Treatments > Architectural Conservation Assessment > The Process of Architectural Investigation >

Investigators and Investigative Skills

• Architectural Styles • Building Technology

An investigator must have the skill and ability to observe and analyze materials... with a broad understanding of historic construction practices and technologies.

General and Specialized Skills

The essential skill needed for any level of investigation is the ability to observe closely and to analyze. These qualities are ideally combined with a hands-on familiarity of historic buildings-and an open mind! Next, whether acquired in a university or in a practical setting, an investigator should have a good general knowledge of history, building design history and, most important, understand both construction and finish technologies.

But it is not enough to know architectural style and building technology from a national viewpoint; the investigator needs to understand regional and local differences as well.

While investigative skills are transferable between regions and chronological periods, investigators must be familiar with the peculiarities of any given building type and geographical area.

Architectural survey and comparative fieldwork provides a crucial database for studying regional variations in historic buildings. For example, construction practices can reflect shared experiences of widely diverse backgrounds and traditions within a small geographical area. Contemporary construction practice in an urban area might vary dramatically from that of rural areas in the same region. Neighbors or builders within the same small geographical area often practice different techniques of constructing similar types of structures contemporaneously. Reliable dating clues for a certain brick bond used in one state might be unreliable for the same period in a different state. Regional variation holds true for building materials as well as construction.

Finally, even beyond regional and local variation, an investigator needs to understand that each building has its own unique history of construction and change over time. Form, features, materials and detailing often varied according to the tastes and finances of both builder and supplier; construction quality and design were also inconsistent, as they are today