Any effective area conservation programme requires a comprehensive inventory of significant sites, structures, spaces, routes, vistas and features, and their character-defining attributes. It must also document dynamic factors : use and activity, the strength and value of links and relations between various units, and economic and social values. The resulting inventory can focus attention on key strengths, priority needs, potential for improvement and also provide a base for evaluating the impact of proposed development options. The utility of the conservation data-base is a function of the quality of research, its completeness and its accessibility to those who could benefit from its use.

All inventories begin with research focused on individual units within the field of study. Many disciplines may contribute to the site conservation research process, but normally these would include history, archaeology and architecture.

The effectiveness of the documentation programmes depends on the quality of research undertaken. In turn, effective research requires the establishment of clear goals. Indeed, to ensure effective and integrated results from the efforts of individuals on a multi-disciplinary team, projects should begin with a clear definition of research purpose and scope by the conservation team leader. Without this definition, research efforts will be unfocused, will likely overlap to an unacceptable degree, will provide only a random sampling of data available, and when put to the test, will likely fail to answer important questions.



One of the most important early steps in any conservation project is the preparation of an as-found record. This work is usually the province of the architect, working in conjunction with engineers and/or engineering/architectural technologists.

Whatever vicissitudes the passage of time may bring to a site, a complete and accurate heritage record permits the survival of site meaning forever, on at least one level. The preparation of as-found drawings before World War II of structures in the old town of Warsaw in Poland permitted their public importance to again find three dimensional expression during post-war reconstruction of the historic centre.

More frequently, heritage recording is used for more prosaic, though not less valuable tasks. It can provide a check on the accuracy of original construction drawings; it can provide a base from which new repair drawings may be developed; it can provide not only design information, but evidence of deformation or changes within a structure; and the process of developing the detailed record itself is an excellent means of developing first-hand understanding of a site's internal relationships and idiosyncrasies.

Heritage recording may be carried out to many levels of detail and information and may employ a broad range of techniques. The determination of appropriate levels and methodologies requires a clear understanding of recording needs within the agency or individual authorizing the work. Though a great many new recording techniques and tools are now available, ranging from aerial remote-sensing, to computerized three-dimensional digital plotting, to stereo photogrammetry, it is important that the technologically most advanced techniques be employed only to gain necessary and well-defined benefits.

In many instances, the traditional plumb-bob, chalk and line and clipboard will be sufficient to provide desired accuracy and completeness. As with other research tools, though the recording activity may initially be focused on individual sites, it is important to develop means to consolidate the results. The preparation of streetscape drawings, three-dimensional orthogonal projections or scaled models are very successful in assisting in understanding the complex morphology of historic towns.



The historian is usually invited to begin the research process. His or her efforts, directed to interpretation of the documentary evidence of construction and life within a site, do not impair the integrity of the resource itself, (where, for example, archaeology might). As a result, other research disciplines usually prefer to await completion of documentary research before beginning their own efforts. Their efforts, as with all research disciplines, are most fruitful when directed to clearly established questions or needs.

Within the research framework, the historian's efforts should also provide a basis for follow-up : What questions remain unanswered? What hypotheses require testing? The involvement of historians may continue on an episodic basis, as new information - or lack thereof - gives new focus to research inquiry.

The historian's work may be complemented by that of architectural historians concerned primarily with placing a building's stylistic expression and technological development in a larger context. Their analysis identifies those elements which play key roles in the defintion of a site's heritage character. Equally important are on-site architectural investigators whose judgements in carrying out "above-ground archaeology" may complement and confirm the documentary record.

The primary focus however of most on-site architectural work is understanding the physical health and stability of a structure through inspection, testing and analysis. These observations may play a crucial role in determining repair priorities and strategies. Again, as with the other strands of the research process, while it is important to establish understanding for individual units in the ensemble, it is essential to see that these observations are brought together and the patterns of use, activity and change fully explored.



Archaeology derives cultural understanding from the analysis of below-ground deposits of cultural material. Because it destroys the material it studies (in excavation) and therefore, unlike the historian's work, can not be re-done, archaeologists ply their trade in a very professionally cautious manner. Their innate caution is reinforced by the rapid advances being made in the scientific analysis of finds. What was discarded only ten years ago may now yield a great deal of information. The corollary is obvious: the longer material remains in the ground, the more understanding the future is likely to bring to it.

Within well-constructed research plans, thorough historic analysis and careful surveys of archaeological potential should permit the archaeologist to limit his excavation to the smallest sample of test sites consistent with unanswered research questions.

Salvage operations (where, for example, the need to repair foundations will result in the removal of all adjacent soil) would normally require the removal of archaeological material within a zone of disturbance. Archaeological research is not an inexpensive endeavour. Provision must be made in research budgets for the analysis and conservation of finds. It is the professional responsibility of archaeologists to record and analyze the nature and provenience of all finds, to provide the best possible field conservation of artefacts, and to ensure stable and accessible long-term storage conditions. This may require 2-4 times the time and budget required for excavation itself.

In the last decade, the potential of archaeology to interest the urban public directly in the substance and message of their past has caught the imagination of local preservation groups and agencies. Many cities have initiated high-profile projects, anticipating development of selected sites and capitalizing both on the capacity of a developer to pay for the research as part of site development costs, and public interest in volunteering to assist with excavation on highly visible, threatened sites.

Those almost ad hoc responses to development pressures have inspired public archaeology programmes focused on long-term research strategies in many world heritage cities. In contemplating sites which may merit exploration, respect should be accorded to the professional responsibilities of archaeologists. Their duty is not the compulsory excavation of potentially interesting sites - rather the reverse, to use minimal excavation to answer significant research questions.



Once research efforts, at whatever level of intensity or investigation, are complete, our improved understanding of a site will allow us to evaluate its significance. Significance, of course, may lie in a range of areas, from architectural design to historic associations, to the contextual rapport enjoyed by a particular site.

While research and evaluation is best carried out by those trained for the task, evaluation, to be effective, usually requires consensus within a community concerning the values in question. Using a process to establish consensus provides the best guarantee of public acceptance of the results, and long-term credibility of the exercise. In historic towns and urban quarters, the significance of individual sites, taken in isolation, may be enhanced - or diminished - by the nature of its relationship to the group.

The ensemble, in turn, may derive value from the relationship of its structures to its spaces - be they streets or topographical features. Once significance has been established, it is important that evaluation clearly note the physical elements in which such significance may lie, so that those planning future action are given explicit design guidance. As indicated at the beginning , the building or site research report is a basic building block in an inventory of a community's "heritage resources" or "assets".

Plotting the results of individual evaluations built on such reports will indicate patterns of significant and not-so- significant elements, and assist in tailoring strategies to respect these patterns. Evaluation should be understood as an open-ended process. New information, new disclosures are regularly made in all communities; perceptions of worth change as our distance from past needs and circumstances alters.

The patterns resulting from individual research and evaluation projects should be subject to reinterpretation on a regular basis. And as with everything in conservation - the rule of caution should apply : when doubt exists regarding value, one should intervene only as necessary to improve health or stability; tomorrow's communities may see value in areas we cannot.