Post 531  by Gautam Shah


Conservation is a practice of continuing the present condition of an object. The present condition of the object, like artwork, artefact or a building, is due to natural influences and human machinations. The formation of the object as it exists today is an interpolation of many changes. The changes are so conflated that it is almost impossible to trace them spatially or temporally. Objects to be conserved are often so old that appropriate records are not available to define its conditions at different periods. Conservationists have to operate on layered past with multiple depths of affectations. And one may not know whether these were due to natural influences and human machinations.

Coventry Cathedral ruins Wikipedia image by Andrew Walker (User:Walker44)

Ideal conservation starts as a preventive practice to minimize further damage or deterioration. It means some influences must be terminated, reduced for their extent and intensity, or isolated as representative sample. Such exercises have undeclared motive to shift towards the original condition, which to begin with is an unknown or uncertain concept. Conservation work begins at two levels: the environment and the object. The environment can be modified by creating envelope or shield where the object is finite and can fit into shielding structure. Environment can be altered by macro-spatial intervention, such as effects of winds, rains, moisture, solar radiation, etc. Human presence affects an object, and may be controlled by barriers or spatial distancing.

Imprisonment buildings at Auschwitz Poland Wikipedia-Flickr image by Paul Arps

Conservation is interventions of some nature. Intervention is nominally intended to make things better, but conservation as a concept goes against it. Conservation is the care provided to improve a situation to relieve likely deterioration or damage. But as precursor to such interventive actions, one needs to predict, if this will at all yield a result. Interventions must remain retrievable or retractable. Actions that remove the cause of damage are preferred, than the removal of a layer of bye-product or past failures of interventive actions. Removal of such layers, may be necessary when these obscure or obliterate the identity of the object or its important segments.

Furniture interventive conservation Wikipedia image by Author Etan J. Tal

Interventive conservation often precedes the preservative conservation, or it is part of it. Interventions are inevitable where the object or the building cannot survive or stay in equilibrium. Temporary interventions such as supports or scaffolding disturb the perception of the object or use of the structure. Similarly interventions that generate make-believe or pseudo effects are not considered ethical. Interventive Conservation in spite of it being a circumspect action may turn out to be an act of restoration.

Buddha during conservation – restoration by Dr. Faltermeier Wikipedia image by Author Faltermeier



Postby Gautam Shah


Hiroshima -remembering


Interventive conservation is the practice of mitigating further deterioration. The goal is to treat an artifact like entity so that it can be gently handled, safely stored or displayed without further risk of damage. In case of buildings the aim is to enhance the structural safety, bring it as close to its ‘original state’ or match it to some ‘perceived image’. Live heritage entities need to flourish with use-related awareness, as to what actions could be counter to sustenance.


Preventive conservation is a practice of preservation by providing a stable environment to minimize further damage or deterioration. The damage or fouling to an object or extent occurs from two main sources, the Environment and Human occupation or visitation. Both together accelerate the unstable nature of the entity’s composition. Preventive conservation is performed by a professional conservator and may mean specialized cleaning or the removal of agents that cause damage -an intervention of some form.



The way Interventive conservation and Preventive conservation are handled, and the end results, distinguish one from the other.


Conservation starts with an accepted truth, that the present condition of a built form or an entity is a historical fact, resulting from natural causes and human discriminations. The natural influences and human machinations in a building or entity are usually so interpolated that it is almost impossible to delineate them spatially or temporally. It is almost impossible to conserve any entity unless some of the changes are terminated, withdrawn, isolated or retracted. These exercises more often mean a move towards the original condition, which is an unknown or uncertain to begin with.



Preservation should be less bothered about the history of the object or look for the original conditions. But in attempts to create a stable environment to minimize further damage or deterioration, one needs to know are the actions yielding any fruitful results. Preservation attempts must not add anything that is irretrievable or un-restorable. Any action that adds a physical layer is avoided, as much as any structure or protective cover that obscures or obliterates the identity or appeal of an entity are not favoured.



