Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Statements of Integrity

Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventh post in a series of blog posts developed with municipalities in mind who either have or are considering undertaking Municipal Historic Resource designation. In this post, we will talk about the importance of developing Statements of Integrity, and how they help to both increase understanding and manage change to historic resources over time. You can read the previous post here.

For more information, please review the “Creating a Future” manuals available here or contact Rebecca Goodenough, Manager, Historic Places Research and Designation at rebecca.goodenough@gov.ab.ca or 780-431-2309.


Written by: Carlo Laforge, Heritage Conservation Adviser and Tom Ward, Manager, Heritage Conservation Advisory Services, Historic Resources Management Branch


Statements of Integrity

The process for evaluating if an historic place merits designation under the Historical Resources Act (HRA) starts with determining if and why it is significant. Then, determining whether it retains sufficient physical integrity to convey that significance. Earlier blog posts described how to develop a Statement of Significance (SOS). The next step works through whether enough of the physical features that relate to the heritage values exist, and are in acceptable condition to convey heritage values. Not all places merit designation as historic resources, especially if integrity is in question.

Below is an outline of what goes into determining integrity and how to summarize findings in a Statement of Integrity (SOI). It is important to remember that the development of an SOS and SOI are complementary processes. The information and facts discovered by each related investigation help to compliment, influence and improve each document to enable the best decision possible in terms of proceeding with a designation.

Understanding what is of value

A review of the heritage values expressed in the SOS provides the person analyzing the integrity of a place with a reminder of why it is potentially of historic significance and what details may be important. The heritage values and the period of significance are critical to keep in mind when observing and evaluating the historic place.

What to look for

As discussed earlier, character-defining elements are the physical attributes that help to convey the heritage values of a historic place. Heritage values will relate to associations with a particular theme/activity/cultural practice/event, an institution/person, design/style/construction, information potential and/or landmark/symbolic value.

When assessing the integrity of a particular site it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • Historic photos should be examined, where possible, to compare what existed during the period of significance to what exists today
  • Research into design, style and construction methods will help to develop a keen eye for changes to a historic place that may have occurred in a different period
  • Sites valued for information potential are most often archaeological, palaeontological or natural sites. In these cases, features of the landscape will be the most telling evidence of the heritage values.
  • Historic resources considered under the “landmarks” criteria will have priority placed on the features that set them apart as conspicuous and may focus less on the minute details (interior features, for example)

Chronology of changes

An understanding of how a place has changed over time is important when evaluating its character-defining elements. Older photographs are invaluable in figuring out what changes happened and when. In addition, a building will have its own story to tell regarding what exists and the evidence of change found in its original finishes, new materials and scars from the past. Careful observation of materials and assemblies will help to unravel the chronology of changes. Evidence of alterations are good to document in a table format noting the date, the specific alteration and a photograph. These changes may bring forward new information about a place and influence the heritage values; as discussed in the post on periods of significance, even additions can gain heritage value over time.

Evidence of change: As noted by the live and abandoned electrical connections, exterior mounted ductwork, various marks on the bricks and evident cinder block infills and opening modifications, this elevation shows a myriad of changes to this portion of the building over time. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Aspects of Integrity

An SOI involves assessing a site in relation to the following seven aspects, together which factor into the final integrity statement. The extent to which all seven aspects of integrity need to be present is a question of degree. The task is to determine if what remains is sufficient to communicate the heritage values of the place

Location

Determining if the historic resource is in the place where it was constructed or where an historic activity or event occurred. Except in rare cases, the relationship between a resource and its historical associations is destroyed if the resource is moved.

Original location: The buildings pictured are a part of a series of homes built consecutively over a few decades by a prominent historical figure. Although their exact original locations may have been shifted over the years, they have remained in the same order and on the same overall property and thus maintain their location integrity. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Design

The combination of elements that create the form, plan, space, structure and style of a resource. It may reflect past functions and technologies, as well as aesthetics.

Design intent: Symmetrical elevation features, brick patterns, pronounced cornice, front entrance and roof top cupola and distinguished horizontal bands and the main and second floor levels all contribute to a classical/traditional design that reflects the deliberate design of this building. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Environment

The physical setting involving where the resource is situated and its relationship to surrounding features, but also its contribution to a sense of continuity in the area.

Environmental setting:  The industrial nature of this site meant that it did not have many close neighbours and this has not significantly changed over time thereby maintaining its environmental setting. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Materials

The physical elements that were combined or deposited during a particular period or time frame and in a particular pattern or configuration to form an historic resource. The historic materials and significant features should be present with their original inter-relationships retained.

Materials discovered:  During the rehabilitation process at this building, original materials (wood clapboards) were discovered within a younger portion of the structure revealing the original colour.  Nevertheless, the pattern of siding uncovered had been restored during an earlier project. This discovery helped to confirm previous assumptions and provided new information regarding the history of the site. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Workmanship

The physical evidence of the crafts of a particular culture or people during any given period in history. It is important because it can provide information about technological practices and aesthetic principles.

Workmanship: The ornate craftsmanship seen in the materials and details incorporated into the design and construction of this building is reflective of the level of workmanship desired by this structure’s builders. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Feeling

The resource’s continued ability to convey the aesthetic or historic sense of a particular period of time. It results from the presence of physical features that, taken together, express the resource’s historic character.

Feeling: The unique finishes and details seen in this building’s lobby are of a design and aesthetic rarely seen today and thus enabling a feeling of its specific period of significance.  Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Association

The direct link between an historic resource and significant historical theme, activity or event, or an institution or person. A resource retains association if it is the place where the event or activity occurred and is sufficiently intact to convey that relationship to an observer.

Association: The most common retained historical association can be found with churches such as this one, which maintain their original denomination and continue to serve their communities. Commercial properties and private residences can also maintain their respective associations even if ownership has changed over time. Source: Historic Resources Management Branch.

Condition Assessment

Ideally, an integrity evaluation will include a condition assessment, specifically where buildings are involved. This part of the evaluation can outline existing or potential problems and maintenance issues with the site and thus indicate the level of investment required to conserve the historic resource for the future. Condition and cost implications for repair may influence the final decision on designation.

Resource components that require a condition assessment generally include:

  • Site – drainage, condition of hard surfaces, health of vegetation
  • Foundations – cracks, water seepage, mould, alignment of walls
  • Structures – Alignment of walls and floors, evidence of water or mould, safety and building code concerns
  • Roof – alignment, condition of covering material, condition of chimneys/trim and vents
  • Exterior walls – alignment, evidence of water damage/mould, condition of covering material
  • Exterior windows/doors – operability, evidence of rot, condition of finishing
  • Interior finishes – general condition
  • Plumbing/electrical/mechanical systems – general condition and operability, compliance with safety codes

The SOI provides an objective process that can consistently be applied to all resources brought forward for consideration. Combined, the SOS and SOI provide direction as to whether or not a resource may be recommended for designation and protection.

The next, and final, blog in this series will explore how evaluation of historic resources through municipal and provincial lenses can result in both complementary and differing heritage values.

One thought on “Municipal Historic Resource designation refresher series: Statements of Integrity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s