MSc in Sustainable Building Conservation

at the Welsh School of Architecture

The value of Britain's Heritage Construction Sector as an element of GDP was valued in 2012 at £12.5bn and provides over 530,000 full time equivalent jobs.1 There are in the region of 30,000 listed buildings in Wales,2 375,121 in England3 and 47600 in Scotland4. More broadly, there are in excess of 5.4 million pre-1919 buildings,5 the majority of them homes, built using traditional techniques. The Government's "Green Deal" for retrofitting existing housing stock presses construction professionals to sharpen their expertise.

The question of how to marry demands for energy conservation with those of historic building Conservation is a key context for debate in practice which raises demand for skills and knowledge in this area to become more widespread. Conservation is growing sector in the architectural profession and through the last two economic cycles is increasingly recognised by new graduates and established professionals alike as a resilient and profitable source of work. Although Cadw do not at present make a formal requirement, both English Heritage and Historic Scotland require conservation accreditation for all grant-aided work. Bodies such as the National Trust also require such accreditation for tendered work to their historic properties.

Beyond offering an RIBA approved and IHBC accredited masters degree, the Welsh School of Architecture MSc in Sustainable Building Conservation focuses new career paths by enabling students to develop expertise with regard to energy conservation and the sustainable use of materials in the context of historic buildings. Taught elements take place across six weekends per year offering a two year part time option to students who may be employed or in full time practice. The course is held in the School of Architecture within the Cathays Park campus at Cardiff.

The course aims to be unique amongst schools in Britain in two ways; firstly the teaching offers a design-based iterative element, thereby testing the formulation of informed decisions. Secondly, It places emphasis on the role of sustainability within the historic context at both technical and strategic levels. By using the Welsh School of Architecture's established expertise as a research locus for sustainable design, it addresses these concerns which have been identified internationally by ICOMOS as the critical future direction of conservation education.

The course overall is led by Dr Oriel Prizeman, with external support from Andrew Faulkner AABC SPAB Lethaby Scholar. Visiting speakers contribute to all modules. In 2013-14 these have included: Richard Spencer Dean, John Preston, Roger France, Dr Simon Woodward, Adrian Stenning, Jane Chamberlain, Izaak Hudson, Keith Jones (NT), Douglas Kent (SPAB), Jerry Sampson, Paul Bryan (EH), Susan Fielding (RCAHMW), Prof Nuere, Dr Federico Wulff, Dr William Filmer-Sankey and Tim Floyd. Visits have included Llancaiach Fawr, Tredegar House, Cardiff Castle and the Alhambra, Granada.


  1. The Economic Impact of Maintaining and Repairing Historic Buildings in England A Report to the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage - March 2012
  2. CADW Buildings & Conservation Areas: [link]
  3. English Heritage: Heritage Counts: [link]
  4. Historic Scotland: Scotland's Listed Buildings: [link]
  5. Traditional Building Craft Skills (England report), 2008, National Heritage Training Group (NHTG) 1919, the year of the Housing Act is conventionally recognised as the turning point in British construction technology.

Accreditation and professional progression

Completion of the RIBA approved course for RIBA and ARB registered Architects allows them to apply to become "Conservation Registrants" immediately. As an IHBC accredited course it also enables suitably qualified candidates to achieve full IHBC accreditation in 2 as opposed to 5 years. For ARB/RIBA registered architects, it reduces the number of years in practice required to apply to be entitled "Specialist Conservation Architect" to 4 years (from 5) and 2 years (from 3) for "Conservation Architect".

Cathays Park Aerial shot of Cathays Park - © Mike Woodward

The programme is offered on both a full time and a part time basis. The taught modules are all to be delivered at weekends, aiming to be manageable for part time candidates who are employed full time in practice. Part time students will complete modules 1,2 and 3 (i.e. 60 credits) in the first year and modules 4 and 5 in the second year. They will be given until the following Christmas to submit their dissertation module.

Suitable for:

The course seeks to attract a broad range of students with varied levels of experience in professional practice who share an interest in the conservation of architecture, urbanism and the environment. Candidates may be graduates with a degree in architecture and/or RIBA part 2 exemption embarking on their professional careers or have been professionals in practice for some time seeking to refine or augment their career paths. It is open to Architects, Surveyors, Project Managers, Curators, Archaeologists, Planners, Conservation Officers, Engineers, Building managers, Developers and other related Built Environment professionals.