Interventive Conservation and preservation both turn out to be attempts in restorations. ‘Buildings are preserved or conserved by the society, due to a fear, that any other action may cause irrevocable harm than any good’.

Ta Prohm

Society may not only preserve or conserve things its members like and value, but also abhorrent things (Hitler’s concentration camps, Hiroshima atomic ruins etc.), that must be ‘relived’. The appropriateness of the condition being preserved or conserved is always a matter of controversy. Preservation and conservation are always subjective judgements that are valid in only a particular, political, social or historical context.




Post –by Gautam Shah



As a process, Conservation and Preservation converge, but as area of application they are slightly at a variance. Conservation is used for macro zones such as for environment and resources. Conservation does not negate the continuation of use or participation by humans, provided it is within some ‘sustainable form’. The sustainable form though a restrictive term, ‘it has no (universally) acceptable definition’. Conservation evaluation is based on the results of efforts that manifests in future.


Bhadra Fort Ahmedabad Gujarat India

Conservation is a term used in the sense of ‘preservation for the future’. Conservation implies that the reasons behind protecting something are based on using and managing that resource wisely. A conserved area or zone would mean perpetuating a ‘conceptual environment’ by preventive strategies such as inculcating an image, a concept or a futuristic projection and also by way of intentional tactics of regulations, discipline or a lifestyle. So conservation can be broadly of two classes: the Preventive conservation and the Interventionist conservation.





Preservation, on the other hand is scaled to local or works at micro level, such as for finite entities like buildings, works of arts or crafts. It is a process of keeping safe or free from harm or decay. It entails enforcing a complete isolation through creation of an enveloping environment. “It is the act of keeping alive something like a palm leaf manuscript in a library”. Preservation, in contrast to conservation, attempts to maintain the pristine conditions of areas where some fouling is imminent or has already set in. For both of these conditions it is necessary to define what constitutes the ‘pristine’ condition. The pristine condition is a hypothetical section of the past. So preservation is selective or circumstantial. In doubtful or controversial situations where stepping back in history is not possible or permissible the preservation is also enforced as conservation. Whatever the existing situation may be, it is maintained.






The concourse and steps leading down to the platforms at Pennnsylvania Station (New York City). The railing along the stairs are the only remainders from the original station that can still be seen today, though only on some platforms.

Pen Station New York City (demolished 1963)



Preservation and Conservation processes start with a perceived belief or an accepted truth, that the present condition of a built form is a historical fact, resulting from natural causes and human discriminations.


The natural influences and human machinations in a building are usually so interpolated, that it is almost impossible to separate them out. It is almost impossible to preserve or conserve any entity unless some of the changes are terminated, withdrawn, isolated or retracted. These exercises more often mean a move towards the original condition that is unknown or uncertain to begin with. Preservation and conservation as a result, turn out to be attempts in restorations. Buildings are preserved or conserved by the society, due to a fear, that any other action may cause irrevocable harm than any good.


In the 19th C. Europe, in the field of architectural rehabilitation of buildings, the creed ‘to conserve, but not rebuild’ prevailed, and by 1900 it had been enforced by legislation also. The national acquisition of buildings for conservation in Britain had been carried out chiefly under the Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act of 1913, by which suitable unoccupied properties can be ‘taken into guardianship’. A much more rigorous application of the principle is possible in the United States, whereby the owners of whole groups of buildings held to be of sufficient distinction can in fact be legally dispossessed. These erstwhile owners may then be allowed to remain in residence on condition of the repair and rehabilitation of their buildings to a specified standard. In this way, whole areas of buildings, such as Society Hill in Philadelphia, have been taken over.


Urban conservation has often come to mean frontage restoration of old buildings in period styles. Criteria for conservation are not easy to define. ‘Architectural merit clearly must rank highly, especially in the case of any building that authentically exemplifies its period’. Historical associations, such as the birthplace of a famous person, are less easily rated. One pernicious effect of all selection is the way in which it is the most outstanding example of any period, rather than the truly typical, that in the end remains to represent it.