The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties: Reconstruction as a Treatment and Standards for Reconstruction

Reconstruction as a Treatment

Reconstruction is defined as the act or process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location.

Standards for Reconstruction

  1. Reconstruction will be used to depict vanished or non-surviving portions of a property when documentary and physical evidence is available to permit accurate reconstruction with minimal conjecture and such reconstruction is essential to the public understanding of the property.
  2. Reconstruction of a landscape, building, structure or object in its historic location will be preceded by a thorough archeological investigation to identify and evaluate those features and artifacts which are essential to an accurate reconstruction. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures will be undertaken.
  3. Reconstruction will include measures to preserve any remaining historic materials, features, and spatial relationships.
  4. Reconstruction will be based on the accurate duplication of historic features and elements substantiated by documentary or physical evidence rather than on conjectural designs or the availability of different features from other historic properties. A reconstructed property will re-create the appearance of the non-surviving historic property in materials, design, color and texture.
  5. A reconstruction will be clearly identified as a contemporary re-creation.
  6. Designs that were never executed historically will not be constructed.

The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring & Reconstructing Historic Buildings

Choosing Reconstruction as a Treatment

Reconstruction is different from the other treatments in that it is undertaken when there are often no visible historic materials extant or only a foundation remains. Whereas the treatment Restoration provides guidance on restoring historic building features, the Standards for Reconstruction and Guidelines for Reconstructing Historic Buildings should be followed when it is necessary to recreate a non-surviving building using new material. But, like restoration, reconstruction also involves recreating a historic building which appears as it did at a particular—and at its most significant—time in its history. Because of the potential for historical error in the absence of sound physical evidence, this treatment can be justified only rarely and, thus, is the least frequently undertaken of the four treatments. Reconstructing a historic building should only be considered when there is accurate documentation on which to base it. When only the appearance of the exterior of the building can be documented, it may be appropriate to reconstruct the exterior while designing a very simple, plain interior that does not attempt to appear historic or historically accurate. Signage and interpretative aids should make it clear to visitors that only the exterior of the building is a true reconstruction. Extant historic surface and subsurface materials should also be preserved. Finally, the reconstructed building must be clearly identified as a contemporary recreation.

When a contemporary depiction is required to understand and interpret a property’s historic value (including the re-creation of missing components in a historic district or site); when no other property with the same associative value has survived; and when sufficient historical documentation exists to ensure an accurate reproduction, Reconstruction may be considered as a treatment. Prior to undertaking work, a documentation plan for Reconstruction should be developed.

The Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties illustrate the practical application of the Standards for Reconstruction to historic properties.

History of the Standards

Read a History of The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring & Reconstructing Historic Buildings.

Last updated: June 20, 2023