How do we make buildings safe while preserving history and historic aesthetics? It seems a simple question. However, as anyone working as a Safety Professional at an historic site knows, it requires creativity and concessions.
The United States has been occupied by immigrants from all walks of life for more than 400 years. In that time, laws have changed, architecture has changed, and lifestyle has changed. The first buildings were likely constructed, discounting Native American traditions, by Europeans c.1607 in Jamestown, VA. These were simple structures whose architecture was adapted from the European techniques based upon topography, climate, materials available, and a lack of tradesmen and poverty of the citizens1. Through the 17th and 18th Centuries, Europeans began a vast settlement of the land we now know as the United States of America. Buildings during these eras ranged from many-gabled structures with brick chimneys in New England, to simple brick structures in the south2. We were developing our own style and our own way of living. Moving into the 19th Century we began the expansion west and became involved in the Industrial Revolution. Structures became larger encompassing a monumental aesthetic, architecture began to become more professional, and in the South large mansions were built3. It is later in the 19th Century that indoor plumbing, telephones, and electricity came to the forefront. They would eventually become standard in most construction across the USA. Finally we began living in urban areas and buildings grew taller and more populated. Structures moved from ornamental styles to styles using open plans and asymmetrical facades along with broad roofs that provided shelter to the structure, to unornamented functional structures and back again to ornamentation combined with vivid color and eclectic styling.4
What we have ended up with is a Society that heralds its past and yearns to preserve its history while at the same time struggling to protect the lives and welfare of its citizens. We began with architecture that needed no air plenums, no duct work, no plumbing, no railings, etc. From there, we moved into a time were these things are now required by building codes and Safety Regulation. So how do we keep our historic sites looking as they did originally and still provide the safety required by current law? It can be a challenge and an opportunity for dramatic creativity. It can also lead to an internal battle for the Safety Professional as we try to meet the needs of all of our customers and abide by the laws applicable to our sites.
As our architecture progressed, so did our laws. Safety Laws and Standards can be found as far back as Biblical times and with our increasing interest in our history, Preservation laws began to develop in the 20th Century. Let's examine some of these laws, how they have progressed, how they interact, and how we respond to them.