The UK is rich in history and culture, and a lot of the buildings you see across the country will reflect as much.

But with time comes deterioration, and many of these buildings are in desperate need of restoration to keep them functioning in the modern age.

Here, we take a look at the process of restoring a historic building and the role that structural engineers play.

If you’re looking to restore a historic building in the South West, why not get in touch to speak with one of our expert structural engineers in Plymouth today?

What is a Historic Building?

Historic buildings are generally defined as being a building or structure that has historical value. This could be because people alive today have some connection to the building through past events or because they have importance in respect to a particular historical event or period.

A structure can also be considered historic because of the building’s construction methods, design, architectural significance, and more.

When a building or structure is deemed historic, it means that there are far more considerations and planning decisions that need to be evaluated before any changes can be made.

Historic builds can also include:

  • Listed buildings.
  • Buildings in conservation areas.
  • Buildings of architectural and historical interest.
  • Buildings of architectural and historical interest within national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and world heritage sites.
  • Vernacular buildings of traditional form and construction.

An old tower building on a hillside

What Do Structural Engineers Do to Restore Historic Buildings?

The role of a structural engineer is to focus on the structural integrity of a building and ensure it is able to withstand the loads and forces it encounters. This can make things a little tricky when it comes to historic buildings.

A historic or listed building tends to be most buildings over 30 years old and can go as far back as buildings built before the 1700s. Not only were the construction methods used in these times less advanced than they are now, but time has a huge role to play in the current condition of the building.

When it comes to restoring a historic building, it’s essential to conduct a structural engineer report as these kinds of buildings very often suffer from a multitude of issues, including bulging walls, cracking, and roof spread.

Once the report is complete, your structural engineer will be able to help you plan the next steps and even help design your restoration. Structural engineers can also help you with the planning application process as well as so much more.

Do You Need Planning Permission to Restore Historic Buildings?

There are numerous things you need to consider before taking on a historic building restoration project. This includes the permissions you need to acquire before you start any work on the building, such as:

  • Listed building consent – necessary if the repairs or restorations will affect the building’s character in any way.
  • Planning permission – necessary if the restoration you’re looking to carry out amounts to development as defined by legislation and materially affects the external appearance of the building.

If you’re not sure if the restoration or repairs you want to complete need any such permissions, then get in touch with your local council.

A historic mining building in Cornwall

How Are Historic Buildings Restored?

Before any restorations can be made to a historic building, certain things need to be worked out. These things are important both for safety reasons and also to ensure that you are maintaining the community’s historical, cultural, and architectural heritage.

Can the Building Support Modern Amenities?

When it comes to restorations, it can be tempting to follow the good old ‘out with the old, in with the new’ approach. But, when it comes to historic buildings especially, you need to look at the practical as well as the aesthetic.

Thanks to their age and construction methods, many historic buildings have less structural integrity than newer builds. As such, it’s often better to focus on repairing as much of the current interior as possible rather than replacing it.

If there are some amenities you feel desperately need to be added, then first make sure that the building can support them. Building restoration needs to be done with sensitivity so as not to damage the current structural system.

Can You Maintain the Building’s Character?

Before you take any steps to change the building, make sure you understand its significance in the community – there are reasons they are called historic buildings beyond just their age.

Once you understand the significance of the building, you can begin to look at the changes you can plausibly make without harming the building’s character. This will also make your life far easier when it comes to applying for planning permission or listed building consent, as well as any funding you may be looking for.

Are You Keeping to Building Codes and Historic Building Regulations?

With any kind of building restoration, your main priority should be the safety of the building’s occupants.

Make sure you involve code officials and other professionals such as structural engineers early on so you can be aware of any issues or potential challenges.

Restoring a historic building is no easy task, but if done right can be extremely rewarding and perhaps even profitable.

If you’re looking for help restoring a historic building, why not take a look at our previous historic restoration projects and see if our services are the right fit for you.

explore our previous projects from Martin Perry Associates