The course

Distance learning
Course type
Entry date



Conservation of historic buildings and structures presents many challenges to professionals working in this specialist field, from identifying cultural significance, through to understanding the technical performance of historic buildings and the materials they use. Increasingly, conservation practitioners have to understand the environmental impact of historic structures and energy use in buildings. This relies on the sensitive design and integration of modern building services.

The Building Conservation (Technology and Management) programme is a combination of social, historic, philosophical, technical and legislative processes and has been specifically designed to encapsulate these core areas.

Our students and graduates

The programme is ideally suited to those individuals wishing to attain an accredited degree recognised by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). The MSc qualification can act as the starting point for those candidates entering into career as a Chartered Surveyor or Chartered Builder / Construction manager.

Distance learning

Delivered only by Independent Distance Learning (IDL) this programme is ideal for those in employment or with other commitments, providing flexible study options that fit around work or family. Students receive comprehensive materials for each course through an online Virtual Learning Environment.

Programme duration

An Independent Distance Learning (IDL) programme - whether at PgDip or MSc level - can be completed in a minimum of 2 years. On average, our PgDip programmes studied via IDL are completed in 2-3 years, while MSc programmes are completed in 2.5-7 years. Most students intend to complete their studies via IDL within 2-3 years.

Professional recognition

The MSc programme is fully accredited by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). The MSc also has full accreditation from the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). This means that students who successfully complete the programme need only two years of professional experience to apply for full accredited membership.

The programme content is in line with the ICOMOS education and training guidelines.

Industry links

The Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design has excellent industry links. Staff within the Institute are actively engaged in a variety of research projects relating to building design, specification, management and operation.

Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design

Royal Academy of EngineeringThis programme is delivered by the Royal Academy of Engineering Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Design. This is one of four such Centres established at UK universities that jointly form a national network to demonstrate and exchange best practice in teaching and research for the sustainable built environment.

Course content

   Detailed course guide

This programme, led by Dr Alan M Forster, consists of seven mandatory courses as well as one optional course. MSc students are also required to complete a Masters dissertation.

Semester 1Semester 2

Mandatory courses:

  • Conservation Philosophy and Practice
  • History of the Built Environment
  • Applied Building Pathology

Optional courses:

  • Contracts and Procurement
  • Project Management Theory and Practice

Mandatory courses:

  • Building and Contextual Investigation
  • Services and Technology for Conservation
  • Materials and Structures for Conservation
  • People and Organisation Management in the Built Environment

Course descriptions

Please find below the course descriptions. For more information on courses, please contact the Programme Leader.

    Conservation Philosophy and Practice

    Semester 1 (mandatory)

    This course will provide students with an understanding of the theory, philosophies and ethical principles of building conservation and of the main practical and legal considerations relating to the care of our historic built environment.

    The Course will examine the philosophies and principles of building conservation and the statutory provisions which relate to conservation of historic buildings; the national and international charters, standards and guidelines which exist; the controlling legislation and the economic considerations involved in building conservation projects, including funding and grant assistance.

    History of the Built Environment

    Semester 1 (mandatory)

    This course will provide students with an understanding of the history and development of architectural form and building types in Western Europe over the last two millennia. The course is presented in 13 units:

    1. Roots of building form; 2. Ancient Egypt; 3. Classical Greece; 4. Classical Rome; 5. Mediaeval Church architecture; 6. Mediaeval Housing; 7. Mediaeval Building Industry; 8. Mediaeval Town Planning; 9. Renaissance Architecture; 10. Renaissance Town Planning; 11. Nineteenth Century Building; 12. The Effect of the Industrial Revolution; 13. Modern Building.

    Applied Building Pathology

    Semester 1 (mandatory)

    This course aims to develop a detailed understanding of the symptoms, causes and effects of building defects, particularly in older properties, and to apply appropriate knowledge in detecting, diagnosing, remedying and preventing such problems. Subjects covered by the syllabus include:

    Introductory Principles; Diagnostics; Damage to Buildings; Moisture; Biodeterioration; Movement; Deterioration of Metals and Plastics; Deterioration of Concrete and Masonry; Condition Appraisal.

    Building and Contextual Investigation

    Semester 2 (mandatory)

    This course will provide students with an understanding of researching, recording and surveying buildings for conservation, together with an introduction to the investigation of culture and the concepts of place and setting of historic buildings within their physical and socio-economic environments. Subjects covered by the syllabus include:

    Introduction and contexts; Reasons for investigation and recording of historic buildings; What to record; Basic methods and techniques; Analytical and investigative techniques; Interpretation of evidence; Specification and procurement.

