Historical building surveys

Historical building surveys are a way of learning in detail about the state of a building or a group of buildings and their historical development – in other words, of revealing which of the standing parts are the oldest, and when they were built, what the building looked like at the time, how it gradually grew, or, conversely, which parts of it have been lost.

Surveys can be made of a number of types of building, from castles and mansions to historic and newer town houses, village buildings, industrial premises, gardens and parks.

A historical building survey is based on a detailed survey of the building (construction, features, details and spacial contexts) and the gathering of written and pictorial materials and plans. The result of the analysis of all these findings and their formal processing is then a document that contains both a text part (an assessment of archive research, plus an architectural description of the building and all its parts), an assessment in graphic form (assessment of construction development and monument evaluation) and an appendix consisting of pictures and plans capturing the historical and current appearance of the building in question. It is one of the basic types of documentation necessary for good-quality and effective conservation, especially when determining the optimal conditions for care of an immovable monument.

Historic building surveying is a scientific method that requires intensive cooperation between the archictural historian, who is able to evaluate the construction aspect of the building, and the archivist, who is familiar with the written sources and able to extract the maximum from them. The final survey usually takes several months, but in the case of extensive premises it may take several years.

At the headquarters and at every regional specialist branch of the National Heritage Institute there are experts who devote their time to historic building surveys. However, with a few exceptions their capacity covers only the needs of the National Heritage Institute and the buildings that the institute manages itself. We are, however, happy to advise you or to recommend colleagues from other institutions and firms who draw up historic building surveys, and whom you can subsequently contact to ask them to produce a survey for you.

Similar procedures are used in operational surveys, which are carried out during the course of construction work when new features and facts are revealed – following, for example, the removal of plaster. Operational surveys thus capture a construction situation that was previously unknown, and which can tell us much about the unexpected and hitherto unknown development of the building.