Professional Accreditation in Building Conservation

Lucy Stewart

 

Professional training in building conservation benefits both professionals and clients and is critical to the success of many projects. Using this training to become accredited in conservation is key to the career progression of most conservation professionals. But what exactly is accreditation, how is it monitored, and why is it so highly valued in the heritage world? More importantly for some, how does one set about building on professional training to become accredited as a building conservation specialist and then maintaining this level of professional standing for years to come?

This article explains briefly how conservation accreditation has developed, and gives pointers and encouragement to those hoping to become registered in their field, while giving those already accredited ideas for continuing their training.

The perspective here is that of an architect. However, strong similarities exist between all accreditation bodies across the various building professions.

ORGANISATION/SCHEME ACCREDITED CLASSES OF MEMBERSHIP PROFESSION
Architects Accredited in Building Conservation (AABC) Architect Accredited in Building Conservation / Consultant Architect
Accredited in Building Conservation
architects
Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) /
Royal Society of Architects in Wales* (RSAW) /
Royal Society of Ulster Architects* (RSUA)
Conservation Registrant / Conservation Architect / Specialist Conservation Architect
Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Advanced Accreditation / Accreditation
Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) Conservation Architect / Practice Grades I/II/III
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Building Conservation Accreditation surveyors
Conservation Accreditation Register for
Engineers (CARE)
Conservation Accredited Engineer engineers
The Institute of Conservation (Icon) Accredited Conservator-Restorer conservator-
restorers
Chartered Institute of Architectural
Technologists (CIAT)
CIAT-Accredited Conservationist architectural
technologists
Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) Full Member / Associate Member multidisciplinary
Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) Member / Associate / Practitioner archaeologists
* Conservation architects who are members of the RSAW or RSUA can apply for conservation accreditation under the RIBA and/or AABC schemes

WHAT IS ACCREDITATION AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

There are many different accreditation bodies and professional membership organisations representing the various construction professions in the UK and Ireland. The principal organisations and conservation accreditation schemes are listed below.

Typically, accreditation is based on the peer-assessment of a selection of the applicant’s work (some assessment teams include an ‘intelligent client’ lay assessor). Examples of completed work are submitted which demonstrate the applicant’s experience in building conservation, with the aim of showing a variety of types of work from report writing, through to detailed drawing and specifying. These examples are then backed up with evidence of continuing professional development (CPD) courses undertaken, the applicant’s CV and a personal statement outlining what has been learned through the experiences shown. For applicants to be successful, the assessors must agree that they can demonstrate the required level of competence in a range of aspects of building conservation.

In the case of the AABC Register, its primary purpose is to protect the historic built environment from damaging interventions by people not skilled in historic building conservation and adaptation. To this end it publishes, for the benefit of clients, a register of architects whose work and skills in building conservation have been established by peer assessment, moderated by a lay assessor representing the client.

Most of the other bodies listed in the table above publish registers of accredited professionals for the benefit of clients and owners of heritage assets. The IHBC and the CIfA publish membership lists in their printed yearbooks.

THE EDINBURGH GROUP

It was recognised in the early stages of developing accreditation for different professions, that many shared similar goals, and it gradually became clear that equivalence across the professions would be required. The accreditation providers have met annually since 2002, initially in Edinburgh but now nationally, to help to ensure a degree of integration across all schemes. The Edinburgh Group now acts as a joint forum for all schemes.

 
. IHBC branch events provide regular opportunities to boost CPD and extend professional networks

Before the Edinburgh Group’s foundation in 2002, the various accreditation schemes had taken different approaches to assessment so one of the early roles of the group was to act as a mutually supportive forum at which past successes and failures, as well as ideas about the future, could be openly discussed.

The main accreditation providers now follow similar submission formats, requiring five examples with clear analysis of ICOMOS guidelines, CPD notes and a personal statement. This provides parity and enables accredited professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds to have confidence in each other’s abilities. It also allows clients and specifiers to easily identify and select the right personnel to work on their heritage project. This should give the client confidence that the appointed person will oversee work with due diligence and in a professional manner.

