© Mohammed Badra/Picture alliance/dpa

Historic Monuments

Historic Monuments

An assessment of the damage suffered by historic monuments takes a closer look at the condition of individual buildings, or building complexes, that possess specific cultural and historic value. The information it captures can be linked to historical archives, documents and other data, concerning not only the pre-war condition and original form of a historic building, but also its development over time. Where available, even if in a provisional condition, digital archives can be used as well.

There are a number of approaches and instruments for assessing the damage incurred by historic buildings and monuments in greater detail.

An assessment of overall damage can be the entry point for a more detailed assessment, in particular if it contains information on individual buildings that have been damaged or destroyed by armed conflict. In some cases, such information is available from the UNITAR damage assessment maps for individual cities (e.g. for Mosul and Sanaa), or from more detailed overall assessments like the UNESCO report on war damages in Aleppo.

Relevance

By revealing the extent of necessary remedial work, a detailed damage assessment provides a wealth of knowledge that facilitates the protection, repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the most valuable historic buildings and monuments in war-damaged historic cities. In particular, it can be used to evaluate:

  • the extent of destruction of important heritage sites with a view to recording violations of international conventions on the protection of urban cultural heritage
  • the emergency or urgent repair measures needed to prevent further damage or the collapse of buildings
  • options and possibilities for the recovery and restoration of important heritage buildings
  • scope and cost of necessary repair and reconstruction works
  • skills, crafts and building techniques that will be needed for professional reconstruction in compliance with accepted conservation practices
  • building materials and building elements

Users and target audience

The main users and target audience of a detailed damage assessment consists of the professionals who rely on accurate information when planning and implementing repair and reconstruction measures, such as:

  • decision-makers and experts in national and/or international organisations who are responsible for protecting and recovering culturally important buildings;
  •  local governments or other local administrative bodies responsible for planning and implementing urban reconstruction;
  • professionals and experts entrusted with planning and implementing repair and reconstruction measures, including architects, civil engineers, preservationists and art historians.

The information captured by detailed assessments is also relevant to a non-professional audience, comprising:

  • owners of historic buildings who either remained in situ during the conflict or have returned after the end of fighting and are seeking information on both the condition of their buildings and the options for, and cost of, repair or reconstruction;
  • heirs and legal successors of owners who have been killed or have passed away during the conflict.

Property owners, residents and businesspeople can also be an important source of information for detailed assessments, especially if they or their relatives or neighbours have access to the relevant buildings or properties.

APPROACHES AND INSTRUMENTS

Information management systems

© Franziska Laue

Developing and setting-up an appropriate information management system will provide the basis for documenting and assessing the damage of historic buildings and monuments.

The technical solution can be a database application with the functionality for processing different types of information and media like texts, numbers, maps, photos and videos or a fully-fledged Geographical Information System (GIS) with the ability to geo-reference relevant spatial data.

The basis for documenting and assessing the damage to historic buildings and monuments is established by developing and setting up an appropriate information management system.

There are two main technical solutions available for this purpose:

  • database applications capable of processing diverse information and media, such as text, numerical data, maps, photos and videos, possibly in combination with geo-referencing to open source maps;
  • fully-fledged professional geographical information systems (GIS).

A key challenge when developing a functional system is to define the information needs, based on a clear understanding of the way in which the damage assessment is to be used. Given that analysing and documenting the damage to individual buildings can be a time-consuming and costly exercise, consideration has to be given to both the need for reliable and detailed data and the effort required to collect, compile and process the information.

To set up, operate and use an information management system in the context of damage assessment, qualified professionals with experience in the following key areas will be needed:

  • development and operation of information management systems;
  • architecture and civil engineering, with special expertise in assessing structural damage to buildings;
  • art and building history, with special expertise in restoration works;
  • organisation of social media campaigns.

Training and capacity building programmes may be needed if professionals with the relevant skills are not available.

Social media and crowd sourcing

In view of the challenges that arise when documenting damage to a large number of historic buildings and monuments, much of the information needed for assessment purposes can be collected with the help of social media and crowdsourcing.

As already indicated, property owners, residents and businesspeople can be an important source of information for detailed assessments. Other citizens as well, especially young people, can be mobilised to contribute to such assessments through social media and crowdsourcing.

In particular if access to locations is ruled out by political, security or safety restrictions, crowdsourcing and social media can be the only tools available for collecting the information needed to initiate a detailed assessment of the damage to key historic monuments.

Crowdsourcing for damage assessment purposes has so far been applied mainly for mapping the damage caused by natural disasters. The experience accumulated on such occasions can be harnessed, however, and applied to the specific requirements of assessing war damage in post-conflict situations.

Detailed building surveys on the ground

Measuring historic building in Ely © Patricia Payne/Historic England

In order to produce an accurate and technically sound assessment of damage, especially for the purposes of planning and implementing repair and restoration measures, detailed surveys have to be performed on the ground.

In most cases this entails a measured survey of a building and its main historical features, such as walls, roofs, beams, columns, doors, windows, gates, woodwork, decoration, etc..

Such surveys can be significantly facilitated by modern tools, such as reflectorless electromagnetic distance measurement (EDM) technology or advanced laser scanners, which can be used to produce accurate floor plans, elevations and even 3D models of a damaged historic monument. The quality and accuracy of the data depend largely on the skill and experience of the operator, but also on the processing software and any other equipment used.

Notwithstanding such aids, human expertise is essential when structural damage is being assessed and consideration is being given to the options and need for repair and restoration.

Further information on measured building surveys

Damage assessment as part of the Syria Heritage Archive Project

© SHAP

The Syria Heritage Archive Project of the Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum of Islamic Arts) in Berlin is currently implementing a sub-project sponsored by the Gerda Henkel Foundation and others to assess the damage to historic buildings in the Old City of Aleppo. It is part of an initiative investigating the end of conflict and a new beginning (Stunde Null in German) under the umbrella of the Archaeological Heritage Network (ArcHerNet), which is part-financed by the German Foreign Office.

The sub-project is being implemented by a network of young Syrian scientists and experts with the support of international and German experts.

The project team are systematically documenting the damage incurred by the historic buildings and monuments recorded in the Syrian heritage archive. Information on the status and condition of heritage buildings is being obtained by members of the network through social media and direct personal contact with people on the ground.

The compiled information is being collected in a ‘digital room book’ that is linked to the data of the heritage archive. The damage is being recorded and assessed in compliance with European Standard EN 16096 of 2012 on the Conservation of Cultural Property.

A geographical information system (GIS) digitally maps all objects and buildings for which the severity of damage and urgency of repair have been assessed. More detailed information on an individual building is available at the click of a mouse button. GIS can also produce a catalogue of art-historical descriptions of a building.

The project is collecting up-to-date information for those who are making decisions on protecting, repairing and reconstructing historic structures and buildings.

Training modules on digital and photographic building documentation, and on damage documentation and assessment in line with European standard EN 16096:2012, are important complementary elements of the project.

Further information is available by visiting the project website and by  watching a video  (in German only) that describes the approach adopted by the project.

Further Reference and Resources

Date: 24. August 2018 | Last modified: 5. June 2019

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