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The Role of Analysis in the Conservation Process

Architectural Conservation Technology, Volume III, Historic Site Analysis, Heritage Conservation Program, Architectural and Engineering Service, Public Works Canada for Environment Canada; Canadian Heritage, Parks Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. Listed under Canadian Heritage; not available on the Internet.

2.0 The Role of Analysis in the Conservation Process, 2.1 Definition.

In general, analysis ascertains and examines a feature's essential components, characteristics and methods of assembly. It may also describe the results of such investigations by providing an overview of the subject and a summary of important findings. More specifically, it involves critical examination to elicit essential information or evidence of past and present conditions as a prerequisite for protection, site development and commemoration.

By definition, historic site analysis includes:

  1. identifying historic designs, materials, finishes, assemblies and structural systems;
  2. discovering the condition of existing materials and structural systems and the causes of defects;
  3. finding evidence in the fabric and finishes of the original form and subsequent alterations;
  4. uncovering physical evidence of past function;
  5. noting any unusual or interesting use of design, materials and structure
  6. identifying existing landscape features and plant materials;
  7. uncovering evidence of original planting and landscape
  8. discovering conditions and causes of defects of landscape features;
  9. identifying environmental factors that affect conservation proposals; and
  10. noting other considerations that might affect protection, development of commemoration....

4.0 Levels of Analysis

The concept of levels of thoroughness for analysis is introduced to help differentiate the degrees of detail that can be provided during physical investigations. Four levels have been established for use in the Department when preparing physical investigations of historic buildings, works, and lands. They are:

  1. Level "D" — a cursory analysis
  2. Level "C" — a preliminary or partial analysis;
  3. Level "B" — a general analysis; and
  4. Level "A" — an exhaustive analysis.

These four levels are meant to clarify the implied degree of thoroughness and to facilitate project planning.

The four levels are not rigid; in practice they can overlap. Further, although analysis is usually conducted during the initial stages of a project, it can be carried out through the design, implementation and maintenance stages as well.


Architectural Style

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:

  1. "ideal" stylistic elements (high style; monumental; polite) and:
  2. "variations" (vernacular) with reference to literature that describes the style(s) and;
  3. where appropriate, other examples.


Assessment of the significance, with details about the:

  1. architectural,
  2. historical, and
  3. broader cultural significance

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:

  1. architectural style(s) and
  2. building technology.

Physical Condition

Includes a detailed, visual inspection of the:

  1. systems, features and elements and their
  2. condition (good, fair, poor) and the
  3. priority of proposed work


Graphics are carefully included to augment written narrative and include:

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


"Surveys are the best way to determine preservation needs and thus become the basis of the preservation program. There are two survey methodologies: quantitative and qualitative. A quantitative survey consists of statistical and random sampling, to determine the extent of acidic paper or deteriorated film in a collection. These "condition surveys" generate important data and provide evidence of patterns of deterioration from inherent vice. Gathering data on temperature and humidity through a monitoring program is another example of a quantitative survey.

Broader qualitative studies are more common, and in many cases more helpful to cultural institutions. Such surveys generally focus on activities intended to prevent damage. For example, a qualitative survey might evaluate:

  1. collections management issues (e.g., acquisition, intellectual control, and use of the collection; staffing; policies and procedures, etc.)
  2. the building and environment (structure, temperature, relative humidity, light, pollution)
  3. emergency management (fire, water, security, pests, the existence of a plan and training)
  4. storage and handling
  5. exhibition practices
  6. reformatting
  7. general conservation treatment needs

This type of survey identifies risks to the long-term survival of collections and provides options for improving conditions. Such surveys are called "general preservation planning surveys."

Once identified, preservation needs must be critically considered and presented in a clearly organized written report that prioritizes recommended actions. This report will be a starting point for preservation planning.

Surveying, Lesson 8: Preservation Planning, Preservation 101: An Internet Course on Paper Preservation, Northeast Document Conservation Center.

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