10 Reasons to Protect Historic Buildings (Explained)

When asked to describe what a building is, would you respond by saying that it is a structure made of bricks and mortar?

Indeed a building is nothing more than a series of walls covered with a roof that protects whatever is inside from external elements.

That answer is rather simplistic, though.

Throughout history, buildings across the world have secured a place in the hearts of many, often for reasons that are not entirely explainable.

Castles, libraries, and religious buildings have an innate ability to capture the attention and imagination in unfathomable ways while rousing a whole host of intense human emotions.

In truth, historic buildings have been symbols of great sentimental value for generations – and they will likely remain so for many generations to come.

But why are historic buildings so important, why study architectural history, and why are heritage buildings worth protecting?

why are historic buildings important

1. Historic buildings are a symbol and reminder of the past

On October 28, 1943, the then British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said: “We shape our buildings, and afterward, our buildings shape us.”

Churchill uttered these famous words during his address to the House of Lords at a meeting about the House of Commons’ re-build. Having been heavily bombed during the Blitz of May 1941, Churchill passionately believed that the House of Commons should be re-built as they originally were.

His reasons and rationale were compelling. Churchill believed that the Commons’ design and structure were fundamental to the very fabric of British society and of particular significance to all who worked there.

The design and layout of the Commons building was the ultimate symbol of the foundations of British democracy.

Churchill’s feelings resonate with many around the world. It may be an entirely different building from a very different age or era, but the sentiment remains the same.

For individuals and communities worldwide, historic buildings create a sense of place. They capture a moment in history and serve as a powerful reminder of who we are and where we came from.

Historic buildings are of great intrinsic value to communities worldwide – and protecting and conserving those symbols of our history is priceless.

2. Historic buildings are resilient and long-lasting

Did you know that the average lifespan of a 21st Century building is around 50 years?

That’s right, when it comes to the topic of modern-day building infrastructure, the phrase ‘they don’t make them like they used to’ most definitely applies.

Historic buildings that pre-date 1939 – the start of the Second World War – are especially significant. Those buildings feature some of the highest quality materials ever seen.

As well as featuring materials like rare wood from old forests that are no longer in existence, many pre-World War II buildings reflect quality and level of craftsmanship that today’s modern facilities cannot contend with.

The sheer cost alone of attempting to replace these impressive materials would be astronomical. Perhaps more importantly, there are few building materials out there today that could match these historic buildings’ strength and resilience as they currently stand.

Many of the historical buildings that you see standing today do so for one reason – because they were built to last.

So, instead of demolishing or replacing the materials out of which many of these historic buildings are made – which would be very costly – it seems eminently more sensible to restore, conserve, or add to the pre-existing structures bolstering them with modern building materials.

3. Heritage buildings boost tourism

As you are no doubt aware, many famous historic buildings worldwide attract millions of tourists every year.

Take Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia (source), for example. Antoni Gaudi started to build this impressive basilica way back in 1882 – and almost 140 years later, it is still not quite finished.

So why bother?

Even though the Sagrada Familia is not due to complete until 2026, tourists worldwide continue to flock to see this truly unique building.

When Gaudi commenced building, it was indeed a one-of-a-kind structure. Even now, in 2020, it continues to inspire awe in the millions of visitors it attracts to the Barcelona region each year.

One thing is for sure: If Barcelona were not home to the stunning Sagrada Familia, it would not have the booming tourist economy that it enjoys today.

4. Historic buildings bolster productivity

Recent studies into the impact of architecture on human psychology are becoming more frequent in today’s society. And as German Engineer Gunter Hertel so accurately observed,

“Nobody can escape architecture and its effects.”

The spaces in which we live and work can have an astounding effect on our productivity and behavior. If a business owner seeks to maximize productivity, acquiring a heritage building will be a great way to do that.

An excellent example of this is the library building; grand, old libraries are truly stunning sights.

