years later, a portion of the building collapses. What
now is the professional role of the conservator? Did the conservator
exceed professional bounds that should have been better defined
during academic study? To what extent has the conservator been
exposed to professional liability? Did the conservator carry appropriate
insurance for this event? Did laboratory work adhere to proper
testing standards? How about chemical cleaning and selection of
the coating? Were proper standards referenced in the specifications?
Were other structural problems overlooked? These are questions
architectural conservators should be addressing.
Defining Our Credentials
A multi-disciplinary approach has lent hybrid vigor to the field
of architectural conservation. However, our field is a risky one.
As building pathologists, we are required to remediate defective
work. Here, we realize that standards are vital, as our livelihood
is based on a lack of standards in the past.
Standards, procedures, and policy are critical to professional
development. In similar professions, issues of professional practice
generally fall under four headings: 1) academic research and training;
2) professional liability; 3) technical standards for materials
and testing; and 4) standards and codes of professional practice.
Organizations, such as ASME, AIA, and ASCE have been set up to
establish standards for professional practice, define the education
required to enter the field, and deal with questions of liability.
Architectural conservators have a long way to go.
In 1977, a report from the National Conservation Advisory Council
(NCAC) urged the formation of an Architectural Conservation Study
Committee "to make recommendations to the NCAC for improving the
state of Architectural Conservation in this country." The Committee
was asked to Address the following questions:
"What is the role of the conservator in architectural conservation,
ideally and in actual practice?"
"What will be needed for improved conservation practice in this
field in the future in terms of manpower, training, research,
and coordination effort?"
"Is the field of architectural conservation able to tend to its
own conservation needs in the future, or should it be more closely
related to training, research, and coordination activities as,
for example, museum conservation?"
In response to these questions the Study Committee recognized
the need for training "a new kind of professional called the Architectural
Conservator." The Committee recommended five activities: 1) Development
of degrees or certificate-granting curricula at the post-graduate
level; 2) Programs on internship and apprenticeship; 3) A system
of accreditation of schools, practitioners, publications and short
courses; and, 5) A Task Force to further these goals.
Subsequently, NCAC created a Task Force on Architectural Conservation
that developed "Suggested Guidelines for Training Architectural
Conservation"' published in 1980. The 1980 Task Force "structured
its report as a four-fold study". The report gives further definition
to the roles and skills of the architectural conservator. It proposes
the scope and content for a sample curriculum in architectural
conservation and outlines facility requirements, and it suggests
procedures for the accreditation of such programs.
Since 1980, not a single university program has developed to
satisfy the curriculum and degree requirements established by
the Task Force. Many programs do offer courses for the generalist
in Historic Preservation who seeks, at best, too minor in architectural
conservation; none provides a major in architectural conservation
with a minor in a specialized field, as defined by the NCAC, or
in related scientific disciplines (such as chemistry or geology).
The National Council for the Preservation education has identified
over thirty-five programs in historic preservation, with about
six offering undergraduate degrees. The undergraduate programs
have been developed to provide a general education that would
serve as a prerequisite for the model graduate programs described
by NCAC - were such programs to exist.
Some few schools have achieved marked success in developing concentrations
in architectural conservation, integrating their historic preservation
programs with technical and professional resources in their institutions.
Graduates of these programs, however, identifying themselves as
"consultants", rarely employ a microscope again. The only time
such a practitioner does employ a microscope is to read - or more
likely to write - between the lines of ERTA tax certification
forms that they prepare for "substantial rehabilitation" projects.
These, and many other professionals working in the field, could
benefit from further education.
Because life-long learning is so important, NCAC recommendations
were not limited to degree-granting institutions. What then of
workshops, training courses, and other programs designed to educate
the practicing professional?
Fortunately, there are educational opportunities for university
graduates who wish to remedy deficiencies in their professional
Rome Center. The International Center for the study of
the Preservation and Restoration of cultural Property (ICCROM
or the Rome Center) provides a six month training program in Architectural
Conservation. The program is for university graduates with four
years of practical and/or professional teaching experience. The
popularity of the Rome Center is, no doubt, due to its proven
excellence. But it also fills a cavernous void in such conversation
training in North America.
Campbell Center. Located in Illinois, the Campbell Center
offers short courses in varied preservation disciplines. The courses
are short (a few days a week) and instructors carefully selected.
National Park Service. The National Park Service, Preservation
Assistance Division, has published a "Skills Development Plan
for Historical Architects in the National Park Service." The plan
describes a three-year, self-help program to assist a younger
person in planning career development.
Getty Conservation Institute. GCI has established a Training
Program in four program areas: professional training; specialized
training; project-related training; and special activities designed
to support the infrastructure of conservation training. GCI works,
on a partnership basis, with other organizations world-wide, and
tailors its training courses to individual needs.?
Schools, universities, and associations, and agencies have also
provided short courses, or in APT's case, pre-conference training
In what way does our self-declared "professional" status expose
us to professional liability? Are we "professional" in the legal
sense, and how can we protect ourselves with insurance?
