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Architectural Conservation Assessment — Assignment (see Checkist, too)


An architectural conservation assessment is the first step a property owner may take to better understand the architectural style(s), significance, and evolution of their historical house — and how these, together with the owner's goals, can help develop long-term treatments for preservation.

Below, specific reference is made to resources of the Heritage Preservation Services, National Park Service. While there exist many others, this project is emphasizing th eapplication of 'peer-reviewed', established standards, practices and knowledge developed by the NPS as the principal federal entity that oversees and practices preservation.

An assessment typically includes an intitial site visit, with follow-up visits as needed, to:

  1. inspect and assess the condition of the property and
  2. speak with property owners, stewards to understand their stewardship practices, concerns, and capacity.

This is followed by off-site work, during which a multi-page, illustrated report is developed, along with a list of preservation resources, to provide an initial assessment that includes a description of how to proceed. 

Note: For this class, it is likely you will ideally visit the site at least two times to:

  1. undertake preliminary assessment
  2. after reviewing field notes, undertaking off-site research, and developing an outline of your report, field check your work, make additional investigation, field notes, photographs based on questions developed in advance of this site visit.
  3. develop a final draft of your assessment; if possible, return to the site to verify assessment findings with existing conditions, limitations of the site, and review with the owner.

An assessment of this nature does not include detailed physical anaylsis, historical research (National Register Bulletin 39, Researching a Historic Property), cost estimates, structural evaluation, code assessment or investigation of potenital hazardous materials. That does not mean you might not need to proposed such work.

While general preservation recommendations are referenced, specific conservation problems may not need to be evaluated, nor may detailed treatment recommendations be prepared. In-depth historical research, employing primary and secondary resources, is also beyond the scope of this assessment. Such work is typically addressed when a Historic Structure Report (The Preparation and Use of Historic Structure Reports, NPS Preservation Brief 43) or a Preservation Plan is undertaken.

Architectural Styles

Refer to American Architectural Styles for a brief listing of each major style, its dates, and its features.The development and evolution of architectural 'styles' — in general and relative to a specific building — is dependent on the following influences, and others:

  1. the availability of building materials,
  2. contemporary construction technology,
  3. monies available,
  4. the influence of architectural design, both 'vernacular' and 'high-style,' and — not the least —
  5. socio-cultural and spiritual mores.

The design, construction, and selection of materials for a particular 'style' directly influences the performance of a structure as a whole and, in turn, the diagnosis and conservation of its elements, in part and as a complex, interdependent system. As an architectural conservator you should be familiar with:

  1. The characteristics of each architectural style and the distinction between the 'ideal' stylistic elements (the 'high-style') and the 'as-built' variations (the 'vernacular') of a particular style or combination of varying stylistic elements.
  2. The use of structural and decorative features, production and construction techniques, and building materials as they help determine the date(s) and evolution of a structure.
  3. The manner in which the characteristics of construction techniques and architectural styles influence the performance of a building: the materials, the individual elements, the building systems, and its entirety.
  4. The uses (programs) of the structure, over time. An assessment of the contemporary uses, their compatibility to the building (and vice versa), and recommendations to meet future, changing program needs

The purpose of this assignment is to help you develop an understanding of the interrelationship of architectural styles, construction techniques, building materials, design and detail features, uses and user needs, and conservation. The way in which you understand them will help you develop analytical and diagnostic skills when examining historic structures, developing preservation strategies, and treatments.

Components of an Architectural Conservation Assessment

An architectural conservation assessment includes the following:

Architectural Style and Written Description

A description of the architectural style (or styles, for even a building's original design may include several styles, making it a "hybrid" or "eclectic") of the structure, including the distinction between:

  • "Ideal" stylistic elements (high style; monumental; polite) and:
  • "Variations" (vernacular) with reference to literature that describes the style(s) and;
  • Where appropriate, other examples.
  • Write a brief architectural description of the structure. You do not have to undertake a description to the extent found in National Regiater (NR) nominations, seen below. But a NR nomination of the property may be available (in whcih case use them, with reference) or similar propeties. For an example of the NR format, see National Register Nomination Form #10900 (download from Nominations Forms). For examples of NR nomination, section 7, "Architectural Description," browse Pennsylvania SHPO database. Specific examples: simple James-Lorah House (PDF file, page 2); detailed Summit Hill High School (PDF file, page 7).

Preparation for Site Work


Brief assessment of the significance (NR Bullettin 15, How to Apply the NAtional Register Criteria for Evaluation, part VI, How to Identify the Type of Significance of a Property, NPS), with details about the:

Physical Evolution

A chronicle of the physical evolution of the structure by inspecting the visual character and noting important features and periods and dating important elements and systems of the structure — based on an understanding of:

  • architectural style(s) and
  • building technology
  • historical reserch, if already conducted


Graphics are carefully included to augment written narrative and include:

  • photographs of the exterior (site context, elevations and details) and interior (rooms, elevations, details)
  • drawings, including a 'sketch' of the floor plan and other features and construction details.


Prioritized recommendations, (using preservation terminology) includes specific standards for treatment (with an emphasis on conservation).


Resources and References for Methodology and Standards

Conservation Assessment Program (CAP), Heritage Preservation