Synergy were again delighted to sponsor the RICS & SPAB Building Conservation Summer School. The event, now in its 12th year, was held between 6-10 September at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester. The course offers Building Surveying and APC candidate’s unprecedented access to leading professionals in the field covering subject matters including building conservation philosophy, stone conservation, and timber decay amongst other topics.
David Cameron, an Assistant Building Surveyor based in our Guildford office, attended the event as a delegate and has provided a day by day account of his experience of this informative event.
Synergy are committed to the training and development of all our staff and we have an RICS Approved APC Training Agreement. If you are interested in joining our team please see our careers page for more information.
Arrived at the Agricultural University in Cirencester on a particularly warm Sunday afternoon in plenty of time to register and grab a cuppa before the day’s proceedings. The talks began with an introduction from Stephen Boniface and a friendly warning to the delegates about the intensity of the course; apparently they cram a lot of information into a few days!
Building Conservation – What’s it all about? John Dorrington Ward gives us the low down on his experiences working in Building Conservation. John started out as a Building Surveyor, but went on to become a Main Contractor specialising in Building conservation. He delivered a fantastic introduction to the subject and covered the origins and overarching philosophy of SPAB. John draws from his experience to explain the conservation process making us think about the following questions:
“Why do we want to conserve?
What are we trying to conserve?
How should it be conserved?
Who should be consulted? “
David Hardwick was up next to discuss the importance of Historic Building Recording. In an engaging talk he asked the question.
“Why is recording of such importance that it is elevated into a Conservation Principle”.
Delegates were guided through explorations of both why we record buildings, and how we do so. Hardwick explored the processes, techniques and when they might be appropriately employed which generated an interesting discussion from participants.
The final lecture of the day was conducted by Geoff Hunt, creator of the ‘Architectural Timeline’. His timeline is a history of building in the UK from the 15th century to the present day. Geoff Hunt uses the timeline as a basis to identify common defects from different eras in Britain’s architectural history. He gives delegates a few things to remember, including highlighting that water is the worse agent of decay and is not to be underestimated by Surveyors.
The second day is packed with lectures that will benefit both practitioners and students and concentrates on the repair of old buildings.
Stephen Bonniface delivers the first lecture in which he introduces surveying of historic buildings. He explains the importance of understanding the building you are surveying. Using the acronym KISS, he also reminds the audience to ‘keep it simple stupid’!
The director of SPAB, Matthew Slocombe, then delivers a presentation of building conservation philosophy and design. He explains what the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings is all about, from its origins in the 1800’s. How its early principals shaped modern building conservation philosophy and how the SPAB manifesto is still relevant for today’s conservation. SPAB is a very important voice in conservation, they must be notified of any application to demolish or partly demolish a listed building in England and Wales. They also provide training, technical advice, information and research.
Our next lecture is from Marianne Suhr who talks about solid wall construction and the need to allow old buildings to breathe. She begins by discussing the thermal elements in older buildings. She introduces the class to some innovative design solutions which improve energy efficiency of traditional buildings, improve tired interiors, but do not compromise the historic fabric.
Bob Child then discusses in depth, timber decay and repair which is especially useful for both building pathology and inspection. This is followed by a presentation on specification and schedule writing from Adrian Stenning.
The afternoon starts with Marianne Suhr going into more depth regarding the energy efficiency of older buildings. Research from SPAB in this area has revealed that many traditional building elements have much better thermal properties than government guidelines would suggest. The sustainability industry solutions such as external insulation have not been considering its effect on traditional construction. This was a very interesting talk encouraging us to think about how best to approach the restoration of solid wall structures in a way that meets the contemporary expectations without compromising the integrity of the building.
It was then great to hear how Building Conservation is approached from a Structural Engineers point of view. Sinclair Johnston did this marvellously by showing a Structural Engineers approach to diagnosis and repair and some innovative engineering solutions.
The final lecture was delivered by Duncan Ball from Synergy Construction and Property Consultants LLP on the subject of Building Conservation Cost Control. It was interesting seeing this subject from the point of view of a Quantity Surveyor. Duncan gave some invaluable tips on how to control the finances on a building restoration project. I was fascinated to learn that he had been involved with the relocation of Clavell tower in Dorset. I saw this project on a coastal walk over the summer and was impressed how they had carefully taken the structure down brick by brick and rebuilt it further inland, preserving this landmark from coastal erosion. This must have been a fantastic project to be involved with and was a very informative lecture.
