investigating - nsw environment & .investigating fabric 2 when investigating the significance of

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  • InvestigatingFabric

    INTRODUCTIONHeritage items can be viewed as three-dimensionaldocuments the fabric telling an evocative storyabout a cultural heritage which cannot be gainedfrom records alone. This physical evidenceprovides an accurate record of what happenedrather than what was intended or believed to havehappened; and it is for this reason that places ofheritage are conserved.

    The term fabric refers to all the physical materialof a place, including its surroundings and contents(Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter, articles 1.1and 1.3). This means an investigation needs toconcentrate not only on the visually-pleasingaspects of the item, but consider all the details ofits structure, and services such as plumbing.

    The original 1830s Rose Bay Cottage by John Verge wascompromised by a first floor addition in 1911. Evidencein the fabric, together with archival documents, allowedthe house and remnants of the garden to be reconstructed.Photos: Alan Croker.

    Before, and after.



    When investigating the significance of a heritageitem, information which can be gleaned from thefabric includes:

    approximate date of construction, fabricationor the planting of designed landscape elements

    approximate date of changes to the item andwhat these changes may have entailed

    how the item was constructed, fabricated, laid-out and finished over the years, and whatmaterials and techniques were used

    the present and past relationship between theitem, adjacent items and the surroundings

    original or previous uses how the item was used, managed and/or

    valued in the past the research potential an item may possess who may have been involved in, or influenced,

    its creation, change, use or management.

    HOW TO INVESTIGATE THE FABRIC OF AN ITEMBackground KnowledgeA knowledge of historical periods and of similartypes of heritage items is needed to achieve auseful level of interpretation. The process ofinterpreting an items fabric is made easier whencombined with the interpretation of archivaldocuments such as old photographs, drawings andwritten descriptions. Collect as much of thisbackground information as possible before youbegin. See Investigating History in the NSWHeritage Manual.

    Plan Your InvestigationMany questions will be left unanswered by thedocumentary evidence of a heritage item. Beforeyou begin write down some of the questionswhich you hope the fabric might answer.Familiarise yourself with the item and list thetools needed for your investigation, for example,base plans, camera, tape measures, clipboard,ladders and protective clothing.

    The Context of the ItemThe way an item sits in its surroundings can saya lot about its cultural importance. Try not to thinkof the item in isolation from its neighbourhood.Is it like its neighbours? Was it one of a group orpart of a larger complex of items? What sort ofpeople are, or have been, involved with the item?What is the surrounding environment? How did thesurrounding environment influence the placement,form, materials, changes or current condition ofthe item? For further reading see HeritageCurtilages (DUAP/HC 1996).

    The Archival RecordThe next step in investigating the fabric is toprepare measured drawings and photographs of allaspects of the item. These documents can be usedto accurately record evidence and analysis of theof an items history and significance. Thiscontemporary archival record will also beinvaluable for recommending repairs, stabilisation,maintenance, adaptive reuse and other conservationmeasures as appropriate. See How to PrepareArchival Records of Heritage Items (DUAP/HC1995) and Guidelines for the PhotographicRecording of Heritage Items (DUAP/HC 1995).

    Measured drawing, Wambo Homestead.Courtesy: Barney Collins, EJE Architecture.

    Figtree House, Hunters Hill. The three-storeyed tower ofthe house was built so that its owner, who ran a ferryservice along the Lane Cove River, could monitor hisferries. This past role of the house can be easilyunderstood because of its setting.Photo: Warwick Mayne-Wilson.



    Drawings can include a location plan, site plan,floor plans, roof plan, elevations and a number ofsections and details. They can show how the fabrichas changed over the years, by using graphics todifferentiate the phases of development.

    Photographs should be recorded on cataloguesheets and can include overall views from anumber of different angles, each interior andexterior elevation and a number of details.

    Disturbance of Significant Fabric and ArchaeologyPreliminary investigations should not intervenein the fabric or excavation (article 24 of theICOMOS Burra Charter). Such disturbance coulddestroy important evidence, before significancehas been assessed and appropriate policies put inplace. Exceptions to this rule are: where thefabric is being lost through deterioration, as partof emergency conservation works, or prior to anapproved demolition. Such investigations shouldalways be supervised by heritage professionals.

    Excavations that will disturb relics should alwaysbe preceded by an archaeological assessment anda permit under the Heritage Act 1977.

