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Publication date: Jul 15, 2010 5:32:10 PM

Research could help save historic buildings from climate change

The future of the nation’s historic buildings could be safeguarded from climate change thanks to work being carried out by researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University and (UCL) University College London.

Chris Sanders, senior research fellow and Director for the Centre for Research on Indoor Climate and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University, and Dr Nigel Blades, lecturer and Projects Director at UCL's Centre for Sustainable Heritage, are collaborating on an investigation into the effects of moisture on historic buildings.

The project, Engineering Historic Futures, focuses on two distinct buildings, Brodick Castle, a 19th century sandstone building on the Isle of Arran owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and Blickling Hall in Norfolk, a 17th century brick built structure owned by the National Trust. The buildings were chosen because of their differing yet equally significant construction types and the different sources of moisture they experience – Brodick Castle is exposed to very high levels of driving rain while Blickling Hall is affected by flooding.

The internal and external environments of both buildings have been monitored in detail for two years, along with the moisture content in the fabric of each building. At the same time replicas of the walls of each building have been built in a special environmental chamber at Glasgow Caledonian University, where they have been subjected to numerous experiments.

As part of the project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) and the UK Climate Impacts Programme, the team are also undertaking a detailed study of the current methods used to measure moisture content in masonry. Present methods of measurement are fairly crude, only being able to distinguish between wet and dry masonry.

A second project has now been developed with UCL’s Bartlett School of Graduate Studies to investigate three more advanced methods of measurement. Although the investigation will initially take place in laboratories at Glasgow Caledonian, work will subsequently be carried out on a number of historic buildings. The results will be used to develop advanced methods of moisture measurement which can be used by surveyors.

Britain’s climate looks set to become warmer and wetter as a result of climate change, factors likely to affect a great many of the UK’s historic buildings. It is hoped that the research being carried out by Dr Blades and Chris Sanders will help protect and preserve them for future generations to enjoy.

"This research was the first of its kind to address the complex matter of climate change and its impact on historic buildings,” said Professor May Cassar, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Heritage at the UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies. “As such its focus was mainly twofold: to understand the concerns of heritage managers, commerce and industry and to understand the complex science of wetting and drying of walls."

Notes for Editors

1. For further information contact Professor May Cassar, Director, Centre for Sustainable Heritage, The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, 020 7679 1780, email m.cassar@ucl.ac.uk