Our past, its future: the built environment in a changing world

Posted on August 26, 2015


Another video recorded session from the CIfA conference:

Our past, its future: the built environment in a changing world
Organiser(s): Ed James, Beacon Planning Ltd and Cath Poucher, Historic England

English Heritage’s NHPP 2011-2015 and Key Messages Report (2013) identify a suite of environmental and related threats to our built heritage. The obvious implications of climate change mean a balance is needed to be struck between the imperative to be sustainable, and the need to conserve heritage significance. Is this balance right? Are existing conservation principles, based on C19 thinking, still appropriate in the context of increasing environmental pressures, or do they need re-considering? Is preservation-in-situ still viable for the most vulnerable sites?
The topic is broad, encompassing issues like the impact of the installation of new forms of insulation, heating, and other energy efficiency measures in traditional buildings, the impact of water management legislation on river and canal-side heritage such as fish weirs, and the impact of rising sea levels.
Our session aims to address these themes and, crucially, think about the future role of buildings archaeologists and CIfA within the wider professional and academic sectors in this context. What do our clients think they want from our expertise, and what do they actually need? What is appropriate in the context of the NPPF, and what exemplar case studies are there which illustrate the benefits of buildings archaeology?

The what, where, and so what of major environmental threats
Neil Redfern, Historic England

As an introduction to the session this paper will outline the results of a major piece of work commissioned by English Heritage to consider the ‘Where and What of Major Environmental Threats’ and the consequences for the Historic Environment. It will summarise Atkins findings and will pose a series of questions which follow out of the research.

Climate Change and the responses of people to the threat of Climate Change are as real as ever, however, there is nothing new about some of the themes identified by Atkins such as coastal erosion and flooding. The report highlights the need to view Climate Change and Human Actions as risk Multipliers rather than threats in their own right. It is how we engage with these two issues and understand the long-term consequences of our actions today that we need to focus on in more detail and not necessarily the actual threats. Indeed it may be that the subject offers us a real opportunity to rethink our approaches to managing the wider historic environment: helping us move away for the concepts of protection, preservation and finite non-renewable resource to a discussion on resilience, management, inevitable loss and enhancement.

 Informing heritage policy in an uncertain climate – a perspective from EIRE.
Cathy Daly, Heritage Management and Conservation Specialist (Former Researcher, Dublin Institute for Technology and ICOMOS Ireland)

It is logical to say that policy is likely to be most effective when it is well informed. In considering policies relating to climate adaptation however, the degree of inaccuracy in future modelling makes this a seemingly impossible task. Climate change models produce climate projections for the coming century but are constrained by a large degree of uncertainty.

This paper will argues that we as a profession need to get to grips with the issue of climate change despite its uncertainties. If we fail in this it is entirely likely that we will find ourselves operating in a reactive way as extreme events and ill-informed environmental policies come to impact on the built heritage The paper will take a site based perspective, using case studies in Ireland (the World Heritage sites of Brú na Bóinne and Skellig Michael). It is based on a report by the ICOMOS Ireland climate change sub-committee (2010) and subsequent doctoral research by the author (2014).

The paper will offer a brief exploration of the concept of uncertainty as it relates to climate change scenarios and future projections. The assessment of potential climate change impacts at site level, possible monitoring solutions and the constraints surrounding these will be presented. Discussion will then turn to how uncertainty, future discounting, politics and financial instability have all contributed to the current lack of adaptation policies for the built heritage environment in Ireland. On a wider scale, the slow rate of heritage professionals to engage with the issue, and the difficulties faced by those who do, will also be raised.

Heritage significance assessments to evaluate retrofit impacts
Carsten Hermann, Historic Scotland

Retrofitting buildings inevitably impacts on their heritage significance. Although only 3% of the UK’s building stock is heritage designated (through ‘listing’), about 20% of the total is older than 100 years and could therefore be considered as being of heritage significance. Many of these historic buildings are located in urban settings and contribute significantly to cultural identity and place making. Government policy to mitigate climate change aims at significantly retrofitting the building stock to improve its energy performance. This will include the retrofitting of historic buildings. The retrofitting process should therefore be done in ways which minimise or prevent any negative impacts on the buildings’ heritage significance.
To allow easy, systematic and transparent assessments of the heritage significance of historic buildings and to balance these with the impacts of retrofit solutions, an assessment system has been developed as part of EFFESUS, a European project researching energy efficiency for historic districts. The system will be one of six modules of a Decision Support System to evaluate retrofit measures at district scale. The assessment system will allow for heritage significance assessments on the basis of building and urban elements and will be flexible with regard to the detail used, making it equally usable for buildings of minor heritage significance and monuments of high significance. The presentation will outline the conceptual model developed and illustrate it using case study examples.

The vital role of archaeological research in planning for a changed climate
Robyn Pender, Historic England

Despite preconceptions to the contrary, there is no essential conflict between “heritage conservation” and the actions needed to reduce energy and carbon in the built environment, or to adapt for a future in a changed climate. If conflict exists, it is in the showpiece buildings constructed after the Industrial Revolution, in response to energy being cheap and on tap: earlier buildings, by contrast, simply had to be usable with a minimum input of precious energy. Moreover, the buildings that have come down to us were not only successful in this sense, but also successfully survived centuries of weather extremes. Far from being a “special interest” group that requires special protection, our older architectural heritage is actually a repository of exactly the knowledge we need to learn how to return to ways of living and ways of building that consume the minimum amount of energy, and do not depend on fossil fuels.

