Heritage Conservation: Perspectives and Methods

by Mr. Hashid Sarfraz

HeritageForAll Heritage Intern (Call 2018) from Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan

Heritage conservation is a vast array of processes that are catered at different levels and targeted and explored by multi-faceted mediums. It deals with concepts and notions that lead to a certain set of agreement between countries to create a global set of values intended to develop a mission statement and a subject of purpose.

Heritage conservation revolves around three major concepts:

  1. Initiatives, protection and promotion of heritage
  2. Significance among the community
  3. Future prospects to safeguard heritage sites

The first part deals with creating awareness among the people as of the present condition of the heritage under consideration that includes factors acting upon its deterioration be it natural/climatic or man-made circumstances. Also, it is important to investigate about the governing order or system of law that operates regarding the heritage sites as well as the authorities that are to be held responsible for their upkeep.

The second element deals with the presence of local bodies in the surrounding context of the heritage site. How do the community inhabit the site in terms of its function and also the response of the overall body towards the advantages that the site possess or the threats that each of them poses to the other. How is the presence of human activity contributing to the heritage? It caters with not only the present issues but also the long term planning involved to bring about change in attitude and behavior towards the subject matter.

The last step is to develop a plan that sorts out the problems of the heritage sites and creates a plan of action at hand to deal with the problems of heritage conservation. It involves the strategies at both micro and macro level to create solutions.

This set of devised plan is not limited to the particular restoration methods and techniques to save the valuable historical assets but on a larger scale it deals with multiple parties, businesses and local bodies, community and stakeholders working at various levels in terms of a shared vision and mission of application. Only by making use of adequate system of overlapping among these institutions and authorities can one create a sustainable plan of action. Stakeholders that take part in the heritage conservation must include these three groups:

  1. Governments – including national, provincial and local governments
  2. Business and industry – including chambers of commerce, services/trade groups, and industry associations
  3. Civil society – including a rage of actors from NGOs and universities to research institutions and community groups.

It is important to take into consideration the roles and responsibilities and capacity of each individual group to the level best suited for them to work upon. The elements discussed above, i.e. awareness, assessment and action can therefore be distributed among these groups varying upon their area of expertise.

There are basically three areas of operation of heritage conservation. Each represents a crucial stance in the identification and resourcefulness of the data acquired as of the heritage values. These include the following;

1. Governance system:

Focuses on the laws and regulations that protect, safeguard and maintain the integrity of the heritage values. The main contributor towards this establishment are the government institutions.

2. Education system:

Involves the spread of awareness among the masses through formal and informal institutions i.e. schools or other community groups in order to inform them of the current scenario of heritage conservation and their role in the overall structure of the society.

3. Technology:

Deals with all the possible skills and capabilities or methods and techniques required for the subject matter plus the proper utilization of the technology in correspondence with the skill set and man power available.

The development of the heritage conservation plan can be further enhance and studied that will enable to assist with the activity under a network of multi-disciplined efforts associated to various other domains. This framework provides an integrated approach towards the magnification of the said activity and involves the following fields respectively;

  • Urban services and planning processes
  • Transportation systems
  • Mass media support
  • Local community’s involvement
  • Entrepreneurship and business development
  • Environmental management
  • Disaster management
  • Tourism development planning


Whenever a neighborhood is assigned to be historically preserved, further land use in that area is prohibited in terms of any construction or inhabitation. This affects the value of the land within the context of the heritage site as well as the neighboring locality.

Sometimes, when a heritage site is preserved and kept intact and there is no further possibility of structural stability of the building and all the remaining structural composition is left undisturbed owing to its historical significance, at the same time the building is under usage of local inhabitants and this sort of preservation puts their lives directly at risk and there is nothing much we can do about it.

The policies allow the intervention in such cases, but this puts the user of the building into a long procedure of getting permissions from the authorities and making pleas about his condition and requirement of such an intervention, which is a long tiring process.


It is important to note that various techniques and methods have been developed so far to meet the needs of the growing awareness and attitude towards historical sites. A number of projects related to conservation practices have also been employed in the city of Lahore in Pakistan. Most of these methods involve the participation of governing authorities and heritage institutions and/or organizations working for the promotion of cultural identity and other issues related to these sites of historic character. Under the guidance of the governing laws and principle, the following techniques have been employed to conserve such buildings. These projects will help us to identify and analyze different techniques and perspectives on conservation. Common conservation practices are classified into the following categories:

  • Preservation

Deals with the original structure and set of artistic and cultural values associated to the site, keeping intact the integrity of all the elements in true sense and nature present at the current site. It pays heed to the fact that materials and the building itself has undergone certain changes as time has passed and yet it is not present in the condition it was once built upon, still it manages to display the maximum of the original work.”

