Out of the Mouths of Preservationists: Common Preservation Terms Explained


One of the most common barriers between preservationists and those who do not define themselves as preservationists, is the language we building-huggers use.  So here are some common preservation terms defined:

[sws_toggle1 title=”Historic Context”]Historic Context is a unit created for planning purposes that groups information about historic properties based on a shared theme, specific time period and geographical area.

From the Secretary of the Interior’s “Standards and Guidelines”[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Historic Integrity”]Historic Integrity the authenticity of a property’s historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during its historic or prehistoric period; the extent to which a property retains its historic appearance.

From the Architectural Heritage Centers “Preservation Glossary”[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Historic District”]Historic Districts are local or national geographically definable areas, urban or rural, possessing a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, landscapes, structures, or objects, united by past events or aesthetically by plan or physical developments. A district may also be composed of individual elements separated geographically but linked by association or history. (See the National Register Bulletin 15 for more information.)

From the Architectural Heritage Centers “Preservation Glossary”[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Architecturally and/or Historically Significant, aka Cultural Resource”]Includes, but is not limited to, any building, area, place, record or manuscript, site, structure, street furniture, monuments, object, district, or landscape evaluated as historically or archaeologically significant, or is significant in architectural, engineering, scientific, economic, agricultural, educational, social, political, military, or cultural annals of local towns, specific states, or the nation.

From the San Francisco Preservation Bulletin #17[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Conservation District”]Conservation District. Conservation Districts are areas that contain substantial concentrations of buildings that together create sub areas of special architectural and aesthetic importance.

From the San Francisco Preservation Bulletin #17[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”National Register of Historic Places”]National Register of Historic Places: The official roster of the nation’s historic properties, sites, districts, structures, objects, and landmarks.

From the Smithsonian Directive #418[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Preservation”]Preservation is the act or process of applying measures to sustain the existing form, integrity, an material of a historic structure, landscape or object. Work generally focuses upon the ongoing preservation maintenance and repair of historic materials and features, rather than extensive replacement and new work.

From the Architectural Heritage Centers “Preservation Glossary”[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Reconstructing”]Reconstruction is defined as the act or process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location.

From the Secretary of the Interior’s “Standards and Guidelines”[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Rehabilitation”]Rehabilitation is the process of returning a property to a state of utility, through repair or alteration, and makes possible an efficient contemporary use while preserving those portions and features of the property which are significant to its historic, architectural and cultural values.

From the Smithsonian Directive #418[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Restoration”]Restoration is returning a site to its original form and condition as represented by a specified period of time using materials that are as similar as possible to the original ones.

From Preservation Nation’s “10 on Tuesday” Blog Post on 9/11/12[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Standards and Guidelines”]The Depart of the Interior’s “Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring, and Reconstructing Historic Buildings”. The Standards are neither technical nor prescriptive, but are intended to promote responsible preservation practices that help protect our Nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources. For example, they cannot, in and of themselves, be used to make essential decisions about which features of the historic building should be saved and which can be changed. But once a treatment is selected, the Standards provide philosophical consistency to the work.

From the Secretary of the Interior’s “Standards and Guidelines”[/sws_toggle1]

[sws_toggle1 title=”Section 106″]Refers to Section l06 of the National Historic Preservation Act of l966, which requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their proposed activities on properties included, or eligible for inclusion, in the National Register of Historic Places.

From the Architectural Heritage Centers “Preservation Glossary”[/sws_toggle1]


An interesting end note: the term “historic preservation” is unique to the U.S. and is a relatively new term – it originated in the 1960’s in response to an urban renewal planning movement that would eventually fail.  Other English-speaking countries use different terms like “architectural conservation”, “built environment conservation”, “built heritage conservation” and “immovable object conservation”. 


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Conversation Starters:

What other preservation terms do you find confusing?
Are you still unsure of what the terms defined above mean?
What is the preservation term that endears itself the most to you?
How do you clarify confusing preservation terms?
What is the most commonly misunderstood preservation term you run into?

Let us know in the comments below….