by Frederike Berg
Preserving the past: A guide to planning a scaffold for a heritage building
Heritage buildings hold immense historical and cultural significance, representing the spirit of bygone eras. Yet, as time passes, these structures inevitably undergo wear and tear, demanding restoration and maintenance. And this is where scaffolding steps in, allowing workers to repair and prevent further damages.
For example, starting in 2013, large sections of the Colosseum in Rome were covered in scaffolding for almost three years to restore the original colour of the 2,000-year-old facade of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. To this end, the façade was sprayed with water at room temperature, in some cases in a painstakingly detailed manner, to remove accumulated dirt and other discolorations. No cleaning agents were used so as not to alter the original appearance of the limestone blocks. This is because any work on a listed building such as the Colosseum is subject to special conservation measures.
And that also means special requirements for the scaffolding needed for conservation and restoration work on heritage buildings. Every step in the erection and dismantling of the scaffolding must be carried out with the utmost care, because this is when the risk of damage to the structure is greatest. Subsequent repair work is often difficult because original materials are very rare and cost-intensive, making faithful reconstruction more difficult.
To prevent this, even the simplest measures can have a big effect. In order to further protect the listed building from damage caused by the scaffolding, any exposed scaffolding tubes, such as those that can occur with tubular scaffolding, must be covered with plastic caps. This protects the walls from scarring caused by possible vibrations from the scaffolding.
Collaboration is the key to successful restoration projects
Effective collaboration with other trades is crucial when restoring listed buildings. To ensure that the scaffold design aligns with preservation principles and supports the restoration efforts, conservation specialists, architects, and engineers with expertise in historic preservation must work hand in hand with scaffolding professionals. And this already starts with the planning of the scaffold.
Planning a scaffold for a heritage building
Surveying the project site
Reliable construction plans can be difficult or impossible to obtain, especially for old, listed buildings. Particularly when a building is being refurbished for the first time in a long time, or even for the first time at all, there are crucial steps to be taken before the actual work begins. These include surveying the property - and this should be done in a particularly low-risk way. Modern tools such as drones or 3D surveying technology are particularly useful here.
Using the data obtained in this way, the scaffolding required for the restoration work can now be planned. The height and distance of the scaffolding from the object must first be agreed with the restorers responsible. This ensures that the necessary restoration work can be carried out without obstruction from the scaffolding.
Anchoring and fastening the scaffolding
One question that always arises, especially when working on a listed building, is how to anchor the scaffolding. Traditional anchoring, as we know it from facade scaffolding, for example, is often not possible on listed buildings. Apart from the lack of stability of the walls to be restored, the damage that anchoring could cause to the building is one of the main reasons why an alternative to scaffolding anchoring, such as a support scaffold, needs to be found.
Scaffolding as protection for the heritage building
When scaffolding is erected on a heritage building, it can act not only as a working platform for restorers, but also as protection for the building itself. To this end, the preferred method is to attach white, close-meshed netting to the outside of the scaffolding to protect both the building and the workers from wind, weather and UV rays. This makes it easier to carry out delicate work where extra protection from the elements is required. Again, the areas where scaffold nets are required must be agreed with the restorers.
Minimizing visual impact of the scaffold
In addition to this functional benefit, scaffold nets can also be useful from an aesthetic point of view. Because, admittedly, scaffolding temporarily obscures the original beauty of a heritage building. To minimize the visual impact of the scaffold, it can be clad with cloth or mesh imprinted with the building's façade, creating an illusion of continuity. This approach reduces disruption to the building's aesthetics, ensuring that its timeless charm remains visible even during restoration.
Scaffolding has a vital role in preserving the past
Scaffolding is an indispensable tool in the restoration and maintenance of heritage buildings. Through its protective capabilities, adaptability, and structural support, scaffolding allows us to revive the past while preserving it for future generations. By cherishing our heritage buildings and combining modern scaffolding techniques with conservation practices, we can ensure that these architectural gems continue to inspire and captivate for years to come.
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