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It has been most truly said that old buildings do not belong to us only; that they belonged to our forefathers and they will belong to our descendants unless we play them false.
They are not in any sense our property, to do as we like with them.
We are only trustees for those who come after us.

— William Morris, 1887

Standards and Guidelines for Treatment of Historic Properties
Information courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior has prepared Standards for the treatment of historic properties, providing us with sound criteria on the physical approach to fixing up and maintaining historic places. In addition, there are Guidelines that recommend how these Standards can be applied to a specific property when it comes to design and technical treatment.  Together these serve as a frame of reference when making decisions about changes to a historic property.

These Standards and Guidelines cover historic properties of all types, materials, sizes, construction types, and uses (both interior and exterior).  They can be applied to a property’s landscape features, environment, site, or other related new construction as well.

There are four specific, and interrelated approaches to the treatment of historic properties: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconstruction.  Each has its own set of Standards and Guidelines.  Below is a summary of the four definitions.

Preservation is the process of applying measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of a historic property. Work, including preliminary protection and stabilization, focuses upon ongoing maintenance and repair of historic materials and features rather than extensive replacement and new construction. Preservation requires retention of the greatest amount of historic fabric along with the building’s historic form.

Rehabilitation is the process of making possible a compatible use for a property through repair, alterations, and additions while preserving those portions or features that convey its historical, cultural, or architectural values. Rehabilitation Standards acknowledge the need to alter or add to a historic building to meet continuing or new uses while retaining its original character.

Restoration is the process of accurately depicting the form, features, and character of a property as it appeared at a particular period of time by removing features from other periods in its history and reconstructing missing features from the restoration period. Restoration Standards allow for depiction of a building at a particular time in its history by preserving materials, features, finishes, and spaces from its period of significance and removing those from other periods.

Reconstruction is the act 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. Reconstruction Standards establish a limited framework for recreating a vanished building primarily for interpretive purposes.

The Standards and Guidelines are intended to promote responsible preservation practices. They should be used to make essential decisions and to provide a consistent philosophical approach to the work. More detailed information and examples can be found on the website of The Secretary of the Interior, National Park Service.


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