Until very recently there had been much confusion among both building owners and professionals concerning the purpose and intent of the “Historic Structure Report” as product and as process. Then the National Park Service (NPS) issued its long awaited (in some circles) Preservation Brief 43, The Preparation and Use of Historic Structure Reports. The Park Service’s guidelines represent a huge service to the entire preservation community. They will assist the development of a commonly held understanding (that transcends regions and professional disciplines) concerning the objective of a historic structure report. Further, this document should go a long way towards standardizing form and content.
The NPS clearly conceives of the HSR as a planning document in which architectural research is assembled comprehensively, the relative significance of building elements are identified, conditions are assessed, preservation planning (or the identification of proposed preservation treatments) occurs and general recommendations are established. Key is that this process presents an opportunity to link the building with its past.
The HSR should analyze existing conditions in light of documented history and identify preservation goals in the best interest of the building. If the report satisfies the later purpose, a roadmap will be in place that will foster consensus and an approach to design that will be correct for the building. Work priorities and preliminary costs represent a part of the study, but to arrive at a detailed restoration scope of work and project budget is beyond the purview of a HSR as described by the Park Service. (“The level of detail to which the work items are defined should be limited in the historic structure report, as these recommendations serve as the foundation for, rather than in place of, design and construction documents for the work.”)