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Project Profile


2008 Award of Excellence

Herat Old City

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Technical Brief

Conducting Surveys of Historic Properties

To gain an understanding of the current state of Herat Old City and the work that would need to be done, a property survey was undertaken in all four quarters of the historic city between May 2005 and July 2006.

While representing a significant investment of time and energy, a property survey was felt to be essential because of the absence of accurate maps or baseline information.

Several teams of surveyors visited all residential and commercial premises within Herat Old City to record the necessary information. This yielded invaluable data about the building stock and the nature and pace of changes to the historic fabric of the city, where uncontrolled construction – much of which is illegal – has continued apace for some time.

The survey was undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and information gathered through the survey was used in joint area-specific planning exercises. The information from the survey also provided a resource for future research on a unique urban environment and has been used in ongoing advocacy initiatives, aimed at drawing attention to the threats facing the old city, and the living conditions of the inhabitants.

Prior to the initiation of the survey, consultations were held with community and local government representatives, in the institutional context of the Commission for the Safeguarding and Development of the Old City of Herat.

Scope and Method of the Survey

The objective of the survey was to provide information about the extent, use and characteristics of all residential and commercial property in the old city. Given the pace at which transformations were taking place in the city, information was needed quickly, so the scope of the survey was limited to:

• Locations of the properties

• Occupancy and current use

• Key construction or architectural characteristics

• Approximate age and date of alterations, if any

• General state of repair of the premises

• Level of vulnerability or threat to the properties

• Access to basic services and general environmental conditions

The method used for the property survey was door-to-door inspections and interviews with the occupants of all residential and commercial property that had been identified in a 2004 high-resolution aerial photograph of the old city.

An initial reference for each property was derived from a 100 metre grid laid over the photograph, which provided a basis for planning the survey. Surveyors were assigned a cluster of properties to visit based on the grid, which was then corrected according to the findings on the ground. The survey format and procedure was amended after testing in the field and following the receipt of feedback from the survey teams.

Four survey teams visited an average of 30 properties per day, with the data collected before noon and processed in the afternoon – allowing for any discrepancies to be checked the following day. In addition to collecting information for the forms, surveyors marked the boundaries of each property on A3 enlargements of the aerial photograph, which they carried with them at all times. Survey outputs were entered daily into a database of properties, the fields of which were based on the categories of information collected in the survey. A folder of photos of each property was established and linked to the database. At the same time, information on the property boundaries, use and condition were digitized as a series of layers in AutoCAD. These layers allowed for differentiation of properties by such things as type, use and condition, and enabled the project team to build an accurate picture of the pre-project physical condition of the four quarters of the historic city.

Adapted from “Herat Old City” UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards entry submission