Not only do they spark intrigue, but step inside, and a feeling of tranquillity, calm, and focus will bestow you. Imagination springs to life and will most likely result in some of your finest work to date.

Could the same be said for the committed student seeking to study for his or her final exams in a cold, drab, uninspiring room?

Probably not.

5. Historic buildings are the more sustainable and environmentally friendly option

Imagine you are a landowner and builder. You have a specific building project to complete, and there is an old, historic building that is available to make use of to deliver the project.

You have two options; the first is to completely demolish the old building and start afresh with a completely new build; the second option is to use the existing structure and adapt it to meet your current project’s needs.

Which option do you choose?

In most cases, option two will be the most productive, cost-effective, and sustainable solution.

When you conserve or restore an old building for all intents and purposes, you are recycling it. You would be making the best use of the pre-existing materials while adding the new materials you need to complete the job.

Option one – demolishing the old building – would produce a vast amount of waste materials that you cannot re-use. They also can release any number of hazardous toxins that serve to pollute the natural environment.

6. Heritage buildings attract new customers and boost revenue

People are attracted to historic buildings; couple them with an innovative business idea, and you could be on to a real winner.

Many businesses today base themselves in large, industrial business parks or shopping malls. And sure, they can be convenient. But they can also be pretty darn lifeless.

But what about a small, unique business in an old mill?

Or perhaps a family-owned bookstore in an old library building?

The entire business concept, all of a sudden, becomes more appealing to a broader customer base. There is something almost mystical about the different settings, and it attracts new visitors.

Businesses today need to offer a unique selling point – and more importantly, they need to stand out from the crowd.

Perhaps an old building with an interesting backstory could be just the unique selling point you need?

Many types of architects design new structures, but a restoration architect has a unique place in that spectrum.

7. Heritage buildings are significant for community regeneration

Have you ever taken the time to stop and look around a new home building site?

Or perhaps you have seen lots of new houses popping up around your local area?

Have you noticed that they all look very much the same – and not incredibly spacious?

Well, that is where a historic building could come in. The spaces in buildings of old were often much more extensive. They certainly were not designed to pack as many residents in as they could.

Why not use an old historic building to develop new affordable housing as part of community regeneration projects?

Or, is your local community in need of a particular public service?

Historic buildings could form part of a well-thought-out plan to make the best and most efficient use of the space available.

Not only do you deliver new homes or a well-needed local public service, but you do so while retaining the aesthetics and traditions of the original building.

8. Heritage buildings have significant educational value

When you were at school, you undoubtedly sat in a dreary classroom environment as your teacher stood at the front of the class and talked at you for what felt like hours on end.

Historic buildings can transform and bring to life the education of today’s younger generation.

Whether you teach a history class or budding young craftsmen and women as they learn a new trade, heritage buildings can be an excellent visual learning tool.

Historic buildings bring a particular subject to life. Everything the students see, smell, hear, and touch contributes to an all-round learning experience.

You cannot simulate this experience in the usual classroom environment. Organize a field trip to a historic building, and the students will likely be far more alert and engaged in learning.

9. Historic buildings spark genius

Historic buildings bring imagination to life. They have been for centuries, particularly in the world of art and entertainment.

For hundreds of years, poets, authors, artists, photographers, and playwrights have been inspired to create works of pure genius, thanks to the masterpieces that are historic buildings.

Some of the world’s most famous novels and works of art used historic buildings as their focal point and inspiration.

Historical buildings stir up specific emotions and feelings within the individual, compelling the artist to capture the building’s essence and unique story in a painting, poem, or literature work.

10. Historic buildings are the symbol of religion

Historical buildings have played a crucial role in religion for centuries.

As places of worship, many of these buildings across the world have been significant and breath-taking symbols of faith for large communities of religious worshippers.

They form some of the most iconic buildings in the world today.

Take St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England (source), for example. Or the Prambanan Hindu temple in Indonesia (source). Or the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah (source).

As places of worship, they hold a spot that is dear in the hearts of those who are united by the same religious faith.