Thursday, January 08, 2009

Research on Conservation of Historic Sites

The correct conservation of sites with a historic value is of great importance, this is why I wanted to reproduce this article published at Basque Research:

Sánchez Beitia: ‹‹One has to know and understand heritage sites before embarking on any intervention››

Santiago Sánchez Beitia is a doctor in Physics and teaches first and second years and the PhD course in the School of Architecture at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). The research team he leads is pioneer in the analysis of the state of conservation of heritage sites, having adapted techniques from other spheres of study to this end.

Dr Sánchez Beitia has been working on the analysis of the state of conservation of archaeological elements at heritage sites since 1991. “One has to know and understand the monument from a structural perspective before embarking on any intervention. The construction has to be inspected, examined and listened to – but techniques are needed for this”, he explained. The analysis of the state of conservation aims to deduce what the loads supporting the construction are, the structural changes that have taken place over time and, moreover, non-structural problems — dampness, degradation of materials, movements of earth, etc. “We analyse buildings, walls, historical sites, etc.” he explained. To this end, they have adapted techniques and ways of analysing developed from very different fields than that under study.

The Hole-Drilling method

The team led by Mr Sánchez Beitia stands out for having adapted the Hole Drilling method — used for measuring stresses and deformations — to the study of architectural heritage sites. “This method enables us to find out the exact load bearing on a support structure, such as pillars, buttresses, retaining walls, etc., while affecting its physical integrity in the least possible way, as it dramatically improves performance compared to previous, more destructive, techniques”, explained the research worker.

The Hole Drilling method involves making a small orifice — just 36 millimetres in diameter and 36 millimetres deep — in the stone, using a drill onto which a series of feelers is fixed. “These feelers record the displacements – in the order of micros — that take place around the orifice. The analysis of the data obtained enables us to calculate the stresses on or the forces supporting the pillar”, explained Dr Sánchez Beitia. The application of this method is recognised worldwide and Mr Sánchez Beitia’s team has published a number of articles on the topic, in collaboration with other universities.

From Berlin to Cairo

Amongst elements studied by Mr Santiago Sánchez Beitia and his team are the Mayor de Comillas Seminary, the pillars of Santa María del Mar, the Church of Santa Maria del Pi and the Gothic Cathedral of Barcelona — the three gothic representations in the Catalan city; the Cathedral of Tarazona, the Casa Botines or the flying buttresses of the Cathedral in Palma de Mallorca. Outside the Spanish state, the Church of Saint Jacobs in Louvaine, the basement floor of the Altes Museum in Berlin or the Sultán al-Ghawri aqueduct in Cairo. “We publish studies with universities from other countries, which brings an internationalisation to what is being investigated at the School of Architecture at the Donostia-San Sebastian campus of the UPV/EHU”, explained the researcher.

Although a lot of work is undertaken outside the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, they also carry out analyses here. “We were the first to use this technique in the Cathedral of Santa María in the Basque capital city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, together with Giorgio Croci”, he stated. Moreover, they have examined the walls of Hondarribia in the neighbouring province of Gipuzkoa, and will shortly start on the analysis of their state of conservation, and on the consolidation of and intervention in the monastic site at Sasiola in Deba, in the same province.

Conservation of Sasiola

“The current state of Sasiola would make you cry”, complained Dr Sánchez Beitia. “Two of the vaults have caved in and the third is full of cracks”. Luckily, the situation of this heritage site is improving thanks to the fact that the Gipuzkoa provincial Government is going to carry out an intervention. “Our team is taking part in this project as a body associated to the architectural study which received the adjudication”, explained the researcher. With this project an exhaustive analysis of the state of conservation was made in order to be able to to project the future intervention at Sasiola in the most suitable manner.

Sasiola was a strategic point in Gipuzkoa until the XVIII century, its Franciscan monastery being a landmark on the coastal Camino de Santiago route and a contemporary of the better-known one in Aranzazu. It used to be an important trading centre, being a meeting of the commercial ways between Castille and the coast and the trading routes to the West Indies. With time and, above all, after the disentailment of the Church lands at Mendizábal, it fell into disuse. “There is a serious structural problem there and it could cave in at any moment”, suggested Mr Sánchez Beitia. “I go there a lot and every year I take a group of PhD students so they can get to know it”.

Scientific treatment of the analysis

Santiago Sánchez Beitia underlines the lack of awareness about these intervention processes “having to be based on a scientific treatment integrated into international scientific currents. For some time now Italy and Belgium, for example, have had a scientific treatment protocol for conservation analysis, but here, until recently, we have been on the margins”, pointed out the Mr Sánchez Beitia. He explained that in Catalonia they accept the need of this type of analysis that tries to understand the monumental site in order to subsequently draw up a project, carry it out and undertake conservation. “In Italy a scientific treatment protocol for conservation analysis is a legal obligation. Here it is at the whim of the concern or otherwise of officialdom”, he pointed out.

Thanks to this type of analysis, to the new techniques, to the research, there are less and less buildings that cannot be intervened and recovered. “The Cathedral of Tarazona has been closed for years because it was thought irrecoverable and it now has a Intervention Plan Director. There is always a solution and we are evermore imaginative”, he concluded.

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