Preservation practices have not been very successful in the region, as most of the times the authorities responsible for bringing the process are ignorant of keeping the cultural and artistic edifices of the historical assets intact and instead of preserving the original art forms they end up destroying the whole work and just replace it with a new formwork, plaster or other materials, as it is much easier to replace then to repair and train the craftsmen. Therefore, this has been seriously corrupting the practice of preservation and there had been a number of sites of significant importance that have lost their historical integrity due to such malpractice. Similar effort were thought to be employed during the conservation of Shalamar Gardens, Lahore but due to lack of proper knowledge and ignorance of the authorities, the site fell prey to more devastation that could have been done by the time alone.

  • Rehabilitation

“Deals with the repair work in order to save the structure and its artwork of further collapse. A certain damage is deemed necessary to bring about rehabilitation otherwise it is not recommended if the site is considerably intact in terms of materials and decoration both. The main idea behind these methods is to be applied among the main features/artwork of the historical assets.”

Chowk Wazir Khan

The forecourt is a 800 square meter piece of land besides the great Wazir Khan Mosuqe in Lahore. In and around the forecourt, there had been rapid encroachments in terms of commercial public activity, that has occupied the chambers called hujras of the mosque along with the forecourt. These communal service areas have been displaced and compensated as part of the rehabilitation project. The reclamation of the public square for the activity of the community that engages public through various events and provides an open urban space in the mid of these narrow jam packed streets. The open space can now accommodate more than 400 people at one time bringing back the glory of the mosque.

During the course of rehabilitation work
After rehabilitation work
  • Restoration

“It focusses on retaining the materials that belong to a certain period in history and other materials from the remaining periods are subsequently removed in order to emphasize the importance of one particular time and era.”

Shahi Fort Lahore

The conservation of Royal Fort in Lahore involved the restoration of the great ‘picture wall’, which is 442 meter in length and 15 meters high. It was a fortified wall which exhibits great endeavors and artistic taste of the Mughals when it comes to building crafts. The wall is covered with glazed mosaic tile work called ‘kashikari’ with motifs and figures representing Mughal court in the 16th century. As part of the conservation process the facade was considered and divided in the form of fragments of each individual mural or motif and damage to the existing decorative surface has been developed by using various techniques.

Picture wall of the Royal Fort in Lahore
Glazed mosaic tile work, ‘kashikari’
  • Reconstruction

“It develops the idea of recreating a site which do not exist now in all its splendor, to embrace the values and significance related to it through subsequent steps and measures which are later added to the new structure.

Royal kitchen Lahore Fort

The main idea behind the conservation of this complex was to restore the original existing structural fabric, using the original function of the space and then integrating it into the context. Some parts were restored while some missing parts were reconstructed in order to complete the edifice as a whole unit. It took a lot of effort to restore this complex as it not only involved one kind of restoration technique but a set of methods to fully embrace the original authentic nature of the site.

Royal kitchens before the conservation works
During the reconstruction process
  • Critical Conservation

Another way of conservation that includes the historicity and cultural identity of any site/area or region is beginning to get popular around the globe and is referred to as critical conservation. It simultaneously deals with all the concepts related to a historical site of significant value. All the socio-cultural, economics, traditions, customs, changes over the past, policies and measures taken towards the rehabilitation or any other similar process.

In the current modern age, urban territories are constantly growing and expanding that do not pay heed to the historic fabric of any city/region. Dealing with overall expansion of the cities and the role of communities towards the heritage sites, this method because of its unconventional nature, raises questions and creates parallels among various principles to develop notions of sustainability and cultural uplift. Its framework provides all the strategists in the field of urban planning and conservation to effectively engage and work hand in hand towards the progression of the environment.

The work of critical conservation is beyond the measures that we have to consider in terms of a physical intervention or appropriation of a historic site, thereby eliminating restrictions while constructing solutions to solve problems in a more convenient and more manageable scheme. So the ultimate effects of the prescribed propositions are not limited to resources, materials and historicity but exists on a greater scale with nuanced comprehension of the subject matter.

There had been a series of research techniques applied to sites of historic importance and further development upon the research methods has been continuously investigated upon. Such activities are being carried under the supervision of learned personalities in the academics domain and being put forward through subsequent studies by the faculties and students belonging to the fields of architecture, planning and conservation departments. These studies envisage a bigger picture in the overall uplift of any site and is not bound to follow the material restrictions and thus creates a broader and more inclusive approach.


It is important to note that all these methods and techniques need to be carefully analyzed while implementing any of them. Strict supervision under the guidance of a knowledgeable person is indeed necessary to execute these ideas and concepts. And it is a combined effort of all the people in the community as well as the stakeholders and authorities to develop strategies best suited for the site under consideration plus the execution should also be done very carefully paying heed to the significance of the subject matter and thereby creating a team of professionals to implement and discharge the tasks as accordingly.


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