Built Legacy: Preserving Historic Buildings Data

By Angela Creswick

Responding to concern that there may be gaps in the recording of investigations and sustainable archiving of digital data and reports on standing buildings, the ADS has embarked on a five-month project funded by an External Engagement Award from the University of York to research current practice and user needs of conservation architects, surveyors, engineers and their specialist teams.

Building on the HERALD projects user needs survey about historic building recording content, which revealed interesting data on work practices by conservation professionals, the new project plans to gain a better understanding of how conservation professionals, in the commercial and third sectors, archive and access historic building data. Historic Buildings practitioners are generating considerable quantities of high-quality digital information including reports, CAD drawings, photogrammetry and high-resolution laser scanning.

The ADS is therefore looking to work with external partners to research how our worldleading digital heritage data systems can be extended to improve practice in the management of historic building recording data. It is known that access to free and open-format data has had a significant impact in terms of research in the archaeological community. It is anticipated that increasing the catalogue of historic buildings data lodged in an open searchable database linked to a sustainable archive could have similar impact to both buildings research and conservation practice. Currently there are around 3000 reports in the ADS Library of Unpublished Fieldwork Reports relating to historic buildings and structures reported through OASIS, but it is anticipated that there is significant potential for increasing this resource.

Drawing of the West nave elevation from the Brixworth Church Survey
West nave elevation from the Brixworth Church Survey. © Dr David Parsons, Alex Turner, George Hammerschmidt, Christina Unwin, Dr D S Sutherland

Recent ADS depositions have included historic buildings data, for example the Brixworth Church Survey undertaken by the Brixworth Archaeological Research Committee in 1972. This investigation included the use of Ground Penetrating Radar, photographic surveys and hand-drawn elevations with the resultant digital archive being representative of the work carried out by specialists in their field over several decades. The ADS digital archive represents various stages of the project and contains the full Ground Penetrating Radar report, which was too lengthy to include in the published monograph, as well as the site digital photographs, digitised drawings and the subsequent interpretive interactive layered elevations.

Other depositors include the Vernacular Architecture Group whose databases on dendrochronology, cruck frames and Wealden houses as well as their bibliography are already archived with the ADS, demonstrating the importance of data preservation and accessibility. Depositors not only get the benefits of  disseminating and show casing their work but have the opportunity to include contact information and their organisation logo on their search results page. This project seeks to increase the awareness of and deposition of data by professionals working on historic building conservation. The study will also be used to inform development of OASIS through a better understanding of the experience of professionals reporting investigations through the system. Buildings archaeologists and other conservation professions who would like to be part of the research through a short telephone interview are invited to contact help@archaeologydataservice.ac.uk.