[10 on Tuesday] 10 Common Preservation Terms Defined

Posted on: September 11th, 2012 by Emily Potter 7 Comments

As you delve into preservation projects (maybe our 10 on Tuesday posts have inspired you to green your home or use social media to promote your cause), you might find you need a little clarification on common -- and seemingly interchangeable -- preservation terms. We’ve pulled together 10 (surprise!) of the big ones for you here.

1. Preserve: To maintain a site’s existing form through careful maintenance and repair.

2. Conserve: To keep a place in a safe or sound state in such a way as to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect. This often refers to environmental and natural resources.

3. Cultural resource: Broadly, this is evidence of past human activity and includes places like buildings or old roads, battlefields, sacred landscapes, and historic artifacts or objects. They are generally considered non-renewable resources.

4. Reconstruct: To re-create an historic place that has been damaged or destroyed; to erect a new structure resembling the old by using historical, archaeological, or architectural documents.

5. Rehabilitate: To repair a structure and make it usable again while preserving those portions or features of the property that are historically and culturally significant.

6. Remodel: To change a building without regard to its distinctive features or style. This often involves changing the appearance of a structure by removing or covering original details and substituting new materials and forms.

7. Renovate: To repair a structure and make it usable again, without attempting to restore its historic appearance or duplicate original construction methods or materials.

8. Restore: To return a site to its original form and condition as represented by a specified period of time using materials that are as similar as possible to the original ones.

9. Stabilize: To protect a building from deterioration by making it structurally secure, while maintaining its current form.

10. Easement (as it relates to historic preservation): A voluntary legal agreement, typically in the form of a deed, which permanently protects a historic property.

Now it’s time for a pop quiz! Just kidding. We hope this glossary is a handy reference for you going forward.

If you’ve already familiarized yourself with these terms through personal experience, tell us about it -- have you rehabilitated an older home, reconstructed an old barn, or dealt with/put in place easements on a historic property? Also, any other terms you’d like to better understand?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Emily Potter

Emily Potter is a copywriter at the National Trust. She enjoys writing about places of all kinds, the stories that make them special, and the people who love them enough to save them.

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7 Responses

  1. Theresa

    September 11, 2012

    Hello Emily,
    Thanks for the great clarification. Good to know we’re using the terms correctly with our project. I was just discussing these terms with others last week. Another term we often hear & also use is “updating”. How would you define that word?
    Thank you,
    Theresa Downey

  2. Meagan Baco

    September 11, 2012

    Great list! The distinctions between preservation, rehab and restore constantly come up and I try to correct folks on the nuances. Another common mistake heard around town is mixing up local historic districts with National Register historic districts.

    To introduce my readers to many of the abbreviations and acronyms of historic preservation, I’ve put together a list of some of the most common ranging from agencies to actions. Check it out here: http://histpres.com/historic-preservation-abbreviations-you-should-know.

  3. Emily Rose

    September 11, 2012

    Hi Theresa, thank you for your comment. “Update” is another great word to add to our list of preservation terms. I think a good way to define it would be: striking a balance between respecting and retaining the historic integrity of a place and finding appropriate ways (sometimes creatively) to incorporate new features or technologies. I hope that helps!

    Thanks Meagan, great list!

  4. Shawn Evans

    September 11, 2012

    Preservationists need to be learning from communities how the past, present, and future are valued differently in different places. I strongly believe that it is of far greater importance for communities to define their own cultural values for preservation, rather than forcing them into these pre-defined boxes that come from a single value system. This is essential for for preservation to broaden its base.

  5. Tom Richmond

    September 12, 2012

    “LANDMARK” is my pet peeve! Everything wants their favorite site to be referred to as a LANDMARK! “My pizzeria is a National Landmark” “My Grandpa’s place is a National Landmark” “This grave is a National Landmark!”

    BZZZZZ! Wrong answer! People, lets learn what that term really means! There are very few National Landmarks… and designating more National Landmarks is REALLY difficult

    So…Your grandpa’s pizza better be earth-shattering to have his grave designated a National Landmark! :D

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