A framework for the built historic environment

Research Themes

Using the same list of options as in the earlier questions about which buildings and types of work respondents most commonly undertake, the survey asked which of these would benefit from additional research. For buildings, the most commonly chosen building types were largely the same as those in question six (HistBEKE, 2017d), with Domestic being highest, along with industrial, followed by agricultural and then places of worship (Fig. 11). However, when the two are compared, although most building types are just a few percentiles different, Domestic is in fact 20% lower for buildings that would benefit from research, but street furniture/public realm buildings almost doubles from 17% to 30% (Fig. 12). 

Figure 11  Building types that respondents felt would benefit from additional research (% of total respondents)
Figure 12  Building types that are commonly the focus of work, and those which respondents felt would benefit from additional research (% of total respondents)

Those who chose ‘other’ for building types that would benefit from additional research provided the following descriptions:

  • Domestic dwelling internal detail overlooked
  • not so much of building type research but of issues in building types
  • More interests in wider strategic dimensions of heritage
  • Particularly 19th Century urban horse transport buildings
  • Early 20th Century seaside piers
  • We need to know more about type of building USE than about type of building per se
  • Water management structures (eg dams) and infrastructure
  • A lot of guidance, although useful, focuses on designated assets and areas
  • 20th century architecture
  • A landscape approach to understanding and conservation. You need to understand broad patterns, as well as the details
  • Infrastructure – i.e. dams, pipelines, roads etc.
  • Integrated management of the diversity of building types in historic cities
  • A single point access to the database will be of immense help Could add all in truth
  • Museums in historic buildings
  • Terracotta facades
  • Community
  • Colonial buildings (banks/ country houses/town houses)
  • Boundary features
  • dual-use buildings that combine dwelling and workplace – ‘workhomes’
  • Very local to the area therefore national guidance not always very relevant

When the types of work that would benefit from additional research are considered, there is much more of than was found with building types. The most commonly selected options for those which respondents felt need further research are building survey/recording/research, historic building conservation and historic materials science / analysis (fig. 13). In contrast, the while building survey / recording / research was also the highest for the work types currently undertaken by respondents, the second and third highest (heritage protection and archaeology) are towards the bottom of the options chosen as requiring further research (see fig. 4, p.9). It is not possible to provide a direct comparison here in the same way that it was for the building types above, because the responses were collected differently. Respondents were asked to pick only one option for their current work type but could choose multiple options for those which would benefit from additional research. The multiple choice options also included two additional work types. However, figure 14 illustrates the difference between the responses to the two questions.

Figure 13  Types of work that respondents felt would benefit from additional research (% of total respondents)
Figure 14  Types of work that respondents most commonly undertake, and those which they feel would benefit from additional research (% of total respondents)

Respondents who chose the option of ‘other’ when asked about the types of work that would benefit from additional research provided the following descriptions:

  • morphology of historic settlements
  • better prepared and researched planning/listed building applications
  • Archival resources
  • Heritage and economic development
  • National syntheses
  • Chronological dating of features/fixtures/fittings
  • Picture libraries and archives
  • Architectural History
  • the impact of building services, and how best to mitigate that impact
  • Community engagement
  • The international, particularly European, context of construction technology and knowledge transfer
  • The holistic management of historic cities 
  • Heritage and economics
  • Historical studies of particular building types, nationally and/or in defined areas
  • Data on thermal performance improvements for historic buildings
  • Research in the role of communities needs/interests in planning decisions and effective approaches at seeking balanced decisions
  • research into pedagogy in field of architectural conservation
  • National Infrastructure Projects
  • Gardens, landscapes, parks, designed spaces
  • Online historic mapping resources


The survey results show overall agreement that most areas of work would be enhanced by a framework for the built historic environment, with 34% of respondents who answered this question choosing the ‘all of the above’ option. There were, however, 5% of respondents who felt that no areas of work would be enhanced. The three areas that most respondents felt would be enhanced are assessing significance (73%); preparing heritage statements (72%) and enhancing their knowledge and understanding of the built environment (70%) (Fig. 15). When this is broken down by organisation type, the results are very similar for each group, suggesting that there is general agreement across the sector on the potential of HistBEKE to enhance their work.