    SydneyTown Hall .Graves, whichwere quiteintact, wereunexpectedlyuncoveredduring therestoration ofSydney TownHall in1990 and 1991.Professionalarchaeologistswereimmed ia te lycalled in andan excavationpermi tobtained. Thegraves revealin fo rmat ionabout coloniallife in Sydney.Photo: JeffO Loughl in .

    Looking at Styles and FashionsAnalysing the style of a heritage item can be anenjoyable way of putting it into an historicalcontext. It can also be useful to identify laterchanges to the fabric. Care should be takenthough, as elements of one style are often carriedover into the subsequent fashion. A good referencefor the exterior of buildings is A Pictorial Guideto Identifying Australian Architecture (Apperlyet al 1989). The National Trust booklet IdentifyingHouses helps to date exterior detail and interiordetail such as window joinery.

    Dating FabricAccurate dating of the overall heritage item onthe basis of materials and components is usuallyimpossible, as materials are normallymanufactured and used over a number of years.The most we can say is that the particularcomponent or material is no older than theknown date of its creation or first importation(for example, corrugated iron roofing was firstused in Australia in the 1850s). Nevertheless, itcan help your understanding of the heritage itemto be aware of the nature and provenance of its

    The architectural detail of a building canhelp to date it Birtley Towers, ElizabethBay. Architect, Emil Soderston, based hisdesign on the USA skyscraper-style of the1930s. The exterior cladding of texturebricks is meticulously detailed anddecorated with Aztec motifs.Photo: Leanne Gould.



    For references on particular building materials seeHeritage References in the NSW Heritage Manual.

    REFERENCESApperly, R., Irving R. & Reynolds P. 1989,A Pictorial Guide to Identifying AustralianArchitecture, Angus & Robertson, Australia.

    Australia ICOMOS Inc. 1988, Australia ICOMOSCharter for the Conservation of CulturalSignificance (The Burra Charter), AustraliaICOMOS, ACT. Originally published 1981, revised.

    Australia ICOMOS Inc. 1988, Guidelines to theBurra Charter: Cultural Significance,Conservation Policy, and Undertaking Studiesand Reports, Australia ICOMOS, ACT. Revised.

    Department of Urban Affairs and Planning &Heritage Council of NSW 1994, NSW Heritage:Guidelines for the Photographic Recording ofHeritage Items, Sites, Buildings and Structures,DUAP/HC, Sydney.

    Department of Urban Affairs and Planning &Heritage Council of NSW 1995, NSW Heritage:How to Prepare Archival Records of HeritageItems, DUAP/HC, Sydney.

    Department of Urban Affairs and Planning &Herirtage Council of NSW 1994, Paint Finishes Maintenance Information Sheet No. 2, TheMaintenance of Heritage Assets Manual,DUAP/HC, Sydney.

    Heritage Office & Department of Urban Affairsand Planning 1996, Heritage Curtilages,HO/DUAP, Sydney.

    Heritage Office & Department of Urban Affairsand Planning 1996, Heritage References, NSWHeritage Manual, HO/DUAP, 1996.

    Heritage Office & Department of Urban Affairsand Planning 1996, Investigating History, NSWHeritage Manual, HO/DUAP, Sydney.

    Historical Houses Trust of NSW (n.d.),Identifying Australian Houses, HHT, Glebe.A booklet.

    Lewis, Miles 1989, Physical Investigation of aBuilding, National Trust of Australia (Victoria).

    various parts. Sources for establishing theprovenance include: patents and registereddesigns; brands, trademarks and dates on theactual items; and tradespersons marks andsignatures. Original design and constructiondrawings and specifications are a useful startingpoint, but remember items were not alwayscompleted as they were planned.

    Investigating Earlier Decorative SchemesLearning about earlier decorative schemes thatrelate to a heritage item can help piece togethersome of its history and inspire redecoration. Apartfrom researching early plans, photographs,drawings and descriptive written materials you canoften find evidence of early decorative schemes inthe fabric itself. Care needs to be taken earliersurface finishes are, in themselves, an archaeologicalrecord and ideally, should not be totally destroyed.The interpretation of these earlier finishesrequires an analytical approach and experience.

    The first step is to seek a surface that has beenhidden, thus having avoided repainting. In ahouse, this may be inside built-in cupboards orbehind electrical conduits, mounting boxes andthe like. For information on how to remove layersof paint to uncover earlier layers, see PaintFinishes, Maintenance I


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