A Historic site or Heritage site is defined as an official location where political, military, cultural, or social history is preserved because of its historical or cultural value. Historic sites are usually protected by law, and the preservation or conservation of heritage sites can be served effectively only through legal recognition. Many historic or heritage sites worldwide have been recognized as national or world historic sites.
Heritage belongs to the society and plays an integral part in defining its identity. Therefore it is important that measures are taken to preserve or restore and conserve the identified historic or cultural heritage so that it can be passed on to the next generations as intact as possible. Preservation, Conservation and Restoration practices need to be employed especially for structures that are part of built heritage in order to protect them from deterioration and to preserve the appearance and possible functions of the buildings for as long as possible.
Although the terms ‘Preservation’, ‘Conservation’ and ‘Restoration’ are often used synonymously in everyday language these in fact have very different meanings and refer to three aspects of dealing with historical heritage.
‘Preservation’ is defined as ‘the act or process of applying measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property’, while ‘Restoration’ is defined as ‘the act or process of accurately depicting the form, features, and character of a space just as it appeared at the particular period of time that it belongs to by means of the removal of features from other periods in its history and reconstruction of missing features from the restoration period’.
‘Conservation’, in short, refers to sustaining a space, it is basically defined as ‘the act or process of making possible a compatible use for a property through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features which convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values’.
Threats faced by built heritage (or the heritage buildings)
Heritage buildings are immensely threatened by environmental factors, biological factors and human impacts. Excess moisture, intense solar radiation, wind, atmospheric pollutants, inhabitation by bats and insects cause deterioration of the buildings. The major effects of these factors include discoloration, abrasion, cracks, stains and fungal growth. Results of air pollution such as acid rains hasten the deterioration of heritage buildings tremendously.
Apart from exposure to weather and biological factors, vibrations, vandalism and urban developments also have detrimental effects on historical heritage buildings.
Importance of preservation and restoration of historical built heritage
Preserving and restoring old heritage buildings is important since they reflect the history of a segment of the society of which they are proud of. This history reveals and leads to the understanding and appreciation of generations lived in an early era with their unique traditions, culture, habits and technical knowledge. The knowledge reveals the uniqueness of that society and leads to cultivation of pride for the heritage and the past. This also paves the way to understand how the above mentioned qualities evolved to the current existing status. They also reflect the prosperity, economic status, conflicts and wars faced by that society and reminiscence of those today and in the future. Due to this wealth of information, preservation and restoration of built heritage is generally considered as a responsibility of the society.
Conservation of built heritage attracts experts and tourists who adores to appreciate the uniqueness of cultures, architecture and their inheritance. Booming tourism creates and increases the job opportunities for local inhabitants leading to community development and economic prosperity of the region. This in turn may lure/attract external investments and businesses which result in further development of the locality.
Overall it is observed that the presence of a built heritage have a very positive impact on the community. Moreover adaptive reuse of the heritage building also promote positive sustainable development of the community, attracting business and trade.
Conservation and restoration of heritage buildings
Conservation of a heritage asset is defined as the “The process of maintaining and managing change to a heritage asset in a way that sustains, and where appropriate, enhances its significance.” Or “The process of managing change to a significant place in its setting in ways that will best sustain its heritage values, while recognizing opportunities to reveal or reinforce those values for present and future generations.”
Comprehensive preservation, restoration techniques and conservation practices need to be employed carefully for built heritage structures to protect them from deterioration and preservation of the appearance. The original glory and the prevailing conditions of each nook and corner of the building must be studied and documented prior to the planning of the project. Before the operations and implementation of the project it is critical that those involved be skilled in the preservation and restoration work and have understood the history and the functions of the building and property to safeguard the existing material and architecture. Further if restoration and reuse is targeted, enhancement of the building in terms of the beneficial uses need to be carried out in accordance with the existing structure and architecture, preserving its original glory.
Restructuring Heritage buildings for new purposes – Adaptive reuse
Historic preservation is not just about congealing a place in time, and has two major approaches/ traditions to it; the Curatorial Tradition and the Urbanistic Tradition. The Curatorial approach deals with restoring buildings to specific periods, while the Urbanistic tradition of preservation seeks to preserve the whole place and life, while promoting economic vitality. Most historic buildings are capable of beneficial use, whether for their original purpose or for some other compatible use (1), such as to attract tourism. Thus, just as we reduce, reuse and recycle waste, so we can give buildings a new life when their use expires. This is what we call adaptive reuse: to give a disused building a new purpose in order to help prolong its lifespan, instead of outright demolition. Adaptive reuse helps preserve a building’s heritage features and ensures them for future generations.
A case study on Galle fort illustrates its adaptive restoration providing an outstanding example for urban ensemble of European architecture and Asian culture from 16th to 19th centuries.