Conservation vs Preservation, what is the best approach?

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Conservation/ Preservation/ Restoration/ Integrated Conservation. These terms probably sound synonymous if you are not a conservation or cultural heritage professional, their implications could not be more apart. Below is a basic outline for individuals who want to understand the basic steps towards preserving their heritage, outside of terminology.

Conservation professionals should always make any intervention on the material of a cultural object or site. 

Deciding on the types of intervention is a joint effort between locals, stakeholders and multidisciplinary heritage professionals or Integrated Conservation.

The process in headlines:

  • identify the values of the heritage; including the landscape and significance to locals

  • devise a management and conservation plan, including well beyond the conservation completion

  • professional conservation assessment: preventive conservation, disaster planning and remedial conservation

  • decide on changes, with the locals and multidisciplinary heritage professionals


Heritage values are interchangeable with local community values. Local Approach article “DIY Values Analysis” explains heritage values. Museums or government authorities often focus on the international or national significance of heritage. The use of the site, and therefore significance lies with the locals,  thus being its advocates.  They ought to decide on the values and ensure their continuity for the future.

A sustainable management plan starts with understanding and communication of values to all parties involved. Consequently, the management strategies, implementation and conservation will maintain the values; with every conservation decision considering how it affects them. The team responsible for the plan should include at least a local representative, a specialist on the specific heritage and a conservator.

The conservator is in charge of assessing the conservation needs and threats to heritage and offer solutions. Threat examples are neglect, vandalism, environmental conditions (water, pests, light, temperature, humidity), etc. Afterwards, they offer solutions on preventive conservation, i.e. protect against anticipated threats; disaster planning; remedial conservation,i.e. restore damages.

Decisions derive after consideration of all the above factors with any change be reasonable and consistent with past and future actions. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in the preservation of values, therefore, heritage.  Decision-making should be transparent, to achieve transparency the opinions of the locals, heritage specialists, conservator are equal and coherent to the heritage’s significance.

What is conservation in a nutshell:

Conservation: mainly differs from restoration and preservation in the sense of any interventions are reversible and do not damage the material properties of heritage, as well as keeping any damages or imperfections as part of its history, context and value.

The evolution of the restorative definitions and practices develops over many years. One of the more imperative aspects of conservation is learning from past decisions. For example, countless archaeological sites have irreversible damages from corrective efforts in the last century since the discovery of concrete and use in preservative practices.

Conservation has been a transcendent topic. Further, into the past, it is said that at ancient Eleusis, Greece,  was on display Argo, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts. When a part of the wooden ship decayed, a new piece was created and replaced. Piece by piece there was no more original wood bringing into question is this monument still Argo?

Local communities who seek to protect their heritage are discouraged as they do not understand the vitality of their role and the underlying concept of heritage management. Everyone can engage in the protection and promotion of their heritage, and both communities and professionals ought to work together.

Please let us know if this article was helpful to you or need further clarifications as well as if there are other topics you would like to see covered.

I want to learn more:

Canadian Conservation Institute

Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance – Historic England (attached)

Rural Landscapes Principles- ICOMOS

Principles for the conservation of wooden built heritage- ICOMOS

Sharing Conservation Decisions Current Issues and Future Strategies- ICCROM

An Integrated Approach to Conservation and Management of Heritage by Gamini Wijesuriya (ICCROM) ( Read on Academia)

Conservation of Historic Buildings by Bernard Feilden

Values and Heritage Conservation, The Getty Conservation Institute 

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