Clothes make the man and a facade up to a point ‘makes’ the house. It is the first thing we see and it creates the look of towns and villages. This is why heritage preservation specialists pay as much attention to them as they do.
A facade to a house is like a coat is to a person: its expression is created by colour, material and also placement, size and orientation of windows and doors, architectural elements (pilasters, columns, cornices etc.) and other elements like stone or ceramic tiling and glass or metal fittings. All of this shows the evolution and history of the building – and if it has historic value it should be preserved.
How it was in the past – find out on photographs, in the archives and in the field
Before starting a renovation or reconstruction it is important to find out how the facade looked originally. You can search for historic photographs or original plans at home, in an archive, a museum or at the local heritage preservation office. If no such materials exist a heritage preservation specialists can do a facade analysis. Depending on what they find in the layers of plaster they can make judgements about whether to return to the original state or take a different direction.
Old and new, shapes, materials, technologies
Because every part of the facade left in its authentic state contributes to the preservation of the ‘genius loci’ the heritage specialists will in most cases want to preserve as many historic elements and plaster layer compounds (if the technical state allows for it) as possible. In the case of parts that were completely destroyed they will be in favour of creating copies and quite likely ask for a removal of secondary, unsuitable arrangements.
Newly constructed elements and surfaces should be made from authentic materials, as close to the original as possible- not only because of the visual impression but also because of the physical properties of materials.
Historically valuable elements deserve restoration
Facades sometimes include high quality artistic historic artefacts (like sculptures and statues made of stone and also murals, mosaics etc.) and even a competent craftsman will not have the skills necessary. To prevent damage to the artwork you will need a certified art restorer for the job. Your local heritage conservation officer will assist you in finding them.
The precise shade of the facade should be based on the findings in the analysis done in the planning stage – it often shows several colour schemes that the building had during its history. Usually it is best to choose a solution that corresponds with the facade’s current character. If the original colour could not be discerned remember when choosing colours how historically valuable is your house and its surroundings. The current trend of bright colours and atypical variants and combinations will not only damage the building but can harm an entire historic neighbourhood.
Thermal insulation – benefits vs. damage
Even though heritage preservation specialists understand the historic buildings’ owners desire for thermal comfort the most common methods of insulation are usually not ideal for historic buildings. These are not only common problems like a rise in humidity and other negatives that can occur after unsuitable thermal insulation of a building but also the irretrievable damage that it often causes to historic buildings. Because of the need to affix the insulation layer to the facade most of the historic plasterwork and other elements are either covered or removed and windows, doors, the plinth and cornices end up sunk beneath the new surface. Even in cases when the designer tries to imitate the original character of the house by attaching new pseudohistoric (and often simplified) elements to the new surface all the small irregularities that made the building come alive are replaced by sharp edges, straight lines and unnatural textures. There are however always exceptions – some simple facades without segmentation and decorations can bear an insulation layer well.