Prevention vs. treatment? Part I

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It is my pleasure to introduce the first contribution of the new member of our author community Architect Laura Rosales, with the publication of the first issue of her two-section article. I got in contact with Laura through the recently established Fb and Linkedin groups Architetti specialisti in Beni architettonici e del Paesaggio, Laura Rosales is a conservation architect specialized in architectural restoration and conservation of monuments and sites. During her more than ten years professional experience she established working collaborations with architecture firms in Belgium, Italy and Argentina. At the moment, Laura lives in Italy and works as independent architect on international projects of listed buildings.

Prevention vs. treatment? The central role of programmed maintenance in cultural heritage management (Part I)

Don’t we feel pitiful and overwhelmed when we witness the miserable condition of a shored up, run-down historical building abandoned to its own destiny in the wait of miraculous intervention?Actually, shouldn’t we rather ask how such situations can be prevented?

In this short article, I would like to share my personal field experience about the strategy of programmed maintenance of cultural heritage, and briefly explain its undoubted benefits and advantages, highlighting the goals of this approach in the practice of the long-term management of historical buildings.

As an example, I will discuss the conservation project of the “Old Cemetery of the city of Hasselt” – Stedelijk Kerkhof Hasselt – in the Flemish region of Belgium, which I personally followed as a collaborator of the architecture office Erik Martens & Partners (Maaseik, Belgium). In this first part of my contribution I will present the critical, at times “irreversible” condition that may follow the lack of regular care.

The relevance and usefulness of programmed maintenance will be discussed in detail in the next part of the article, where I will particularly stress its use as a preventive strategy, especially when this approach is embedded in a regulatory framework with specific norms that foster its implementation.

Let’s start by properly defining "programmed maintenance". This approach truly embodies the idea of continuous care and constitutes an extension of the restoration works in the long-term. The scheduled maintenance, which begins at the end of the restoration works, plays a crucial role in the control and safeguard of the achieved improvements over time. By means of a constant and systematic monitoring of the monument, one can in fact prevent the quick thwarting of a successful restoration, thus abolishing the need to perform sudden invasive interventions, usually highly demanding in terms of costs.

Indeed, a maintenance plan is a very effective preventive management tool, affording a long-term view and comprehensive understanding of a building’s condition. A number of benefits are undoubtedly connected with this strategy, primarily financial. Overall, significant savings can be made following the implementation of a maintenance plan, as a direct consequence of the rationalization of expenses, since these can be distributed over long periods of time according to the planned activities to keep a building in a “healthy” condition.

A Belgian story: the old cemetery of Hasselt

In this short article I will introduce a case-study that particularly struck my attention: The “Old Cemetery of Hasselt”, a national listed building. Indeed, part of its boundary walls stood in very critical condition. One part of the structures was shored up to prevent its collapse. An urgent conservative intervention was required. The restoration works interested the memorial of the Belgian soldiers fallen during the First World War, which was erected in 1929 and constructed in exposed brickwork, blue stone and Belgian “moulon” stone. The works also involved a portion of the older exposed brickwork surrounding the cemetery, built in 1807.

At the time of the first site inspection, parts of the boundary walls of the cemetery stood in a condition of advanced decay due to the lack of regular maintenance. A series of earlier restoration works, that proved not to be compatible with the existing old structures, in combination with the uncontrolled growth of spontaneous vegetation, significantly accelerated the deterioration process of the masonry, putting at risk the outer pedestrian transit and the access of visitors to part of the site.

The invasive growth of roots inside the masonry created fractures within the boundary walls and caused the detachment of several portions of the brickwork, rendering it extremely frail and at severe risk of fall. This situation made the structure more subjected to rainwater infiltration, a condition further exacerbated by the damaged wall coping.   

It may sound obvious or naïve but a simple preventive activity, such as the regular pruning of weeds and bushes, would have significantly attenuated the damage and helped to prevent the “irreversible loss” of historical material.

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Don't miss Part II stay tuned…

2 pensieri riguardo “Prevention vs. treatment? Part I

  • 30 Marzo 2020 in 2:45 PM

    Laura congratulations!

    Really continuous small conservation acts can keep our heritage in good conditions and avoid a restauration action that is always very expensive and implies some loss of authentic elements.

    Wish you the best and wait for the next article!



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