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Historic Preservation is a discipline in its own right, distinct from the general practice of architecture. Working with a historic property requires a different thought process and great deal of care, and carries a responsibility that is not there in new construction. It requires special knowledge, training, and skills, especially when dealing with traditional adobe construction found in the Southwest. The basic goal of historic preservation is to preserve, conserve, and protect buildings and their surroundings. The spectrum of historic preservation includes simply stabilizing, repairing, and maintaining the existing features in a property; adapting a historic property to meet the needs of modern living, while preserving those features that convey its historic values; showing a building as it has evolved over time; creating an accurate rendition of a building as a snapshot in time (not necessarily the present); and even reconstructing or recreating missing features that have been lost over time.


Historic preservation can be a formal process, done in strict accordance with laws, standards and processes mandated by governmental entities; or it can be more of an informal process. This depends on the status of the property and the goals of the owner. Properties can be listed on Federal, state or local registers of historic properties, which put more restrictions on what can be done. Certain preservation projects may be eligible to receive tax credits or grants; this requires careful research and documentation.


Important factors to be considered in the historic preservation process are the age of the property, its significance, its character defining features, and its integrity. Generally, to be considered historic, a property has to be more than 50 years old. It may be significant because of its construction and features, or its association with a historic event or person. Character defining features are those physical features and characteristics that define the architecture, and are specific to the property. Integrity means how well a building or property has retained the important aspects of its historic construction, appearance and association.


The process of preservation often begins with research on the history of the property, as well as an investigation and documentation of the features and condition of the property. Codes and standards are reviewed, and interpretations are made depending on the circumstances of the project. Technical and construction issues are investigated and researched, as are materials and methods. Consultants, such as engineers or conservators may be brought in. Preservation alternatives and cost estimates are developed. All of this is directed towards a planning document, which will guide the preservation process – especially the treatment of the property and its long term maintenance. (Treatment is what is ultimately done to the property; the actual preservation or construction work.) Review by governmental bodies, for compliance with standards and regulations, also takes place during the planning process. Often times there are conflicts between the goals of the owner and the preservation requirements. These need to be resolved in the planning process. Once the planning is done, and a Preservation Plan is completed, the treatment can take place. After the treatment is completed, there may be follow-up activities or treatments, including short and long term maintenance procedures. Depending on the complexity or significance of the property, all of this may be completed under the umbrella of a Historic Structures Report, a scholarly document which guides and documents the entire preservation process, and is also used for long term management of the property.


Every historic preservation project is unique, as no building is the same as another. And rarely is a building or property unchanged from when it was built. Good preservation planning can assist in understanding and making the tough choices, help navigate the different demands that are imposed on a historic property, and result in a completed project that meets the needs of the owner.


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