Duncan Ball from Synergy
The day begins with Stephen Bonniface talking through the evolution of roof coverings, from their origins in ancient structures through to more contemporary buildings. He explains how outside influences such as the Grand Tour brought more classical architecture to the UK. This influenced the design of roofs; features such as shallow roofs, centre valleys and parapet walls. Bonniface explains the basic function of roofs as rainwater dispensers and discusses the common defects found and how to remedy these.
David Odgers, a conservation consultant specialising in stone repair, talks us through the uses of stone, properties of stone and the repair of stone. The UK is rich in geology, with a wide variety of stone and this explains why we have such an interesting regional building stock. Odgers covers a lot of ground in the allocated hour, considering this is such a vast subject. I was reassured to hear that he shares my opinion of the Southgate shopping centre in Bath. I certainly have always felt that the shopping centre is a soulless attempt to imitate the architecture of Bath. Odgers explains that the way they detailed the stone panels in the façade, has meant that the shopping centre has not aged well. We are told about the BURRA charter and English Heritages Conservation Principals. We discuss how words are meaningless on their own and that Conservation needs to be supported by detailed assessment and consideration within the context of heritage values.
Charley Brentell then talks to us about timber framed buildings. Charley is recognised as a leader in the oak framing industry and he manages a great introduction to the subject. He starts by discussing the ‘Itinerant Journeymen’, these skilled craftsmen travel from job to job for many years to master their trade. I can remember seeing Journeymen walking along the highway on a road trip to Copenhagen some years ago, recognisable from their traditional uniforms. They are a visible emblem of the continuation of traditional crafts in modern times. Brentell’s lecture covers technical aspects of timber framing; he explains the methods of assembly, setting and laying out, and the traditional joints and pegs used. He also goes into depth about the typical defects found in timber framed buildings. He also shares his knowledge of conservation repair techniques for timber framing, particularly useful to us as Building Surveyors.
Thatched roofs were in the spotlight next. Stephen Bonniface shares his knowledge of thatching. Thatching it seems, uses three principle materials water reed, long straw and combed wheat reed. Houses are thatched in an appropriate style for that area. I hadn’t realised that there is a lot of creative rivalry between tradesmen that use the different materials.
The afternoon is all about glass and brick. Two very knowledgeable gentlemen share their passion for their chosen specialism. First up is Kevin Stubbs, a historic brickwork consultant. What this man doesn’t know about brick isn’t worth knowing! Kevin has set out a table with bricks of all shapes, sizes and colours. He runs through the history of the brick and terracotta, and explains how manufacturing techniques produce different glazes and finishes. This is a very interesting and comprehensive introduction to the subject of historic brick work.
Kevin Stubbs- What this man doesn’t know about brick isn’t worth knowing!
Ben Sinclair is equally passionate about glass and glazing, Sinclair is a second generation glazier and has brought with him a comprehensive selection of glass samples. We learn that historically, there were two main ways of producing glass and this produced Crown Glass and Cylinder glass. We also learn that there was a glass tax which meant glass was produced thinner and thinner. Apparently of the two, Crown glass is much more difficult and expensive to produce and modern reproductions are impossible to obtain.
Sinclair takes the delegates to the University Chapel to show us the difference between properly restored windows and windows that have been glazed with float glass and over leaded. There is a huge difference in quality and I start to understand why he is so passionate about restoring windows respectfully. He also assures us that if we were surveying a building and were unsure of whether a window was worth restoring or not, to take a photo and send it to him, and he would provide specialist advice.
John Avent finishes the day by going through the latest innovations in conservation surveying. He explains how the use of technology can help the surveyor to accurately measure and record what is happening in historic buildings.
Wednesday is Lime day.
The final day is presented by Marrianne Suhr, Cliff Blundell, and Sean Wheatley. We begin with an enjoyable demonstration into making quick lime and lime putty. Blundell manages to boil an egg in the boiling lime mixture, which he even manages to eat. We are shown the science behind the process and are given a go at mixing up a mortar and doing a bit of pointing. Sean Wheatley is an award winning plastering specialist; he gives us a demonstration into lime plasterwork and forming cornices in situ. It’s a great interactive workshop; he lets us have a go at plastering and forming the cornices. It was a privilege to have such a skilled practitioner share his knowledge with the group. This also goes for Marriane Suhr and Clive Blundell who were extremely knowledgeable about their subjects and were happy to impart their knowledge with enthusiasm.
Wednesday is Lime day