Historic buildings are valued as cultural artifacts that tell us important information about the past. Historic buildings, almost by definition, predate modern construction standards. They often make use of archaic building materials and systems that are no longer used and they are rarely available today. Historic materials, like all materials, deteriorate over time and with exposure to the elements.
Retaining historic fabric is a basic tenet of historic preservation, so wholesale replacement is usually not a viable option. An engineer is one of the first people consulted when a project involves a historic building. The engineer is asked whether the structure is sound and can withstand the planned preservation work and possibly additional loads. How do engineers learn to address the unique problems inherent in historic buildings and come up with solutions that meet both engineering and historic preservation needs?
At the prompting of then NCPTT Board member, Nick Gianopulos, PE, a renowned preservation engineer, the NCPTT began investigating how engineers were being trained to deal with the specialized aspects encountered in the rehabilitation of older and historic buildings. In 1999, the Center began by reviewing the preservation content of engineering programs around the United States accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). While many professors in these programs expressed interest in historic structures and the issues their preservation may raise, there was no evidence of formal preservation content in any of the engineering curricula investigated.
In 2000 the NCPTT organized a colloquium in Philadelphia to discuss how it might improve historic preservation training opportunities for engineers. The meeting was attended by representatives of private engineering firms, engineering and preservation professional organizations and university engineering departments.
Upon inquiry, the engineers attending the workshop revealed that they had largely acquired their preservation knowledge from their experienced colleagues through mentoring, and by reading, discussions with experts, historic preservation seminars and on-the-job experience/training. The clear consensus among them was the need for an organized program of study to better prepare engineers to work with the historic building systems and materials encountered in rehabilitation of historic buildings. Thus began NCPTT’s Professional Development Program for Engineers in Historic Preservation.