    Services and Technology for Conservation

    Semester 2 (mandatory)

    This course will provide students with an understanding of the role of services, materials and fabric in conservation of historic buildings. It also aims to give students an appreciation of meeting contemporary sustainability targets, and building performance. Subjects covered by the syllabus include:

    Context of building services in relation to human needs and architecture; History of building services; The comfortable internal environment - external climate; Modern building services systems - piped systems, air systems, localised vs centralised systems, lighting, power, fire protection, lightning protection; Issues in renewal or installation of services in historic buildings - needs, surveys, design, space requirements, approvals, site works; Energy performance; Sustainability – definitions, life cycle assessment, materials, processes and skills; Issues of fire – Fire protection risks facing historic buildings, detection and extinguishing systems.

    Materials and Structures for Conservation

    Semester 2 (mandatory)

    This course will provide students with an understanding of the properties and availability (both historic and present day) of the materials and structures used in both original construction and conservation. Subjects covered by the syllabus include:

    Structural materials: masonry, iron and steel, timber, concrete; Non structural materials: roofing, flashings, glazing, ornament and finishes; Properties and characteristics; Sources of supply; Compatibility; Performance requirements; Repair and restoration processes and materials; Structural behaviour.

    People and Organisational Management in the Built Environment

    Semester 2 (mandatory)

    This course aims to develop a high level of interdisciplinary understanding about complex organisational and personal management processes and how important they are in underpinning technical skills to deliver high quality services as a professional. Students will learn about and explore management theory and practice and will have a chance to reflect on their own personal development in a synoptic way. This will be valuable in terms of career development, as management competences and self-reflection are increasingly sought in practice.

    Topics covered by the syllabus include: What is management and why is it important for professional practice? Good and bad examples of management and their effect on individuals, organisations and service delivery. A critical evaluation of management theories. In depth understanding of the complexities of team building, organisational culture, recruitment and selection, staff appraisal, motivation, leadership, communication, co-ordination, and managing change and diversity.

    Contracts and Procurement

    Semester 1 (optional)

    The aim of this course is to help students understand advanced procurement practices, the situations in which their use is appropriate and the contractual principles upon which they are based. The course will also introduce students to the mechanisms used by a typical standard for of construction contract (from the JCT05 suite) to control the risk exposure arising from the liabilities of contracting parties created by the contract and common law, as well as the flow of money and information between contacting parties. Subjects covered by the syllabus include:

    Introduction to Construction Project Procurement; Procurement Arrangement Options; Construction Contract Use in the UK; Principles of Contract Law; Partnering; Procurement through Public Private Partnerships; Claims; Negotiating; Managing Conflicts and Disputes; Towards Better Contracting Practices.

    Project Management: Theory and Practice

    Semester 1 (optional)

    This course aims to provide the student with an understanding of the concepts and practices of construction project management used to provide value added services to clients. The course develops understanding of the issues related to the management of construction clients and other project stakeholders and how their needs can be co-ordinated, managed and delivered from the project’s design stage through production to occupation and maintenance within the context of client satisfaction and the overarching construction project constraints of time, cost, quality sustainability, health and safety management.

    Subjects covered in the course syllabus include: Construction project management concepts; standards and services; organisational structures for delivery of project management services; management strategies for clients and stakeholder briefing; issues related to management of construction project design process, and budget setting; tools/techniques for construction project planning and control of costs, time, risk and quality; issues relating to TQM and health and safety; teamwork and leadership roles.

    Virtual Learning Environment

    Innovation in delivery of the MSc in Building Conservation (Technology & management) is offered via the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

    Programme leader

    Dr Alan M Forster is lecturer in Building Conservation and Construction Technology at Heriot-Watt University, is programme leader for the MSc in Building Conservation (Technology and management) and is a member of the Higher Education Academy.

    He is a Building Surveyor by profession with specialist knowledge of the repair of masonry structures and conservation materials. He has worked for conservation contractors, in public practice and consultancy. In addition, he worked for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments for Scotland (RCAHMS) within the survey and graphics department.

    In October 2013 Alan attained full chartered member status from the Chartered Institute of Builders (CIOB).