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Screenshots from Building Pathology Reading Group, summer 2020.

Building Pathology Reading Group  

During June and July 2020, I participated, along with three other WUDPAC students, in an online reading and discussion group led by Michael C. Henry, PE, AIA, a practicing preservation architect and engineer. Michael is an adjunct professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and a recurring lecturer in WUDPAC’s preventive conservation classes. Michael’s course, Building Pathology, focuses on the causes and processes of the deterioration of buildings and their change over time, and it emphasizes a systemic, holistic approach as essential to understanding these complex processes. Weekly readings and discussions focused on the properties of building materials, their mechanisms of deterioration, quantitative measurement of change over time, and the synergistic, interrelated nature of building systems and materials. Bigger-picture considerations like the social, physical, economic, and environmental contexts of buildings were also central to our readings and conversations, and preventive conservation, environmental sustainability, and financial budgeting for long-term, cost-effective preservation and care were overarching themes.


The Building Pathology seminar was an excellent introduction to the theory and practice of architectural preservation, and it also expanded upon many of the themes, principles, and practices that I was exposed to during my first two years of study at WUDPAC. An understanding of the function and deterioration of buildings is valuable for the conservator of moveable property in considering the built environments, like museums, historic houses, or private collections, in which art and artifacts are housed.  Many factors within a building— including moisture, heat, structural stability, pests, building materials, air flow, and HVAC systems—have a significant effect on art or artifacts housed within that building. Understanding these factors is essential for making informed decisions about preventive conservation and the long-term stability of collections. The principles covered in this course are also applicable to the treatment of individual objects. The use of engineering methodology to measure change over time quantitatively, for example, is relevant to object-based treatment, and the holistic approach of systems thinking, with its emphasis on function, use, historical or social context, and the complex dynamics of constituent elements that make up an object—both between each other and within the object’s broader environment—is just as applicable to furniture, paintings, textiles, or photographs as it is to buildings or monuments. 

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