Unfortunately, many of the qualified architects, archaeologists, engineers, conservators and surveyors who work with the UK’s six million pre-1919 buildings have insufficient formal training to do so. A UK skills needs analysis, Built Heritage Sector Professionals: Current Skills, Future Training, was conducted by the National Heritage Training Group in 2008. Of the building professionals surveyed, 65 per cent did not feel that their formal education had prepared them adequately for working on pre-1919 buildings. Furthermore, 68 per cent believed that much of the skills and knowledge they needed for heritage work had been self-taught. The report also noted that while many building professionals become members of professional bodies few become building-conservation accredited.

It is unsurprising then that English Heritage, Historic Scotland, the Heritage Lottery Fund and others have long recognised the value of accreditation in allowing clients to focus on those with the necessary skills through exclusion of non-accredited professionals from grant-aided work. This approach has sometimes drawn resentment from those who are not accredited and oppose the principle of accreditation.

Accreditation is not the right route for everyone but the aim of this article is to inspire those not yet on their professional register and provide guidance on how to achieve this.

FIRST STEPS

Recognising your own knowledge gaps is a very good starting point and will help to give some direction to your training. For example, you may be working on minor alterations to a timber frame building for a domestic client but know little about timber. Use this as an opportunity to attend a course on timber framing to boost your CPD, and buy yourself a good book on the subject (English Heritage’s recently updated Practical Building Conservation series is an excellent place to start). Speak to other people on the course, and see if you can visit a larger building that they are working on. Perhaps there is a local timber framing contractor who you could shadow for a day. Or maybe there are other historic timber buildings nearby that you could draw and study at the weekend.

Some areas have local archaeology or vernacular building recording groups which can provide opportunities to learn in a welcoming environment from those with greater experience. Keep a notebook of sketches, diagrams and notes to record what you are seeing and learning.

Sketches and watercolour showing a historic door and door furniture  
Keeping a sketchbook is an excellent way to record specialist terms, explain how things work and underpin knowledge and understanding. (Illustration: Lucy Stewart)  

Accreditation, however, requires more than a knowledge of traditional building methods and how they work. It also requires a deep appreciation and understanding of conservation philosophy, a broad view of historical development and an ability to apply these more ‘thoughtful’ skills to the practical job of conserving a building or site. There are many short courses which focus on conservation philosophy and some excellent resources which will guide you in this direction. The Association for Studies in the Conservation of Historic Buildings (ASCHB), Council on Training in Architectural Conservation (COTAC) and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) all have excellent websites with wide-ranging guidance and information on forthcoming courses and CPD events (see further information), but do make sure that these comply with the ICOMOS Education and Training Guidelines. Conservation events listings also appear online at www.buildingconservation.com.

The Understanding Conservation website (see further information) is a very useful self-assessment tool which takes users through a series of free CPD units covering ethics and conservation philosophy. Perhaps one of the very best ways to gain a broad introduction to the principles of conservation is to take the week-long Repair of Old Buildings Course run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) or attend the RICS or IHBC summer school and AGM events.

The SPAB, RIBA and IHBC all offer short courses, conferences and CPD events aimed at extending knowledge of conservation at the practical, technical and philosophical levels. There are many other groups such as The Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association (EASA) and the Building Limes Forum which it would be worth becoming involved with to extend your personal conservation network and to gain a broader perspective on your work.

For those with more time, a postgraduate course in architectural conservation might be the best option. For both RIBA conservation accreditation and IHBC membership the number of case studies or years of experience required is reduced for those who have completed a recognised course, so it is advisable to read the guidelines for accreditation schemes carefully when choosing a professional training route.

Once you are in the mind-set of how to acquire the necessary skills, you will find that it becomes easier to broaden your knowledge. The key when first applying for accreditation is to make sure that you try to work for a practice that has conservation experience, or if that is not feasible, to sign up to the AABC apprentice mentoring scheme. This means that an experienced professional local to you will offer guidance and support, helping you throughout the process of gaining the necessary experience. An alternative is to aim to become a conservation registrant as part of the RIBA accreditation scheme, and then progress to higher levels as you gain experience.

Don’t worry about the scale of the project or the apparent lack of glamour in repointing a wall – this is not what matters. What matters is that you successfully demonstrate your understanding of the process of conservation, the principles involved, the different approaches, and that you can self-evaluate your involvement afterwards.

