Authored by British architect Bernard G. Feilden, the“Conservation of historic buildings” is an exemplary guide on rudimentary principles revolving around conservation in architecture. Sir Bernard Melchior Feildenwas also bestowed with the honorary title of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire among many other accolades. Apart from delicately restoring numerous cathedrals to their original glory in and around Britain, his monumental work also includes his expert advisory on eminent international projects such as Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, the Taj Mahal, the Konark Sun Temple and the Great Wall of China. The conservation and restoration of the dome of  Al-Aqsa mosque went on to earn him the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1986.

The book was published in the year 1982 and has been further rendered to 3 editions, the third revised variation adds on to the classic with the inclusion of non-destructive research and conservation of structures from the Modernist Movement. Categorized into three parts, the book is a conventional text for students or practitioners in the field of conservation architecture. The book primarily demystifies the bewildering concept of conservation while simultaneously describing the need to take up such projects.

Book in Focus: Conservation of Historic Buildings by Bernard G. Feilden - Sheet1
Conservation of Historic Buildings ©

In the first section of the book, titled “Structural Aspects of Historic Buildings”, Bernard Feilden elucidates on the structural analysis of failures of building elements and the necessary structural actions to counter such collapses.  The author also drew inspiration from R.J. Mainstone’s extraordinary work “The Development of Structural Form” to collectively formulate this section. This part of the book particularly highlights the necessity to conduct a qualitative structural assessment at different levels of a building – first, the physical form of the whole structure; secondly, the structural elements, i.e., roofs, walls, beams and columns, arches and domes,  foundations and the soil they rest upon; thirdly, the materials of which the building components are made. Each structure poses unique challenges that must be individually assessed and appropriate solutions must be sought after. In cases of replacing a building material, the visual harmony of the structure should not be compromised; and in cases of remedial interventions, one must take into account the original character of the building and efforts should be maximized to conserve it.

The second part of the book comprises five chapters offering a detailed account of “Causes of decay in materials and structure”. Historic complexes are subjected to punishing trials of time and are often subjected to extreme climatic conditions such as unforeseen natural disasters that result in a catastrophic change to the physical fabric of the structure. A chapter is dedicated to designing maintenance strategies of historic structures in seismic zones by constructively using technological advancements that focus on improving the seismic resistance of the building. 

A few chapters under this section also give a closer understanding of man-made causes of decay – on how industrial and atmospheric pollution continually exploit the physical security of these glorious structures. The last chapter under this section deals with the structural nuances of historic buildings that are designed to optimize and respond to their climatic surroundings. These structural refinements must be conserved to establish a balanced relationship between the building and its neighboring environment.

The final section of the book encompasses the noteworthy roles of conservation architect in ten well – stated chapters. The author concisely outlines the central responsibilities of a fellow conservation architect as follows -carrying out a detailed investigation, identifying the causes of decay, and formulating a multifaceted conservation approach with minimal intervention. Bernard continues to explain this with his encounters, in the instance of York Minster Cathedral, where a soil mechanics investigation and structural analysis were simultaneously carried out in the absence of preconceived notions. 

With a separate chapter committed to the importance of fire extinguishing amenities within the structure, the author expresses the need to integrate utilities that ensure the safety of the complex in the longer run. The section also discusses the presentation of historic conservation projects that may give rise to potential aesthetic contradictions – like in the case of interventions to perfect the aesthetic sensitivity of the structure, the objectives of the interventions must be presented with clarity and distinction. Three-quarters of the way, Bernard informs the reader on exceptional techniques of reconstruction and tricky budgetary demands of a conservation project that can be lowered in case of a plan consented and devised by many.

Book in Focus: Conservation of Historic Buildings by Bernard G. Feilden - Sheet2
Conservation of Historic Buildings ©

In conclusion, Bernard Feilden’s “Conservation of historic buildings” is a reading essential for all students and practicing members of the architecture community as it provides a thorough understanding of the working world of historic conservation projects. With personal narratives and well-documented accounts from Bernard, the book covers all aspects of conservation architecture, right from its elementary concepts of restoration and conservation to the detailed methods to accomplish expansive projects. The author vehemently encourages his readers to experiment with restoration techniques and reiterates the scope and relevance of historic projects. A reflection of the visionary abilities of Bernard, the book is a substantial text that sets principle guidelines for various pivotal disciplines – structural engineering, architecture and archaeology and so forth.