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The preservation of immovable cultural property—such as archaeological sites, wall paintings, and historic architecture—poses many complex challenges. The goal of building materials research is to extend the lifespan of these systems by understanding their behavior and by aiding conservators in the development and implementation of appropriate preventive and active interventions.

The GCI investigates material properties and decay mechanisms, and works to optimize treatments. The Science department has specialized in the areas of stone conservation, mortars and grouts, and earthen materials. Institute staff use a wide range of scientific instruments and methods to evaluate the physical properties of these inorganic materials and the interventions used to preserve them. Important research themes include characterization, treatment and retreatment, development of new methods of evaluation, and investigation of the effects of moisture on building materials.

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The full scope of the Institute's research in building materials includes study of: 1) the technology of production; 2) the factors affecting the decay of these materials; 3) the mechanisms by which the materials deteriorate; and 4) the design and optimization of methods to mitigate damage and loss. To determine if an intervention is effective, scientists evaluate material behavior before and after the intervention.

This research is disseminated to the conservation community and the general public. GCI scientists contribute original research, as well as review articles and books, to help synthesize and disseminate knowledge in the conservation of building materials.

A recent example of GCI research in building materials is an effort to optimize the properties of grouts used for the reattachment of ancient wall paintings at the site of Herculaneum in Italy. Another is an evaluation of desalination treatments in the humid environment of New Orleans at the oldest home in the French Quarter (Madame John's Legacy). A third example is a project to address the rapid deterioration of magnesian limestone structures in northern England, such as Howden Minster, by determining the important properties of the stone, evaluating the decay mechanisms, and testing new treatments.

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Current GCI Science projects in this area:

Last updated: June 2009