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  • Writer's pictureBenny Kuriakose

The Do's and Don'ts of Conserving Old Buildings

In today's world, old buildings are ignored and neglected and thus, not given the due nurture they need. Most owners regard them as a burden and carry out no maintenance at all. Some of them, which are qualitatively better than the protected monuments, are being demolished at regular intervals. This article attempts to provide a coherent list of suggestions to all those who are interested in preserving the aesthetic qualities of aged buildings and in adaptively reusing them. Some of the principles of adaptive reuse that we follow are covered here.


“ It has been most truly said at our meetings that these old buildings do not belong to us only; that they have belonged to our forefathers, and they will belong to our descendants unless we play them false. They are not in any sense our property, to do as we like with. We are only trustees for those that come after us.”

- William Morris, (Speech at Annual Meeting of SPAB, 1889 Report.)


"Is it not better to add to the sum total of the record of human creativity than to subtract from it? Is it not better to allow people to be enriched by the products of all ages rather than just our own?" - Randolph Langenbach (in 'A Future from the Past' 1978).


List of Contents



Paliam Palace Before Restoration
Paliam Palace Before Restoration
Paliam Palace After Restoration
Paliam Palace After Restoration

Click to know more about the restoration of Paliam Palace


The irony of our architectural training is that it is based on the study of old buildings but seldom teaches us to respect them. Given a choice between conserving the old buildings and new construction, most architects would choose the latter. But, bringing forth the adaptive reuse and restoration of heritage buildings is essential to pass on heritage to future generations. If the rehabilitation of these old buildings is not sensitively undertaken, the qualities that gave them their character and cultural heritage will go into oblivion.


The Before and After Images of Kottapuram Market
The Before and After Images of Kottapuram Market

Click to know more about Kottapuram Market


1. General Guideline to Be Followed for Restoration of Old Buildings


If the structure is to be brought into adaptive reuse, the building services will also have to be taken into account primarily. Naturally, the care that has to be exercised in the case of old buildings is much higher if the building is ancient or if its quality is poor. The physical comforts need not be compromised in the choices of toilets, floor finishes etc. For example, in conserving an ancient roof, the object is to preserve or retain the maximum amount of the original timber. However, the repaired roof should be able to bear the load of the tiles or stones that cover it. Similarly, the floors should be able to support the weight of people walking on it, and the windows must keep the rain out.


Interior View of Paliam Nalukettu Conserved as a part of the Muziris Heritage Project
Interior View of Paliam Nalukettu Conserved as a part of the Muziris Heritage Project

Click to know more about Paliam Nalukettu


Do’s

  • Do keep an open mind. Be ready to accept and accommodate some irregularities like minor leanings and a certain amount of impractical things.

  • Do use the same materials and methods as done originally.

  • Do use natural materials rather than synthetic ones and match them in texture, quality and colour.

  • Do replace irrelevant additions and embellishments with more authentic designs from its origin era.


Cheraman Juma Masjid Before Conservation
Cheraman Juma Masjid Before Conservation
Cheraman Juma Masjid After Conservation
Cheraman Juma Masjid After Conservation

Don’ts

  • Don't try fancy new methods, which are developed for modern constructions.

  • Don't imitate arches, cornices, architraves and other details unless you can do them correctly. Nothing looks worse than a thoroughly vulgar pastiche.

  • Don't overdo the restoration. It should be resisted at any cost.

  • Don’t bring in unconnected features and finishes for beautifying the building.


Saukar Masjid Before Conservation
Saukar Masjid Before Conservation
Saukar Masjid After Conservation
Saukar Masjid After Conservation

Click to know more about Saukar Masjid


2. While Repairing or Replacing Elements in Vernacular Architecture


Do’s

  • Do retain every original feature that can be saved.

  • Do keep all repairs to a minimum.

Don’ts

  • Don't repair anything that is in order, and don't replace anything that can be repaired.


Interior of Holy Cross Church Before Conservation
Interior of Holy Cross Church Before Conservation
Interior of Holy Cross Church After Conservation
Interior of Holy Cross Church After Conservation

3. Documentation of Cultural Heritage


Do’s

  • Do record the condition of the building, before any intervention. All methods and materials used during treatment should be documented.

  • Do measure and record before removing any significant feature from the building, if the repairs demand it. It is important that everything goes back to its original place, in its original form.

  • Do incorporate the date if any old materials get replaced with new ones. It is of great use to future conservators who may otherwise misjudge it to be as old as the building itself.

  • Do photograph all the elements of a timber roof like rafter, wall plates, trusses and others before dismantling it.


A View of the Altar at the Paravur Jew Synagogue
A View of the Altar at the Paravur Jew Synagogue

Click to know more about the conservation of the Paravur Synagogue


4. Archaeological Features to Be Preserved


Do’s

  • Do preserve all historic evidence and archaeological buildings.

  • Do consult an expert, if you think you have found something interesting, such as a mural, painting, etc.

  • Do take proper care in investigating for the possible presence of blocked up doors and windows, reused timber members etc. This evidence can tell us a great deal about the building's history. The remains may be fragmentary, but from slight traces, such as a springer indicating a vault here or a window there; the picture of the original building can be formed in the mind's eye.

  • Do take special care in revealing early features of interest and expose it, for the discerning eye to see.

Don’ts

  • Don't remove inscriptions, signs, boards, date plaques, carvings, niches and statues which form an integral part of the history of the building. If the restoration calls for the removal of an interesting feature, then it is desirable for it to be re-set in an appropriate position.


New Model Coir Society Building in Alappuzha After Conservation
New Model Coir Society Building in Alappuzha After Conservation

Click to know more about New Model Coir Society


5. Building and Its Setting


Do’s

  • Do exercise the same care and attention to detail for repairing or replacing the elements of the front elevation, the sides and the back of the building. Each of these contributes to the chara