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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 Technology, pp.3-5

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 professional standing.

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.

Academic Training

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?

Continuing Education?

Fortunately, there are educational opportunities for university graduates who wish to remedy deficiencies in their professional training.

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.?

Other Courses.
Schools, universities, and associations, and agencies have also provided short courses, or in APT's case, pre-conference training courses.

Professional Liability?

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.

Technical Standards?

APT is entering its twentieth year of providing technical information to the profession. But does the information constitute technical standards?

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.

Masonry Coatings

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 buildings.

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.

Building Performance

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, NCPE, GCI).

"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.