Research to protect historic architecture from floods

A new interdisciplinary research project, led by the University of Bath, will monitor and predict the impact of floods and driving rain on historic buildings to try and protect them for future generations.

The risk of flooding is likely to increase due to climate change and the effects of increased urban development. The 2007 flooding in the South West and the 2009 flood in Cumbria have shown that substantial structural damage can be caused by events such as these to heritage buildings and infrastructure.

The PARNASSUS project brings together engineers and conservationists from the University of Bath, archeologists from the University of Southampton, and geographers and material engineers from the University of Bristol to predict how historic structures react when subjected to flooding and driving rain.

The researchers will survey the effects of past floods and use sophisticated flood and climate change modelling tools to assess the risks of future flooding for heritage sites selected by the National Trust, Historic Scotland and English Heritage.

The project will investigate the effect of water saturation on the structural integrity of the buildings and measure deterioration caused by freezing and thawing.

Cold weather can cause water trapped in the masonry to expand, leading to cracking and damaging of the structural strength of the building. Part of the study will be to assess past levels of deterioration of sites to identify which types of building are most vulnerable to freeze-thaw damage.

The researchers will also take samples of the building materials and subject them to different climate change scenarios that could take place over the next 100 years.

Laser scan of an heritage site produced by the University of Southampton; one of the methods the research team will use to record buildings in the study site.

Dr D’Ayala of the University of Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering is principal investigator for the project. She said: “Due to changes in urban areas through the centuries and the changing climate, historic city centres find themselves at increased risk of flooding and detrimental effects by driving rain.

“Our three year project aims to quantify the actual risk of damage for different scenarios at sites such as Tewksbury, York, Winchester, and sites in Scotland, and to propose effective mitigation strategies, respectful of the historic fabric.”

The aim of the project, funded by Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Science and Heritage Programme (, is to produce guidelines for on-site monitoring of driving rain effects, reliable prediction of flooding scenarios effects, and remediation measures.

Dr D’Ayala added: “The problem is complex and also requires an understanding of the economics involved. This is why we have the support of institutions such as National Trust, and Historic Scotland, as well as the involvement of partners from the insurance and conservation industries.”

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