Taught elements of the course will also be offered as CPD to professionals registered with the RIBA, RICS, IHBC or RTPI. The programme is recognised by the RIBA as offering "Advanced CPD".


Module outline and calendar 2014-15

Registration: w/c 20th September 2014
Induction: 27th September 2014

Module 1: The Conservator's Role (20 credits)

10th - 11th October and 7th - 8th November 2014 (Part time Yr 1)

The module sets to establish and question an understanding of the role of the built heritage sector at a global and a local level. It introduces both economic and ethical dilemmas that present constant challenges to the theory and practice of building conservation.

As an introductory module, it frames the broadest theoretical influences that lie behind current legislation and thinking and anticipates that these may be used to colour judgments made later in the course when addressing case studies. It follows an induction covering research, writing and technical drawing skills.

Module 2: Tools of interpretation (20 credits)

20th - 21st February and 13th - 14th March 2015 (Part time Yr 1)

The module addresses methods for both desk-based research and on site surveys into and of historic buildings. It then further encourages the development of interpretive skills using both methods to form assertions about the nature, durability and date of historic buildings. The presentation of specific and general phenomena by example is used to assist in the identification of patterns and exemplars as well as anomalies.

Techniques of surveying will be explained and tested. The CADW and EH levels of survey will be explained. Common causes of damage and decay will be identified in order to assert real life exemplars of technical dilemmas.

Module 3: Energy Use in Historic Buildings (20 credits)

28th-29th November 2014 and 23rd - 24th January 2015 (Part time Yr 1)

The module will be introduced and framed by invited conservation experts whose lectures will establish reference points for the technical aspects of sustainable design in a historic context. Students will be made aware of tools with which to evaluate the application of sustainable technologies with respect to historic buildings.

Module 4: Case Studies and Regional Work (40 credits)

18th - 19th October and 22nd - 23rd November 2014 and
28th February - 1st March and 21st - 22nd March (Part time Yr 2)

This module, lead by Professor Peter Salter uses iterative teaching methods. It sets out to explore the formation of judgements regarding building conservation in practice through the use of case study or regional case study material. The precise subject matter of each area may vary according to circumstance.

In focusing on a body of local examples it seeks to establish links to live projects and practitioners in Wales but it also allows the option of pursuing a student's own chosen case study in any location.

Module 5: Design Tools: Methods of Repair (20 credits)

6th - 7th December 2014 and 7th - 8th February 2015 (Part time Yr 2)

A core set of tools understood through an approach to materials will be applied to the repair and conservation of a sequence of building typologies which will rotate annually providing variety to people taking the module as part of an RIBA, IHBC or RICS CPD programme.

Approaches to the repair of building types will be taken to address different building elements and methods of construction viewed under varying constraints. The teaching method will be iterative and studio based to encourage discourse and experimentation.

Module 6: Dissertation (60 credits)

Induction: 28th March 2015 (Part time Yr 2)

A 20,000 word dissertation on a subject of the candidate's choosing alternatively a critical appraisal of a conservation project which may be project based in content and delivery.

In summary, the course offers:

  • To broaden career opportunities by enabling qualified architects and other specialist disciplines to gain expertise in conservation leading towards professional accreditation (see below).
  • To augment students' current expertise and prepare them for critical professional challenges by developing skills to assert detailed and strategic responses to complex issues regarding building conservation in the context of a sustainable agenda.
  • To ensure students possess the requisite knowledge but also to know where to refer for advice in order to take responsibility when making reasoned decisions in relation to multifaceted conservation issues.
  • To use project based iterative learning techniques using case studies in order to develop a clear understanding of relevant legislative frameworks.
  • To enable students to develop autonomous judgments of appropriateness regarding responses to the historic built environment.

Interested students should contact:

Susan Morgans
MorgansS@cardiff.ac.uk
T: +44 (0)29 2087 0922

Current students may find some useful links available from the Schools Support Pages.

MSc Conservation