The standards and guidance for historic building records were laid out by English Heritage in:
English Heritage 2006 Understanding Historic Buildings: A Guide to Good Recording Practice.
There are four levels of record:
A Level 1 record is a basic visual record supported by the minimum amount of information deemed necessary to identify location, age and type. The focus here is usually upon the exterior of the structure, with provision of a basic description, and photographs for recognition purposes, it is not usual to include drawings other than a sketch if deemed necessary
The purpose of a Level 2 report is to provide a descriptive record of a structure that does not require a full record as described below for Level 3. The Level 2 survey will gather data on the exterior and interior of the structure which will then be described and photographed. The descriptive element will provide conclusions on the development and function of the building being surveyed. No comprehensive drawn record is required other than a plan of the building, but supplementary illustrations can be included if tailored to the wider scope of a project comprising several structures.
A Level 3 record is an analytical record which is intended to provide an introductory description followed by a systematic account of the building’s origin, development and use. The elements of the structure informing the results of the analysis will be discussed, such as the particular structural components or plan form which has led to the interpretation of the building. The drawn record incorporated in the Level 3 reports include the structure as existing and a selection of ‘reconstructions’ allowing the historic development to be visually accessible. A full photographic register to accompany the digital photographic record is included as an appendix to each report. The illustrative record is intended to support the historical analysis in addition to providing background evidence for any future work.
A Level 4 record is a comprehensive analytical record and is appropriate for buildings of special importance. Level 4 builds on the analysis of Level 3 but investigates the full range of available resources and should discuss the building’s significance in terms of architectural, social, regional or economic history. The range of research, drawings and photographs is likely to be greater than that at Levels 1-3.
A heritage asset should always be recorded before any development commences. It is always worth considering the need to record the asset at the earliest stage. Undertaking a recording exercise prior to submitting a planning or listed building consent application can help to inform and direct the nature of the proposed alterations or development and will ensure that the building or site is fully understood before plans are drawn and submitted This is particularly useful for large or complex buildings and sites. Where pre-application discussion has been undertaken with the planning department, there may be a requirement to submit recording with the planning or listed building consent application. The need for recording, however, is often a condition with any planning or listed building consent approval where substantial alterations or demolition is proposed.
The level of record required will usually be determined by the Local Authority. Where a recording action is specified but no level given we are happy to advise as to which level may be most compatible with your project.