Teaching > RWU HP301 Architectural Conservation > Assignments >

Architectural Conservation Assessment


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. An assessment typically includes a one-day site visit to inspect the house and its context and speak with property owners. This is followed by a couple days of site work, during which a multi-page, illustrated report is developed, along with a list of preservation resources, to provide an initial, inexpensive assessment that includes a description of how to proceed. 

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

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

An assessment of this nature does not include detailed physical anaylsis, historical research, cost estimates, structural evaluation, code assessment or investigation of potenital hazardous materials. While general preservation recommendations may be referenced, specific conservation problems may not 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 or a Preservation Plan is undertaken.

Select a specific historic structure (qualify its historic nature when you assess its significance) and undertake written and photographic documentation (employing 4"x6" color prints, mounted on Bristol board, or equal). Or consider a Powerpoint presentation. Provide the following:


  • Address the report to the Owner (or Agent, by title, of the organization)
  • Purpose
  1. Provide executive summary (one paragraph)
  2. Address the report to the Owner (or Agent, by title, of the organization)
  3. Purpose
  4. Terminology (definitions)
  5. Standards
  6. Define the scope of services for the project. See Scope of Professional Services.
  7. Note scope of work of project (reference this Architectural Conservation Assessment).
  8. Preservation standards (Conservation)
  9. Note dates that site visits were conducted, with whom (name, tiles, affitiation), and weather conditions ( or recent weather that may have affected the structure, site).
  10. Describe locations that were inspected durign site visits and areas that were excluded.
  11. List (as a bibliography) pertinent records, provided by the Owner or organization, that are referenbced on site and in the report. Include copies as an appendix, when appropriate.

Architectural Style and Written Description

Site-Specific Data

  1. Historical name (source of name)
  2. Date(s), source
  3. Builder/Architects, source
  4. Local/State survey (Rhode Island)
  5. Historic District Commission (contact information of commission chair) [Rhode Island HDC zoning]
  6. Plaqued (repository of title/deed search), date

Describe the architectural 'style(s)' of the structure. Note the distinction between "ideal" stylistic elements (the "high style") and "variations" (the "vernacular"). Make specific reference to literature that describes the style(s) and, where appropriate, site-specific examples of the style. American Architectural Syles.

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.
  • For examples of Natonal Register nomination, section 7, "Architeccturel Description," browse Pennsylvania SHPO database. Specific examples: simple James-Lorah House; detailed Summit Hill High School. To view NR format, see National Register Nomination Form #10900 (download from Nominations Forms). Or copy here.
  • Architectural Style(s)
  1. Ideal characteristics, references.
    1. Primary resources
    2. Secondary (contemporary) publications
    3. high style, regional examples
  2. Site-specific stylistic characteristics
    1. Primary references
    2. Other regional, local example
Significance (Significance)
Define and assess its significance, being specific about the architectural, historical, or broader cultural significance (structures must be in or "eligible for inclusion in" the National Register of Historic Places;
Assessment of the significance, with details about the:
  1. architectural,
  2. historical, and
  3. broader cultural significance,
  4. and whether the site/structure is listed in, or "eligible for inclusion in," the National Register of Historic Places.
  5. And integrity which is the ability of a property to convey its significance.

Identify character-defining features. See Preservation Brief 17: Architectural Character
Identifying the Visual Aspects of Historic Buildings as an Aid to Preserving Their Character
and Architectural Character Checklist/Questionnaire.

Existing Conditions

  1. Records (records management)
  2. Spaces (Notation)
    1. Zones
  3. System(s) (Notation)
    1. Element
    2. Feature
    3. Detail
  4. Architectural fragments
  5. Qualification
    1. Condition
    2. Priority

Physical Evolution

  1. When possible, date the important features, elements, and systems of the structure based on your understanding of architectural styles and building technology (develop a chronology or timeline if you can). Preservation Brief 17: Architectural Character: Identifying the Visual Aspects of Historic Buildings as an Aid to Preserving Their Character. PSNC: Architectural Character Checklist/Questionnaire
  2. Provide a synthesis of the architectural evolution of the structure, noting important features and periods in the evolution.
  3. 'Sketch' the plan for reference and other sketches of features and construction details;
  4. Provide prioritized recommendations as to what preservation treatments should be considered, Reference The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties; Treatment Terms.
  5. Note: In this assignment you are not expected to analyze specific conservation problems or develop detailed treatment recommendations.

Field Work

  1. Free-hand field sketches, labeled, of:
    1. floor plans (number rooms employing conventional architectural notation),
    2. elevations (optional),
    3. details (optional)
  2. Site photographs of exterior and interior, labeled.
  3. Recording of any architectural fragments obtained.


Include these materials in the final report:

  1. Carefully select ten (10) digital color images for Powerpoint, label/identify all photographs, present extra print and negatives in archival sleeves, and hand in with permission release. Scans should be 640x480 pixels, 72 dpi resolution.
  2. Include graphic material: prints, color laser copies, or photocopies of historical photographs and other images, as required for report and presentation;
  3. Provide photographic images on CD.
  4. Summarize your findings in a ten-page paper (no longer) with citations, site data, and credits. Define all preservation terms. Incldue bibliographic citations and links to pertinent resources.
  5. In an appendix, include all research and field notes, sketches, files, and other material. Do not re-write your notes but include original documents. Bind material together for presentation. Please do not use plastic sheets.
  6. Definitions (when possible, employing peer-reviewed publications) of technical terms.

Resources and References for Methodology and Standards

All work proposed shall confiorm to the Natioanl Park Service standards, particularlt the Secretary of the INterior's Standards. Refere to these documents, below, and others, as needed.

Heritage Preservation Services, National Park Service
  1. National Register of Historic Places
  2. Preservation Brief 17: Architectural Character
    Identifying the Visual Aspects of Historic Buildings as an Aid to Preserving Their Character
  3. Caring for your Historic Building: What You Can Do
  4. National Register Information System (NRIS), a computerized database that contains information on every property in the Register. [Database]