Built Heritage Research Initiative is a multiyear, multiproject initiative that seeks to consolidate the GCI's long-term leadership in the development and application of scientific skills to improve conservation of the world's built heritage from ancient to modern. The Initiative, a collaboration of the GCI and the University of Oxford, will develop research on new techniques to evaluate built heritage environments and materials; holistic, multi-scale approaches to understanding durability and deterioration of built heritage materials; and the evaluation of novel conservation solutions.


The built heritage research field is large and complex, and the term "built heritage" itself is imprecise and hard to define. It covers a spectrum of sites from those carved into natural rock outcrops (e.g. rock art and rock-hewn temples), through ancient constructions (e.g. stone, wood, and earth-built monuments) to modern architecture. These sites are distributed widely across the world, in a very wide range of environmental settings and have often experienced long and complex environmental histories such as, burial, excavation, fire, flooding, and changing air quality.

Built heritage is crafted from a very large range of materials from traditional resources, like wood, stone, earth, mortar, brick and glass to modern resources, including concrete, cement, ceramics, metals, plastics, and composites. Such diversity of built heritage types, locations, environmental histories, and materials produces a rich set of scientific and practical challenges for today's researchers.

Geopolitical conflicts, economic, social and cultural change, as well as environmental and climatic hazards all pose increasing threats to this heritage. Improving the links between science and conservation practice is urgently needed in order to respond to these challenges.

Work Undertaken

Built Heritage Research Initiative was launched in 2016 after a scoping study commissioned by the GCI identified a wide range of questions around built heritage and its materials that still require answers, despite many years of scientific research and conservation practice. Key questions include those surrounding:

Built heritage materials
What are the material characteristics? How old are they? Where do they come from? How durable are they? What can we repair or replace them with? How do different materials interact within composite structures?

Environmental conditions faced by built heritage
What are the changing environmental conditions experienced by built heritage (past, present and future)? What threats do these environmental conditions pose to built heritage? How can we reduce those threats?

Built heritage materials' deterioration
What processes of deterioration are occurring? What causes them? How do they operate? How rapidly is deterioration occurring?

Coping with deterioration and designing conservation solutions
Can new technology be harnessed to develop improved conservation treatments? How do different conservation techniques perform? What can we learn from past conservation treatments?

The initiative's work will consist of a range of different research projects and activities addressing key topics relevant to improving understanding of the deterioration and conservation of built heritage around the world. These projects and activities share an underlying concern with bringing scientists and conservators together, a focus on the development of non-destructive, portable toolkits, and a commitment to integrating laboratory and field-based research.


1. To develop a center of excellence for built heritage research based on integrated lab and field science.

2. To improve scientific understanding of key built heritage materials and their deterioration and conservation.

3. To work effectively with conservators to produce and use this scientific information to benefit built heritage.

Page updated: October 2017