Figure 15  Areas of work that respondents felt would be enhanced by a national framework for the built environment (% of total respondents)

The small number of respondents who chose ‘Other’ as an option provided the following descriptions, many of which are comments which explain why no options have been chosen, rather than specific areas that may be enhanced:

  • Continual appraisal is always important
  • Useful provided framework is kept concise in the nature of a checklist or template.  Keep the messages concise – they won’t be read if lost in masses of worthy verbiage
  • Listing and protection
  • I am not really in a position to answer this question precisely
  • Potentially all, but not if narrowly focused
  • Most of the above, but have selected those I think would benefit most
  • Master Planning
  • although how useful depends on how it is written; the difference in approach between an archaeological standpoint and a conservation one needs to be reconciled – both have their merits but the result is different approaches and different decisions on significance
  • We also need regional/local understanding to assess significance in our local area
  • None – this is academics looking for work
  • I’m not convinced that national frameworks will help much
  • not really qualified to say
  • Not certain
  • I don’t understand the questions. A research framework or a policy framework?
  • If it is a national agenda it will be too general there is great regional diversity in the historic environment
  • We ask for building recording conditions on a wide range of buildings prior to demolition or alteration, including many that would only be of local interest.  I’m not sure what use a research framework would be for this.
  • Possibly
  • I do not know enough about this to comment
  • Asset Management for large portfolio holders
  • We would be concerned that a rigid framework could lead to rigid thinking, or substitution of process for thought

In addition to these largely positive results for the potential of HistBEKE to enhance areas of work across the sector, only 7% of respondents chose ‘no’ when asked if they felt that a framework for the built environment would be of benefit to them (fig. 16). 

Figure 16  Whether respondents felt that a framework for the built environment would be of benefit (% of total respondents)

When looking specifically at the responses to this question by each grouped organisation, one of the key HistBEKE target audiences, local authority and national park officers, was the most confident that it would be of benefit (Fig. 17). Those who defined their organisation type as ‘other’ were the least confident, but this group includes those who are now retired and/or volunteers who are not involved with as much of the same work as local authorities and National Park Authorities, or indeed some of the work of contractors and consultants, although many of those who volunteer may be involved with building surveys and research. 

Figure 17  Whether a framework would be of benfit by grouped organisation (% of respondents per organisation type)

Respondents were also asked whether the framework being published online would be the easiest way for them to access it, and 96% of respondents said yes. Comments made by respondents in relation to this question were as follows:

  • A fixed pdf format document or an open ended web-resource? Open wiki-type updated documents could be tricky to use in planning.
  • But as long as its signposted from lots of other locations – IHBC etc etc and printed
  • At present, they are of little relevance
  • Given experience with other research frameworks I would suggest this is the only way forward. Once published they are, otherwise, very difficult to keep up to date and relevant. A framework for future updates and enhancement should also be put in to place at an early stage.
  • Hard copy
  • Yes and no, Yes for updatable and being current, No in that I prefer paper documents or at least simple documents I can print out
  • This is a frequently stated aim of frameworks, and to my knowledge it never happens
  • A point in time paper version in addtion to the on-line resoruce would be very helpful when dealing with developers and local councils, if not essential
  • It is critical to have a point-in-time document, preferably hard-copy and well presented. Such a document is far more likely to be used, especially amongst the volunteer community
  • Would be useful to have a quarterly newsletter of updates
  • As a National Park we would expect to develop our own research agendas for buildings
  • On-line information systems can easily be overlooked or forgotten.  Paper ones cannot
  • Email bulletins highlighting updates would be useful, rather than relying on regular routine visits to site
  • Preference is old-school hardback book
  • Would need a system to notify users of any changes
  • Rather than updating chapters to a particular time schedule, highlight areas of current research and provide contact details for specifically qualified individuals / organisations re. these building types
  • perhaps with some seminars/workshops initially as well
  • I say yes, but I do believe there should be hard copies of such documents as well and that these should be promoted. It’s so much more useful to have a paper copy to read wherever you are, make notes, etc
  • But see above re widest possible use and contribution.  There are other groups (thinking for example of Vernacular Building County Recording Groups) who are less engaged with web-based resources and I think a print version (even if it is vulnerable to becoming outdated) might help some groups engage better.  A print version can always highlight the fact that there is an on-line version which will be updated.  In terms of initial take-up and use I think this should be considered.
  • Essential that is online and regularly updated
  • If downloadable