MAINTAINING ACCREDITATION

Achieving accreditation is typically the result of years of hard work, but accreditation also brings with it a commitment to future learning and professional development. Periodically, usually every five years, a further three new examples must be submitted to the accreditation panel for assessment, so the onus is on the professional to maintain his or her status and keep up to date.

  Delegates make notes while an expert discusses a terracotta baluster
  Delegates visit The Bulmer Brick & Tile Company in Sudbury, Suffolk as part of an SPAB Repair of Old Buildings Course in 2014: meeting and talking with craftspeople is one of the best ways to expand your knowledge. (Photo: SPAB)

The obvious approach is to do this through CPD and other courses and, as mentioned, there are many excellent conservation-based courses across the country each year (see further information). Staying focussed and learning fresh information, however, can be a challenge.

One suggestion would be to assign a material to each year in the cycle and learn as much as possible about that material for a year – bricks in year one, timber in year two, metal and glass in year three, and so on. Similarly, studies can be related to specific projects your office may be working on. Make the most of working with buildings of different types or periods.

A key way of maintaining professional training is to become a member of one of the specialist organisations and attend their events. The Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association is a good example, and indeed many dioceses insist that architects wishing to work on churches in their area are active members of EASA. The ASCHB is a similar specialist assembly, both are nationwide groups of like-minded professionals sharing their knowledge and experience, and both are acknowledged forums of experts. Likewise, the Building Limes Forum attracts members from a wide variety of professional backgrounds, from students to architects, and hosts an annual gathering which includes a programme of expert lectures and tours.

You may eventually decide that you are especially interested in a particular technique or material, and you become the expert being asked to give lectures and write articles. This gives you a privileged opportunity to be the one disseminating knowledge and advice, but of course you will always be learning from others as well. One of the best ways to learn is to teach. Taking on the challenge of helping younger colleagues to gain accreditation can bring benefits to everyone involved.

STAY PASSIONATE

Without high quality professional training and conservation accreditation schemes, it is certain that many aspects of our heritage would be treated without due regard for their unique nature. Inappropriate materials would be specified, historic details would be lost and insensitive alterations made. Because accreditation is regulated through peer assessment with a lay person to review decisions, the whole profession is self-monitoring and able to maintain the highest standards.

Achieving accreditation is demanding – it should not be easy – but once it has been achieved, the sense of worth and extra assistance you can give to a project is inspiring. For those already accredited and wondering how to keep up with training, it can be useful to have a yearly focus, or mentor some younger colleagues and pass on your knowledge and experience.

Stay passionate and interested, and question and learn as much as possible from others met on the journey towards accreditation. Most of all, keep up to date. The profession needs new, inspired and articulate professionals to continue fighting the corner of the historic environment. Becoming accredited is a vital step towards this goal.

 

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Further Information

Accreditation Schemes and Professional Membership Organisations

AABC Architects Accredited in Building Conservation
CARE Conservation Accreditation Register for Engineers
CIAT Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists
Icon Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists
CIfA Chartered Institute for Archaeologists
IHBC Institute of Historic Building Conservation
RIAI Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland
RIAS Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland
RIBA Royal Institute of British Architects
RICS Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

 

Education and Training

Elsewhere on this website, see Events for an up-to-date list of conservation-related CPD events. For longer courses see the following pages: Short courses, Craft Training, Undergraduate, Postgraduate, Archaeology (standing buildings, landscape archaeology, etc) and Miscellaneous.

ASCHB - Association for Studies in the Conservation of Historic Buildings

COTAC - Council on Training in Architectural Conservation

EASA - Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association

ICOMOS - International Council on Monuments & Sites

IHBC - Institute of Historic Building Conservation

National Heritage Training Group

Scottish Lime Centre Trust

SPAB - Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Understanding Conservation

Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

 

 

 

The Building Conservation Directory, 2015

Author

LUCY STEWART is an architect and has been on the AABC register since 2012. She currently sits on the AABC management team and board, while continuing to practise as an architect in Yorkshire. She was an SPAB Lethaby Scholar in 2009.

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