This post elaborates on some of aspects of historic preservation that I talked about in Historic Preservation and Fun Home Part One, which you can read here.
Documentation is integral to historic preservation. There are several reasons why a building/site might be documented, but most documentation is done because of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Essentially, Section 106 requires any development project that uses federal funds to locate possible historic sites that could be impacted. If sites are found and it is determined that they will be negatively impacted, mitigation is often done through documentation.
Documentation is done through research, photographs, and drawings of the structure. Standards for documentation are set by the Historic American Building Survey (HABS), which is run by the National Park Service and was created during the Depression as a work program for photographers, architects, etc. HABS has four levels of documentation, with different levels of thoroughness relating to the significance of the building/site.
Documentation includes the creation of a historic narrative that requires research into the background and history of the building/site. The historic narrative details why the building/site is significant. For example, a historic narrative for 720 William Street would, in addition to the architectural significance, focus on its local significance as the residence of the Stearns family. Frank P Stearns was a well-known local builder who built the home for his family in the late 19th century.
Photographs and drawings are also vital to the documentation process. HABS has some very specific and extensive photography standards that I won’t get into, but they encompass the types of shots that must be taken and the materials used to print them (to ensure archival stability). Drawings can include field notes, measured drawings, and hard-line drawings. Traditional drafting methods are becoming obsolete with the rise of computer-aided design (CAD), but HABS has not caught up yet, and so digital documentation is not fully acceptable as a submission.