Henderson Colloquium 2016 – The Restoration and Preservation of Historic Structures

Since 1975 the British Group of IABSE have held a two day colloquium in Cambridge every summer for about 25 invited participants. The purpose of the event is to exchange views on a structural engineering theme of topical importance. Each participant is invited to make a short presentation to trigger constructive discussions in the relaxed surroundings of Christ’s College. Delegates at the 2016 Henderson Colloquium met to discuss “The Restoration and Preservation of Historic Structures”.

The 24 delegates at the 2016 colloquium included representatives from client organisations, government bodies, academic institutions, architecture practices and engineering consultancies. A broad range of topics were discussed on all aspects of the theme; from buildings and bridges to monitoring techniques, data management and record keeping. An overwhelming consensus was that there is much more to the conservation and restoration of historic structures than simply understanding the structural aspects. They represent the people who made them and as such, we should respect the structure in the same way that we respect the people who formulated and crafted them.

IABSE Annual Lecture 2016 slider impage

Henderson is held at Cambridge University

The preservation of historic structures has public support and it is broadly accepted that we have a duty to conserve our aging built heritage for future generations. Historic structures have intrinsic value in their own right as the embodiment of engineering achievement in design and construction. They provide a tangible resource for the teaching of social, economic, political and human history; helping to create a better understanding of modern society and culture. Historic structures also attract visitors from overseas and encourage domestic tourism, which is important to the national economy.

Bringing new life to our most compelling structures can be an architectural and engineering rollercoaster ride but it is only through proper protection, conservation and investment in maintenance, repair and alteration that the substantial benefits of these structures can continue to be realised. Matching traditional structures with contemporary design can create something really special that others might aspire to.

There is a growing need to effectively and competently design and specify historic structural maintenance and refurbishments. This requires a comprehensive understanding of appropriate restoration and preservation techniques. Asset owners now have access to better analysis, better technology and potentially better solutions to their problems.

“Tread softly because you tread on my dreams”
– W. B. Yeats, The Cloths of Heaven

With regard to aging infrastructure the question was posed – “at what point does a functional piece of infrastructure become a heritage asset?” It is certainly something that needs to be continually maintained and repaired with contemporary materials; but how do you maintain and repair the asset without changing the fabric of the structure to some degree?

On the topic of structural monitoring, the issue of drowning in data while thirsting for knowledge was discussed. How is the optimum amount of monitoring determined and can the data be usefully interpreted? Is simple observation just as powerful – in the words of one of the delegates; “let the structure speak!”.

A journal of the Colloquium proceedings will soon be made available by the British Group of IABSE and there will be an evening seminar later this year at a venue in London where delegates from the colloquium will present their topics for wider discussion with the assembled audience. Details of the evening seminar together with the journal will be made available on the IABSE British Group website.

Jason Hyde, July 2016