Despite our expectations, professional status, in the eyes of
the law, is not restricted to licensed practitioners. It is based
on higher education, membership (in organizations such as APT),
writing and publishing, attending conferences, and presenting
papers for debate and critical review.
Even though many of our activities help support our claim that
we are professionals, we will not be able obtain professional
liability insurance until concrete standards for professional
practice are developed at the state, national, or institutional
level. Students and practitioners should understand that there
are rewards and risks in this profession. As long as we
have no standards to fall back on, our risk is greater than it
needs to be.
APT is entering its twentieth year of providing technical information
to the profession. But does the information constitute technical
In project documents, do we specify a testing procedure, performance
criteria or material by referencing a Bulletin article?
No. APT resources may help us solve a problem, but they are not
standards per se.
In the past thirty years at least fifty organizations have entered
into standards writing (Albert L. Balik, "The Future Standards",
Standardization News, Philadelphia: ASTM, August 1986,
pp. 36-39). And many professionals use standards routinely when
preparing prescriptive specifications for new construction. As
conservators, we cannot take our testing, monitoring, and materials'
recommendations "off the shelve"; however, we too use standards.
In testing material and preparing project documents we frequently
use ASTM standards. These can be either a classification, a guide,
a practice, a specification, or a test method. The standards are
developed from the work of ASTM committees. ASTM Committee E-6
on Performance of Building Construction, for example is working
on a number of Standards that should be of special interest to
architectural conservators. We should play a participatory role
in defining the scope and purpose of these standards, especially
those that could be used by our profession.
How many of you have worked on a project that included the
option of selecting a colorless coating or water repellant for
exterior masonry? CSI's (Construction Specifications Institute)
Division 4: Masonry, Sections 04100,04500 deals with issues
of masonry cleaning, restoration, and surface treatment. To
date, a satisfactory standard does not exist that permits evaluation
of the varying conditions of a masonry surface or evaluation
of proprietary products entering the market. This "standards
vacuum" affects projects ranging from restoration of the west
central front of the U.S. Capitol to local 19th- century vernacular
The ASTM subcommittee on Building Preservation and Rehabilitation
Technology is developing a "Standard Recommended Practice for
Evaluation of clear Water-Repellant Compounds in Masonry Applications."
Input from architectural conservators is critical.
Have you been retrained to provide a rating of the performance
of a facility or prepare all or part of a Historic Structure
Report or a maintenance plan?
ASTM Subcommittee (E06.25) on Overall Performance of Buildings
is currently preparing a "Standard Practice for Rating the Performance
of a Facility." In this draft document, "historic preservation"
is a "specific consideration." The "performance attributes"
of historic preservation that were employed were derived from
sources including the Secretary of the Interior's Standards
and concepts developed in NPS-28.
It seems a great victory that we can define historic preservation
as "a specific consideration with definable performance attributes"
and place this material before the thousands of professionals
who will employ such a document.
Historic Structure Report
Subcommittee E06.24 on Building Preservation and Rehabilitation
Technology is proposing an ASTM Standard for a guide defining
the procedure for writing a "Historic Structure Report". This
document will include elements from NPS-28 and related documents
that define Historic Structure Reports, Historic Structure Preservation
Guides, and resources such as the special APT Bulletin
on Historic Structure Reports and Tony Crosby's recent Bulletin
article on "Preservation Maintenance in the Southwest.?
APT members, and architectural conservators in general, must
play a more active role in standards organizations, including
ASTM. We must not simply employ existing documents as resources,
but help develop standards that will bear directly on both technical
and professional aspects of our work. Otherwise, others will
define our standards of professional practice for us.
Standards of Professional Practice
The Association for Preservation Technology identifies itself
as "an association of preservationists, restoration architects,
furnishings consultants, museum curators, architectural educators,
archaeologist, craft workers, artisans, and others directly or
indirectly involved in preservation activities."
The six "Aims and Objectives of APT" make specific references
to "preservation technology" - that aspect of historic preservation
which is the domain of the architectural conservator. And yet
the subject of "Standards" is never mentioned. I suggest that
APT include, as an objective, the development of policies, codes
and standards. Those who are also members of AIC (American Institute
for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works) are already familiar
with the organization's "Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice."
Furthermore, APT should encourage the development of both technical,
professional, and educational standards through joint activities
with standards organizations (ASTM, ACI, ANSI) and professional
organizations, agencies, and institutes (AIA, ASME, NBS, NPS,
"Are architectural conservators worth their salt?" To be respected
professionals, We must fashion our own "salt shaker." We must
fashion our own professional standards, improve our educational
opportunities, and face the question of professional liability.
Let is raise our sights to include development and implementation
of policies, codes, and standards of practice before "sights"
are lowered by others and aimed at unarmed architectural conservators
poorly equipped to defend our professional territory.