THIS IS A RE-POST OF A BLOG WE ORIGINALLY POSTED SEPTEMBER 2012:
*Updates have been made throughout this piece, including additional terms and new links for sources of those definitions.
PRESERVATION TERMINOLOGY: It’s one of the most common barriers between preservationists and those who do not define themselves as preservationists. It is the language we “building-huggers” use. Below, we share a GLOSSARY of some common preservation terms and their basic definitions, as well as real-life examples.
Adaptive Reuse. “The conversion of a building to a use other than that for which it was originally designed, optimally, respecting the historic features of the building” (Source). This definition speaks for itself.
- Examples: Find a discussion of benefits of adaptive reuse here, as well as a podcast about a local adaptive reuse project here.
Conservation District. Somewhat different from a Historic District, “Neighborhood Conservation districts are areas located in residential neighborhoods with a distinct physical character. Although these neighborhoods tend not to merit designation as a historic district, they warrant special land-use attention due to their distinctive character and importance as viable, contributing areas to the community at large” (Source). These essentially focus on preserving community character vs. historic fabric.
- Example: Queen Village in Philadelphia is a designated neighborhood conservation district.
Cultural Landscape. “A geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife or domestic animals therein, associated with a historic event, activity, or person, or exhibiting other cultural or aesthetic values” (Source). Simply, it’s a historically significant location evidencing human interaction with the physical environment.
- Example: Regionally, Valley Forge is a cultural landscape.
Easement. “Legal protection (recorded in a property deed) for distinguishing features of the interior or exterior of a property or in the space surrounding a property because such features are deemed important to be preserved. For example, a new property owner may be prevented from making changes or additions to a building, structure, or landscape by an easement in the property deed itself. These are sometimes specified as preservation easements or conservation easements” (Source). Essentially, a property owner makes a voluntary, legal, agreement to permanently protect a historic property.
- Examples: Our previous post includes a discussion of easements and how you can establish one. There are several benefits and incentives to easements, here.
Historic(al) Context. This is “a unit created for planning purposes that groups information about historic properties based on a shared theme, specific time period and geographical area” (Source). Whether buildings, monuments, or other objects or spaces, this refers to the circumstances surrounding the item of focus during its time of historical significance or creation.
- Examples: Historical context is a major point of focus in some of our recent articles, here and here. Current events surrounding monuments to Confederates or other people known for enslaving people also warrant discussion of historical context.
Historic District. Related to, but not the same as a Neighborhood Conservation District (see above), “A geographically definable area that possess a significant concentration of buildings or sites that have been united architecturally or historically. Individual buildings in a district need not be individual historic landmarks; they can derive their significance in association with the district. A district occasionally also comprises individual elements separated geographically but thematically linked by association or history” (Source). In other words, this is an area where older buildings are considered significant or valuable for architectural or historical reasons.
- Example: There are a number of historic districts here in Lancaster, PA.
Historic Fabric. “The physical material of a building, structure, or city that is historic” (Source). Not literally referring to fabric/textiles (although it could!), fabric in this case is just the original physical materials making up a historic structure.
- Example: The historic fabric of a property is what makes it relevant to preservationists and lovers of history – check out our archives.
Historic(al) Integrity. This is “the authenticity of a property’s historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property’s historic or prehistoric period” (Source). Preservation is more than saving a building – even if a building remains standing, it may not have the same meaning if the most important parts of the historic fabric are gone, aka it loses its historic integrity.
- Examples: There are potential consequences to lost historic integrity, as noted here. The National Park Service discusses this in greater detail here, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation discusses the importance of this aspect for seeking National Register Status, here.
Historical Significance. “Having particularly important associations within the contexts of architecture, history, and culture” (Source). This may refer to a building’s or other object’s direct association with historically significant or important people, events, or information, or even something that affords historically significant information.
- Examples: The National Register discusses more details about historical significance here. The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides clarity and suggestions for interpreting and determining historical significance for those seeking National Register Designation here and here.
National Register of Historic Places. “The comprehensive list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects of national, regional, state, and local significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture kept by the National Park Service under authority of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966” (Source). It is the official list of historic places and objects deemed worthy of preservation.
- Examples: You can find a list of locations in Pennsylvania on the list here. The National Trust provides information on how to apply for this status, here.
Period of Significance. “The span of time in which a property attained the significance for which it meets the National Register criteria” (Source). Historical properties may witness or survive many potentially significant events, but generally one specific time or event determines the property’s significance and eligibility for the National Register.
- Example: The Eisenhower National Historic Site in Gettysburg, PA represents a property made eligible for the National Register due to the significance of a later period in its existence; namely, only once it was purchased by President Eisenhower.
Preservation. “Focuses on the maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and the retention of a property’s features that have achieved historic significance” (Source). Preserving something means protecting and maintaining the historic features as close to the original as possible – this is the heart of what we do!
- Example: The National Park Service discusses preservation in detail here.
Reconstruction. “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” (Source). Sometimes missing or damaged-beyond-repair aspects of a historic property need to be totally reconstructed using the same methods and materials to get as close to the original as possible.
- Example: Pennsbury Manor outside of Philadelphia is a well-known example of a complete reconstruction.
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” (Source). This process basically makes something useful for contemporary use or living while retaining or protecting the most important historical aspects” (Source). This is basically the same thing as adaptive reuse (see above), although, unlike adaptive reuse, rehabilitation may include projects that are more likely to use properties for the same (or similar) tasks as the original use.
- Examples: This silk mill is still being used for production, but with a new product.
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” (Source). Closely related to Reconstruction because Restoration sometimes involves reconstruction methods, but with the added specification of restoring a property to a particular time (which may involve removing evidence of other periods).
- Example: Here’s a complete restoration project we were involved in.
Section 106. “The Section 106 review process is an integral component of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966. Section 106 of the NHPA requires that each federal agency identify and assess the effects its actions may have on historic buildings. Under Section 106, each federal agency must consider public views and concerns about historic preservation issues when making final project decisions” (Source). This applies only to agencies affiliated with the federal government (who are proposing projects that may impact historic properties), but as a member of the public, it allows your involvement to voice concerns and ask questions.
- Examples: The National Park Service and the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation go into more detail here and here. More information for the layman is available here from The National Trust.
SHPO. “State Historic Preservation Officer –an official within each state appointed by the
governor to administer the state historic preservation program and carry out certain
responsibilities relating to federal undertakings within the state” (Source). You may hear this acronym pronounced to sound like “Shippo” – it may refer to the Officer or the Office in each state for historic preservation.
- Example: Here is a guide as to what State Historic Preservation Officers do, and here is the link to the SHPO (office) for Pennsylvania.
Standards and Guidelines. “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” (Source). The standards (Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction) are what the Secretary of the Interior and the National Park Service recommend, to hopefully homogenize treatment of historical properties and sites nationally. The guidelines (here) provide more detailed information on execution of the standards.
- Example: The National Trust provides more information on how to interpret these.
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”.
Tell us your thoughts…
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…