Historic Buildings Surveys

Various types of surveys are used for the purposes of identifying and determining whether a building should be listed. The area-based Second Survey, Thematic surveys and ad-hoc surveys are all used by Historic Environment Division to undertake this work.

Second Survey

The List of buildings is a register recording all types of structures, ranging from grand houses and cathedrals to warehouses and the smallest buildings. Statutory listing of buildings began in Northern Ireland in 1974 and the first survey took over 20 years to complete.

We are currently engaged in a Second Survey of all of Northern Ireland's building stock to update and improve on the first 'List of buildings of special architectural or historic interest'.

Surveyors undertake the Second Survey fieldwork and accompanying historical research. Records are more detailed than those of the First Survey and as comprehensive as possible within the survey timetable. They include a description of the whole building, inside as well as out, and of its setting. Once all the relevant information has been gathered, the buildings are evaluated relative to published criteria.

The Historic Buildings Council and District Councils are then consulted on any amendments (additions and deletions) to the List and owners informed. Their comments are considered. After a final evaluation, the owners and District Council are notified of buildings being added to or removed from the list. Surveys of buildings that do not end up as listed are kept so that the widest pool of information is available to inform and educate about the historic environment. Our paper entitled The Listing Process explains this in more detail.

Records, with the exception of internal information are publically available and can be accessed in the Northern Ireland Buildings Database on this website.

Thematic surveys of historic buildings

A thematic survey is a survey which looks at one building type or theme. It normally involves detailed research on the subject area backed up by the recording of as many examples of the type as possible. This allows for greater objectivity in deciding which are the best examples, and worthy of protection.

The approach has disadvantages in that it can concentrate on the primary focus of a theme and down play other considerations (such as historical associations or group value) which may also be important. For this reason the area based approach of the Second Survey is the main route followed in recording historic buildings.

One advantage is that it can highlight considerations sometimes overlooked in general surveys. We have carried out a number of surveys which concentrated on themes which benefited from detailed investigation.

Thatch Survey

All of Northern Ireland's thatched buildings have been surveyed in detail. The results of the survey show that despite a massive loss of traditional roofs across the region since the 1950s the surviving buildings display a wide range of the features which were once common across the area. It highlights the importance of protecting those remaining thatched buildings who architectural merits may not always be fully appreciated, but which played a significant part in forming the character of Northern Ireland. 

Pump Survey

The surviving historic pumps of Northern Ireland have been researched and recorded in detail. As a result, a number of types of pump were identified and the best examples of each protected. 

Belfast Roof Truss Survey

Belfast roof trusses are a form of roof support which was developed to utilise short lengths of timber. The trusses with their characteristic gently curved top member were often used for industrial buildings and there has been a dramatic loss of these once common features over recent years. With the help of the Joint Committee for Industrial Heritage, a thematic survey was carried out which identified all known examples. The best were surveyed in detail and a number listed as a result. 

Mourne water scheme

The completion of Mourne Water Scheme was a key industrial project for the new region of Northern Ireland in the 1920s. Its completion was an engineering triumph and a source of much pride. All of the features associated with the scheme from great dams to small pumping stations have been considered as part of a comprehensive survey and record. Many of the structures have been listed as a result. 

Post war listings

In the 1970s, it was determined that only the most outstanding works of architecture after 1940 are deemed sufficiently special for protection by listing. From this period in the 1940s building development significantly increased and international influences such as the Modern Movement became increasingly important. A thematic survey first looked at this period in 1995 and have used this research and knowledge to inform subsequent decisions on the listing of more recent buildings. 

Ad hoc surveys of historic buildings

One-off surveys of historic buildings are more expensive than area surveys such as the Second Survey or Thematic Surveys as they require similar research for one building to that required for group surveys. They can also be less comprehensive because a surveyor will not be as immersed in the general history of an area as he would when considering a number of buildings. For these reasons we try to keep the number of such surveys to a minimum.

Surveys are however useful in response to an emergency situation where a building is under threat or is likely to become so.

Often these surveys result from listing requests from the public, from other Departmental Officers, or from members of the statutory advisory councils. 

Following initial research and a risk assessment an average of 30 such cases per year are recorded in detail. The approach taken is set out in our document on the Listing Process.

If you want us to consider a building for listing please contact us explaining the reasons for your request, any perceived threat, and providing as much historical and other supporting information as you can. We will then acknowledge your request and send an architect to investigate.

Building Preservation Notices (BPNs) - spot listing

BPNs allow District Councils to temporarily list a building for a period of six months (sometimes referred to as 'spot listing') while surveys and consultations are carried out. The power can only be used if it appears to the District Council that a building is of special architectural or historic interest; and is in danger of demolition or of alteration in such a way as to affect its character as a building of such interest. DfC published guidance for District Councils on this in 2015.

Structure and contacts

View the Historic Environment Division structure and contacts

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