Asked 25th Feb, 2016

What is the common problems that occur in the refurbishment project that involve the historical buildings?

now i'm doing my research about the refurbishment projects that involve a historical building. As we know that historical buildings have their own value which we should take note of, so may i know the common problems that usually happen during the project? 

Most recent answer

Fabio De Guglielmo
Università degli Studi di Salerno
The problems associated with the refurbishment of historical buildings are often linked to the scarce level of knowledge of these structures. Accurate historical, geometric, environmental and structural analyses and in-depth studies on material and construction characters are able to lay the basis for any refurbishment proposal. If you like, read my contributions, each one of which deepens an aspect that might be interesting to you (history, structural analysis, reuse, accessibility).
Best regards from Italy!

All Answers (9)

Sebastiaan Godts
Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA)
I believe one of the main issues is implementing modern living standards, such as electricity, heating, plumbing, ...and doing so without disrupting the buildings historical context and materials. Other issues often concern rising damp, salts and  the inherent properties of current building materials and their compatibility with historical ones, for example, the replacement of lime mortars with cement often causes more porous and softer materials to deteriorate over time. 
1 Recommendation
Oluwafemi Samson Balogun
University of Eastern Finland
Well, I have no idea on what you are asking but I think I am interested
Rizal Husin
Infrastructure University of Kuala Lumpur
Salam Zulhaida,
I cannot disagree with Mr Napoleon and Sebastiaan. I would like to share some of my experience in Malaysian context; [1] Value our heritage spirit among the stakeholders; very small number of our stakeholders realise about the importance of saving our heritage, we have lost quite a number of heritage building due to this (even some of them were gazetted buildings or within heritage zones),[2] Difficult and tedious jobs at the beginning of a project; missing documentation on historical building is so common, normally we (conservator) need to start by doing a measured drawing and historical research about the building and do a compilation of them (building surveyor + historian jobs in one), [3] Fixing any wrong construction treatment/ violation to the building; conservation is relatively new here and there were no proper enforcement so you will discover a lot of wrong treatments done on the buildings and this involve extra cost, [4] Unpredictable cost; if you want to do a proper conservation project you have to face this, as in item 3, the cost depends on the severity of the defects and the deeper you study the building, the more things that need to be fixed will be discovered, [5]Unpredictable project duration; if you discovered something believe to be significant, you need to make a report about it to the authoritative bodies (in Malaysia the JWN) and they have the right to freeze your project for further investigation and project duration might need to be prolonged. [6] Finding the right people to do the job; as explained by Mr Napoleon or what can be done is taking a very close look to the site activities day by day and this is tiring.  The job specification for example need to be tailored and not all consultation is willing to do this.
1 Recommendation
Nick Baker
University of Cambridge
In a cool climate, the biggest challenge is to thermally  insulate the envelope without  compromising the historic appearance. And related to this, is the problem of controlling moisture and water vapor within the structure. For timber-framed buildings, common in the UK, the timber structure is often visible both inside and outside; this limits the possibility for insulation to the infill panels, and even for this, historic material may have to be removed. Making these buildings air-tight, and free from cold bridges is also difficult for the same reason.
Masonry buildings which have been plastered (stucco) do allow external insulation to be placed on the outer surface and be re-plastered, provided the architectural details and decoration are replaced. Masonry buildings where the outer surface must be preserved - e.g. fair-faced brickwork or stone, offer only internal insulation as an option. This will need considerable care in replacing and re-positioning internal architectural details such as door and window framing and architraves, and or decorative plaster work.
Where bringing insulation standards up to current values is impractical or impossible, it may be better to consider how thermal comfort can be provided without full space heating. Local radiant sources can play an important part in this, actually being a more faithful reproduction of how the building was heated originally. It very much depends on the use to which the historic building is put.
Srdjan Milosevic
IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca
All previous commenters have a strong point, so I would like to add few considerations of my own.
