Three Aspects of Integrity | Michael J. Mills

Three Aspects of Integrity | Michael J. Mills

The concept of integrity in the conservation of the built environment encompasses a range of characteristics. Integrity can have different meanings in different contexts. The goal of this article is to show how the history and significance of a site determined the integrity of three rehabilitation projects and how integrity guided the approach to the projects’ different objectives.

The use of the word “integrity” has evolved over time in both the discourse and practice of conservation. Cesare Brandi, an early modern theorist and the first director of the Instituto Centrale del Restauro in Rome from 1939 to 1959, postulated that the existential reality of a work, its materials and patina, are necessary components to understand and conserve works of art and architecture.1 His ideas for the conservation and restoration of monuments and sites were further developed in the Venice Charter of 1962, and the word “integrity” was used in Article 16 with respect to the protection of historic sites.2 The charter mainly discussed safeguarding historic monuments as works of art, inseparable from their history and reflecting their settings.

In the United States, integrity is used as a measure of cultural significance by many public agencies and private institutions to guide interventions in listed historic structures. The National Register of Historic Places’ criteria define integrity as “the ability of a property to convey its significance.” And seven aspects of integrity are articulated with explanations on how to interpret them: location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. Properties with historic integrity must always retain several, usually most, of these aspects. Determining which are applicable to a particular property requires research on why, where, and when the property is significant.

Several examples of how the integrity of the property guided the restoration approach are explored in the three brief case studies that follow.


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