Burra Charter offers a guideline for adaptive reuse of heritage buildings

You can access the Burra Charter here.

The full text of the document is of relevance. The following excerpts offer selected highlights.


The document notes (p.1):

Places of cultural significance enrich people’s lives, often providing a deep and inspirational sense of connection to community and landscape, to the past and to lived experiences.

It adds (p. 1):

The Burra Charter advocates a cautious approach to change: do as much as necessary to care for the place and to make it useable, but otherwise change it as little as possible so that its cultural significance is retained.

Article 6 concerns the Burra Charter process

Article 6.3 of the Burra Charter notes:

Policy development should also include consideration of other factors affecting the future of a place such as the owner’s needs, resources, external constraints and its physical condition.

Article 7 concerns use

Article 7.1  Where the use of a place is of cultural significance it should be retained.

Article 7.2  A place should have a compatible use.

An explanatory note regarding the latter item adds:

The policy should identify a use or combination of uses or constraints on uses that retain the cultural significance of the place. New use of a place should involve minimal change, to significant fabric and use; should respect associations and meanings; and where appropriate should provide for continuation of practices which contribute to the cultural significance of the place.

Article 15 of the Burra Charter is concerned with change

15.1 Change may be necessary to retain cultural significance, but is undesirable where it reduces cultural significance. The amount of change to a place should be guided by the cultural significance of the place and its appropriate interpretation.

15.2 Changes which reduce cultural significance should be reversible, and be reversed when circumstances permit.

15.3 Demolition of significant fabric of a place is generally not acceptable. However, in some cases minor demolition may be appropriate as part of conservation. Removed significant fabric should be reinstated when circumstances permit.

15.4 The contributions of all aspects of cultural significance of a place should be respected. If a place includes fabric, uses, associations or meanings of different periods, or different aspects of cultural significance, emphasising or interpreting one period or aspect at the expense of another can only be justified when what is left out, removed or diminished is of slight cultural significance and that which is emphasised or interpreted is of much greater cultural significance.

Explanatory notes concerning articles 15.1 and 15.2 respectively add:

When change is being considered, a range of options should be explored to seek the option which minimises the reduction of cultural significance.

Reversible changes should be considered temporary. Non-reversible change should only be used as a last resort and should not prevent future conservation action.

Article 21 is concerned with adaptation

21.1  Adaptation is acceptable only where the adaptation has minimal impact on the cultural significance of the place.

21.2  Adaptation should involve minimal change to significant fabric, achieved only after considering alternatives.

Explanatory note:

Adaptation may involve the introduction of new services, or a new use, or changes to safeguard the place.

Article 22 concerns new work

22.1  New work such as additions to the place may be acceptable where it does not distort or obscure the cultural significance of the place, or detract from its interpretation and appreciation.

22.2  New work should be readily identifiable as such.

Explanatory note:

New work may be sympathetic if its siting, bulk, form, scale, character, colour, texture and material are similar to the existing fabric, but imitation should be avoided.

Article 23 concerns conserving use

Continuing, modifying or reinstating a significant use may be appropriate and preferred forms of conservation.

Explanatory note:

These may require changes to significant fabric but they should be minimised. In some cases, continuing a significant use or practice may involve substantial new work.

Article 24 concerns retaining associations and meanings

24.1  Significant associations between people and a place should be respected, retained and not obscured. Opportunities for the interpretation, commemoration and celebration of these associations should be investigated and implemented.

24.2  Significant meanings, including spiritual values, of a place should be respected. Opportunities for the continuation or revival of these meanings should be investigated and implemented.

Explanatory note:

For many places associations will be linked to use.

Article 26 concerns applying the Burra Charter process

26.1  Work on a place should be preceded by studies to understand the place which should include analysis of physical, documentary, oral and other evidence, drawing on appropriate knowledge, skills and disciplines.

26.2  Written statements of cultural significance and policy for the place should be prepared, justified and accompanied by supporting evidence. The statements of significance and policy should be incorporated into a management plan for the place.

26.3  Groups and individuals with associations with a place as well as those involved in its management should be provided with opportunities to contribute to and participate in understanding the cultural significance of the place. Where appropriate they should also have opportunities to participate in its conservation and management.Explanatory notes:The results of studies should be up to date, regularly reviewed and revised as necessary.Statements of significance and policy should be kept up to date by regular review and revision as necessary. The management plan may deal with other matters related to the management of the place.

The following document is also of relevance:

The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada

Ontario Heritage Act

The Ontario Heritage Act toolkit shares similar concepts.


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