Key to effective improvement must be seeing the building system as a whole, composed of not just the building fabric, but of the users, and the systems they incorporated to permit the uses they wished for the building. Clearly, this implies a vital role for the architectural archaeologist, who can see through ill-advised later changes and losses and read the story behind alterations made to improve the building’s response to environmental problems, to find solutions adaptable for the present and for the future.

Are building archaeologists adapting as the market changes?
Bob Hill, Historic Building Advisory Service

This is a changing world for buildings archaeologists, but are we keeping up with those changes?
Climate change is a very public and much discussed aspect and this touches many areas of the environment whether it is natural or manmade. This is becoming common part of our work such as with flood mitigation projects, but also adapting buildings so they have greater economical and environmental resilience to help ensure their survival.

Generally we are reactive in the services we deliver, often involving train spotting type building recording and more recently producing heritage impact assessments. Is that enough to carry our profession into the future?
Whether we like to admit it or not buildings archaeology is part of the property, development and construction industry. That is also going through huge changes both in how it operates and the form of services which they require.

Building information modelling (BIM) systems are required for all government projects by 2016, and the remainder of the industry will follow within a few more years yet are we ready for that? Can we better protect our historic heritage by being pro-active and being able to suggest alternative design and cost options as well mitigation construction proposals?

Our clients are looking for greater integration of the services from their professional teams deliver. . Are buildings archaeologists gearing-up to provide the necessary levels of skills to protect our heritage?Are we interested in investing in developing a greater range of skills necessary to properly advise our clients on how to that and turn increase our professional profile and guarantee future fee incomes?

Managing coastal change and the use of Sectoral Adaptation Plans – a case study from Wales
Andrew Davidson (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust) and Tom Pert, RCAHMW

This talk will describe how the impact of climate change on the historic environment, and particularly changes associated with rising sea levels, are being assessed within Wales. The paper will examine a pilot area using a variety of mapping techniques undertaken by RCAHMW which allows the potential impact to be measured on a range of monument types and landscapes. This will be followed by a look at how potential impacts can be mitigated. The use of Sectoral Adaptation Plans as a strategic planning tool to identify impact and outcome of change will be described, and examples of plans will be given.

Managing the built environment through wider landscape assessment and modelling: a case study from the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site, Derbyshire, UK
Andy Howard (Landscape Research and Management), David Knight (Trent and Peak Archaeology), Steve Malone (YAT), Tom Coulthard (Dept. Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, University of Hull) and Karen Hudson Edwards (Dept. Earth and Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck, Uni. London)

The availability of resources such as coal, limestone and metal ores together with water for power, was critical to the development of the heavy industries that kindled the ‘Industrial Revolution. Paradoxically, however, many of these advantageous physiographic and geological characteristics, which were essential to industrial development, also create environments where geomorphological processes are most sensitive to future climatic and environmental change. Coupled with the legacy of pollution associated with many of these industrial landscapes, these inherited characteristics now pose significant threats to the historic environment when impacted by processes such as changing flood frequency and magnitude.

Whilst dealing with individual sites is often challenging, the response has added complexity where the historic environment comprises multiple assets and site integrity is based upon the entire resource. The Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site (DVMWHS) is one such example, comprising a series of major mill complexes, workers’ houses, schools, churches and public houses stretching over a distance of 24km along the River Derwent between Matlock Bath and Derby.

This paper describes a methodological ‘landscape’ approach to managing the built and other historic assets of the DVMWHS. This seeks to understand how the valley has responded to natural geomorphological change over the past millennium, a period that includes the major climatic anomalies of the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age. Within this context, HER data for the Medieval, Post-Medieval and Modern periods have been collated and mapped to elucidate past human activity and responses to environmental change. Alongside this investigation of past activity, fluvial modelling has been undertaken to demonstrate how the river might respond within its valley floor to future climate change. This methodological approach is helping to inform the development of risk management and mitigation strategies for the historic environment of the WHS and has wider generic applicability.

UK- http://youtu.be/ZZ537ZFqIiw

Preparing Emergency Services and Their Partners for Disaster Planning with Respect to Heritage Assets
Jack Hanson (Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service) and Andy Howard (Landscape Research and Management)

This paper will present the results and insights derived from an English Heritage funded project undertaken in response to the National Heritage Protection Plan’s (NHPP) activity 2C1 – ‘Major Environmental Threats’. The project focused specifically on the impacts of flooding on the historic environment and how we mitigate for, and adapt to increased risk in the light of future climate change.

The project aimed to understand immediate threats to Worcestershire’s built heritage and historic environment from flood events, alongside the associated practices of mitigation, adaption, response and recovery. It has: examined how historic environment principles and practice are (or are not) incorporated into emerging flood-management and disaster-planning strategies within local authorities; considered the roles of historic environment professionals and organisations, critically appraising the effectiveness of existing expertise and guidance; aimed to inform public perceptions and understanding of flooding in both the present and the historical past; and consulted communities at risk from flooding to garner their perspectives and experiences of both working alongside historic environment practitioners, and the extent of their knowledge in respect of sustainable mitigation, adaption and/or repair of built heritage assets.
The paper will focus on issues raised in respect of conserving built heritage assets in response to pressures from direct flood-damage, and indirect change implemented through mitigation and recovery. It will attempt to critically assess the varying roles of property owners, local authorities, contractors, and statutory agencies in managing change to historic built assets through case studies of exemplar sites and situations within Worcestershire.

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