Part of Historic Environment Scotland

Building Fabric and Function

Dates: 29/08/18
Days of the week: Wednesday
Total hours: 37
Taught hours: 14
On-site instruction: 15
Off-site instruction: 4


Get an introduction to traditional Scottish building methods and materials, and learn how the elements of a building interact and function together as a whole.

Explore the basic scientific principles behind the physical and structural decay of the historic environment. Then study the external forces and processes – both natural and man-made – that can cause building fabric to deteriorate.

This module covers methods used to identify decay and defects, and how to combat fabric damage in line with conservation principles. You will also gain an understanding of the importance of preserving the integrity of the heritage asset, and how cyclical maintenance and minimal intervention can help.

Entry requirements

Individual modules are open to anyone with an interest in the subject matter. Applicants for the Advanced Professional Diploma should have a relevant degree or professional experience.

Classes, lectures and presentations

  • Building Fabric and Function
  • External Causes of Decay 1
  • External Causes of Decay 2
  • Weathering and Deterioration 1
  • Weathering and Deterioration 2
  • Structural Issues 1
  • Structural Issues 2
  • Intervention Techniques and Methodologies 1
  • Intervention Techniques and Methodologies 2
  • Role of Maintenance

Potential site visits

  • City Heritage Trust sites
  • Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme sites
  • Townscape Heritage Initiative sites
  • Historic Environment Scotland estate schemes


Materials and structures

  • Sources of Scottish building materials, their physical characteristics and their manufacture into traditional building elements
  • Interaction of component parts of a traditional building and the systematic function of traditional structures
  • Inherent passive quality of traditional structures in terms of energy efficiency

Causes and agencies of decay

  • External (including climatic) – daily/seasonal temperatures, precipitation, ground water
  • Biological and botanical – impact of flora and fauna on built environment
  • Impact of natural disasters – fire, floods, lightning, rising sea level, landslips, storm winds, earthquakes
  • Natural deterioration and degradation – laws of thermodynamics, solar (UV) radiation, acid rain
  • Action of moisture – effects of damp (corrosion, dissolution, decay, mould growth), effects of fungal and insect damage (biological change)
  • Material characteristics – natural faults, adverse interaction, inappropriate design and detailing, physical limitations (e.g. lifespan)
  • Chemical deterioration (e.g. acid rain)
  • Mechanical damage – accident, neglect, air pollution, vandalism, theft, graffiti, vibration damage
  • Structural issues – loss of integrity, excess loading, differential movement, subsidence
  • Structural repairs – strengthening, reinforcement, reconstruction


  • Determining the appropriate degree of intervention, from cosmetic repairs to structural reinforcement and reconstruction
  • Use of modern techniques and materials
  • Adaptive reuse of historic sites and fabric, including alteration and extension
  • Importance of timing, context and reversibility of interventions
  • Assessing and justifying short and long-term impact of intervention on the significance and physical integrity of the heritage asset
  • Understanding the need to minimise or mitigate the intervention
  • Importance of climate change in speeding up decay and the subsequent need for enhanced intervention or adaptation


  • Value of regular building maintenance based on the availability of expertise, skills, materials and funding
  • Importance of cyclical regimes (e.g. monthly, annually, five-yearly) as part of overall maintenance strategies specific to site and local conditions