Not every old building is of the historic importance (broadly taken, because this question deserves a further analysis), it is just an old building. Although it is not of the historic importance, it is, nevertheless, more or less a silent witness of the period in which it was built and of the period throughout which it exists. Usually there are different levels of protection, basically a list of what you can and cannot do with such building depending from the level of protection and ranging from only conservation of the original material to the allowance of the adaptive reuse (theoretical term describing the practice of assigning new function to an old building). Maybe the first step would be to find out this level of protection, usually in a local institution dedicated to the preservation and protection of (im)movable heritage. Depending on this you may go further and "attack" the problems within the building itself - insulation, plumbing, heating, rising damp, etc and also surrounding the building - lack of original material, lack of skilled workers, etc.
Additional problem is to find an architect/civil engineer and skillful workers with enough empathy towards old/historic buildings, willing to approach them in their own right and not to apply ready-made solutions (especially NOT concrete/reinforced concrete), but to design new solutions in accordance with the historical structure. Such person(s) have to be aware that "leaving their mark or their signature" on such building, definitely, is not the priority. If you manage to find them, you are one step closer to the safeguarding of historical buildings and their reuse.
And finally, not every old/historic buildings has positive connotations associated with it. Before any action you have to be aware of the broader public's opinion, even if this broader public is just few neighbors. Broader public has to be involved from day 1. They have to be explained the significance and values of such building, especially if it has negative connotations associated with it (remnants of totalitarian/authoritarian regime, colonial past, slave trade, gender inequality, etc) namely because they are usually unaware of them and they usually hold their positions firmly. They also have to be explained the benefits of its preservation, but also the negative sides of its disappearance from the neighborhood.
I hope this helped a bit.
2 Recommendations
Vladimir Ladinski
University American College Skopje
Good evening
Each country tend to have their own conservation philosphy which will guide and influence how one can approach a particular historic building in a given countries.  For example in some countries the empahsis is on ensuring the building to look as close as possible to how it may have looked originally regardless of what materials are used to achive this.  In other contries it is important to retain as much as possible of the original building fabric and that any restoration works are carried out using traditional materials and building technologies.
There are many problems that can arrise during refurbishment works to historic building, such us:
  • It is importnat to establish the significance of the various parts of the building.  If the intention is to preserve as much of the existing historic building for the future generations, it is important to focus the new works on the areas with lowest significance so that the most significant aspects of the building are retained in its original form for as long as possible.  Architectural historian and arcaheologist can provide significant contribution in this respect.
  • Traditional buildings tend to be based on the principals of a breathable construction unlike the modern methods.  Mixing traditional and modern methods in a single building without consideration of the implications may increase the speed of deterioration ad decay of the original building fabric.
  • Consideration shoud be made about the traditional methods of construction that may have used contaminated or materials that can be harmfool to ones health, e.g. older building tends to have lead paint which is toxic, etc.
  • As already mentioned there area always problems on how you fit modern services within an existing building without casuing a lasting damage, or how you 'upgrade' the existing buildings to the current standards.  Unfortunatelly this is not always possible.
  • A very important consideration to be made when working on a historic building, especially when it is being refurbished for a different use, for the works to be 'reversable' in a way to design and construct the things in such a way that the modern intervention can be removed without or with a minimal damage to the original building fabric (e.g., one can use a polythene damp proof membarne that can be removed in the future rather than using a liquid applied damp proof membarne that would have to be scapped out in the future and thus leaving a permanent damage to the existing fabric, or one would drill into the original stone and brick only in exceptional circumstances whilst fixing into the masonry joints, as it is always easier to fill repoint a koint in the mortar, than to repair a hole in a stone or brick).
1 Recommendation
João Pernão
University of Lisbon
The most important issue is BEFORE the action, or the project implementation: To produce a consistent THEORY OF VALUE concerning the existing building and its environment, natural or artificial. What to preserve and how, what do demolish to regain integrity and unity, and, maybe the more important, do discuss and define the right PROGRAM to the site.
1 Recommendation
Fabio De Guglielmo
Università degli Studi di Salerno
The problems associated with the refurbishment of historical buildings are often linked to the scarce level of knowledge of these structures. Accurate historical, geometric, environmental and structural analyses and in-depth studies on material and construction characters are able to lay the basis for any refurbishment proposal. If you like, read my contributions, each one of which deepens an aspect that might be interesting to you (history, structural analysis, reuse, accessibility).
Best regards from Italy!

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