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Architectural Investigation

Historic England uses architectural investigation to uncover the history and significance of England’s built heritage. On this page we introduce our methods for increasing knowledge and understanding of the built environment so that it can be sensitively protected and developed.

Investigator taking notes on the Isles of Scilly
Investigator taking notes on the Isles of Scilly © Mike Roberts/Historic England

In order to assess the significance of structures, buildings and places, we need to research them. Historic England uses a number of different techniques in order to find out as much information as possible, so that we can inform the decisions and actions of owners, managers and fellow professionals, as well as increase the public’s knowledge and enjoyment.

Investigators doing historic area assessment in Peckham
Investigators doing historic area assessment in a street in Peckham © Derek Kendall/Historic England

Our core principle is that we draw evidence from the buildings and places themselves, from their materials, form, function, decoration or layout. Our methods include:

  • In-depth building investigation, analysis and interpretation; backed up with extensive historical and archival research
  • Measured survey
  • Historic Area Assessment
  • Rapid urban survey

We rarely use one method in isolation: our work is all about the synthesis of techniques in order to produce the most rounded understanding of significance possible.

Two people measuring a historic building in Ely
Measuring historic building in Ely © Patricia Payne/Historic England

Our projects cover a wide range of topics from individual sites to national themes, and our work often results in guidance documents, advice and books. Each project requires a different combination of techniques and approaches to uncover the most significant information. For example,

  • Where we research a specific building type such as pubs , we carry out site visits and investigation then intensive historical research in order to understand the type’s development and distribution.
  • Our national-scale projects examining specific aspects of England’s townscapes, like our work on suburbs and seaside towns, require rapid urban survey alongside building investigation and historical research.
  • To assess the built heritage of a particular town or place, such as Boston and Alston Moor, we combine building investigation with Historic Area Assessment, rapid urban survey and sometimes measured survey.
  • And if we are researching an individual building - or a small, related group of buildings - then measured survey and in-depth investigation provides the best results, as shown by our recent rural buildings research.

For more information on architectural investigation and the work of the Assessment Team, please contact pete.herring@english-heritage.org.uk.

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