What is building restoration?

During historic restoration, buildings are restored with the aim of preserving their original character.

Building restoration is a process in the construction industry where a building of historic value is restored to the appearance of its original quality. Meticulous attention to detail is given to the use of original building materials in most building restorations. Construction techniques and knowledge of the building’s previous construction are also used to maintain its value as part of the local cultural heritage. To make the restoration as authentic as possible, researchers and historians familiar with the building are consulted by contractors and architects to ensure that the work undertaken genuinely mirrors the parameters of the original design.

The practice of building conservation is often sponsored by national governments that have an interest in preserving the historic culture of their people. This lends itself to tax breaks and government funding for the restoration process, which encourages architectural and construction contractors to get involved in the area. However, grants and loans to further the process are often insufficient, as the historic restoration of a building is often of no commercial value to a company that does not have the right to sell the property once the restoration is complete. Matching funds are therefore often sought through fundraising campaigns in the local community who have a personal interest in seeing the building restored.

Structures that are targeted for conservation-restoration are usually at least 50 years old, and are representative of an architectural era of remarkable historical significance, such as a Tudor or Victorian design from the 15th and 19th centuries in England. In the United States, restoration is given special significance if a historical figure lived in or frequented a building for some reason. This is usually documented in historical records and such buildings, regardless of their current physical state, may be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some nations have also established branches of government to handle the restoration and preservation of historic buildings, such as the Center for Historic Buildings in the United States, which operates under the guidance of the General Services Administration (GSA).

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The building restoration process can generally be divided into four different categories, which help to describe the intensity of the process from one location to another. A historic building is preserved, rehabilitated, restored or reconstructed. Preservation is probably the least labor-intensive of the four processes, as it involves an attempt to prevent the physical deterioration of the building, without removing the natural effects of aging that have given it an additional sense of character. New materials are not added to the building, it is not repainted and efforts are made simply to ensure it lasts longer than originally designed. This can include protecting it from natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and fires in discreet ways that do not alter its basic appearance.

The three Rs of building restoration – rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction – are all more labor intensive, but still distinct from one another. The rehabilitation allows the alteration of the basic structure with current building materials so that it can continue to be useful for modern purposes. Every attempt is made, however, to preserve the building’s original appearance. Restoration is the pure process of keeping a building in its original form with only original materials to do so, and may involve removing modern materials from the building that were previously added to reinforce it. Rebuilding involves repairing buildings that have collapsed or been damaged by storms and allows for new building materials as long as they resemble the originals used to build the structure.

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