3 min

How Kiwa auditors are protecting our cultural history

Look around as you walk through a city and you will see centuries of history on display. Monuments like buildings, bridges, gates and clock towers tell the stories of the time in which they were constructed, the people who designed and built them, and the technologies available at the time. 

But what happens when the monument is damaged – when a wall collapses or the paint begins to chip away, for example? How can it be repaired in a way that maintains its place in history?

Cultural heritage is an important but often overlooked field when it comes to inspection and certification. Kiwa’s Building and Civil Engineering division helps clients maintain monuments by offering restoration services, including certification covering a range of materials. As uncovering and protecting cultural heritage goes beyond what can be directly seen, archeology-related services are provided as well.

Specialist services support Dutch heritage

In the Netherlands, there are more than 63,000 buildings listed in the National Monument Register (Rijksmonumentenregister in Dutch), including everything from homes to windmills and farms to castles.

Cultural heritage is protected with legislation in Europe, and each Member State interprets that legislation with its own rules. To carry out archeological work in the Netherlands, you need a permit, which takes the form of certification.

Restoration work is different, as certification is voluntary. Any company can call itself a restoration provider, but ever more municipalities, other governmental bodies and companies involved in public building maintenance want the companies working on projects under their jurisdictions to demonstrate the quality of their work. Certification enables companies to distinguish themselves on this basis.

Until recently, Kiwa had only a small amount of business in this area – other companies had the monopoly on archeology and restoration certification, including through certain Court Authorization Arrangements (Rechterlijke Machtiging (RM) regelingen in Dutch). But over the last two years, Kiwa has grown to be a market leader, with dozens of clients for archeology services.


Eline Jonkergouw, Inspection and Certification specialist in the field of Dutch heritage and archaeology at Kiwa.

A small but impactful team

When Eline Jonkergouw started at Kiwa at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she enriched the Building and Civil Engineering division with her qualifications and experience in history and archeology.

Noting that history involved a lot more writing and archeology more hands-on work, Eline started out as an archeologist and conducted fieldwork. “The Netherlands has a wonderful climate for archaeology,” she said with a wink.

After three years of demanding work and long hours in terrible conditions, she completed her studies and started working for Kiwa. At first, it was challenging to find the specialists to work with on certification – there was a pool of experts to work with, but the pandemic made it harder than usual to meet the demand for inspections. Also, the experts with the specialist knowledge are often retired – Eline recently said goodbye to a colleague who was 83 years old.

“There are plenty of challenges involved in a niche area like this,” she said. “It takes two years to become established, and even after two years at Kiwa, it’s sometimes hard to keep the pool of experts filled,” she said.

Eline has found the best approach to be connecting with people on LinkedIn and looking at her existing network. “It's a small world, and you might think not much is happening, but that’s not the case”, she said. She regularly works with past university teachers as painting specialists, for example.

Specialist work requires expert collaborators

Because the work involved in restoration is so specialized, Kiwa often works with subcontractors – accredited restoration construction companies that hire professional painters and stone masons.

When Eline goes to a site, she knows about the organization but doesn’t know what she will encounter there. She has what she calls the helicopter view – a high-level view of the site and what needs to be inspected.

But when faced with thousands of joints and unidentified materials, an expert view is required. For these projects, Eline works with a specialist, such as a stonemason, blacksmith or painter. “I always learn from them, which is great fun,” she said. Eline’s role on these projects is to oversee the process and ensure the specialist is working in the right way to guarantee high quality.

The certification schemes Kiwa works with reflect these specialist areas. Restoration companies can be certified to BRL 3000 ERB: Erkend Restauratie Bouwbedrijf – Recognized Restoration Construction Company and, more specifically, URL 3001 Historische houtconstructies – Historical timber structures. In this area, Kiwa also works with:

There is an extensive series of standards covering various elements of restoration work, under the main standard BRL 4000 Onderhoud en Restauratie Monumenten – Monument Maintenance and Restoration. These include URL 4003 Historisch metselwerk – Historical masonry, and URL 4009 (ERM): Historisch Schilderwerk – Historical Painting. Kiwa also certifies to the standard BRL 6000 Groen Erfgoed – Green Heritage.


The restoration ladder

For restoration projects, the team makes decisions with the client based on the restoration ladder. This process aims to preserve the monument as fully as possible, to protect the cultural heritage.

  1. Preserve – aiming to keep a monument as it is.
  2. Repair – try to maintain as much as possible.
  3. Renew – this is the last option, if preservation and repair are not possible: either copy the original, imitate it, and improve where possible.

One major consideration for companies and people who own monuments is budget, and the lower steps on the ladder, conservation and repair, cost more than renewal. Eline needs to bear this in mind and match the client’s needs with the certification requirements.

“We work in a very black-and-white way,” she said. “On a project, we will look at the regulation and explain why it is not compliant. The client can disagree and we can discuss the findings, but they are not just our opinions. There are clear rules; we show what is not right and we work out how to solve it.”

Eline has recently worked on the 112.5-meter-tall Dom Tower (Domtoren) in Utrecht, Teylers Museum in Haarlem with its stone carvings, the grand gate at the entrance to Artis Zoo in Amsterdam, and several town houses owned by individuals.

“People who live in historic buildings like it when you come by,” Eline said. “And when I work with windmills it’s like stepping back in time 100 years – it’s the only time I get handwritten documents. It's a luxury position for me, inspecting the restoration works on historic monuments, but it does feel normal now.”

Archeological inspections

In addition to restoration certification, Eline also works on inspections for archeological permits – secretly her favorite work to do. On one project in Deventer, where the drainage needed to be replaced, she came across the foundations of old monastery buildings. “There are so many surprises, I always feel like a kid in a candy store,” she said.

Kiwa certifies companies to the standard BRL SIKB 4000 Archeologie – Archeology, which has been mandatory since the Heritage Act (2016). There are several sub-protocols covering aspects of archeology above and below water, including field research inventory and excavation. All of the protocols are part of the standard provided by Stichting Infrastructuur Kwaliteitsborging Bodembeheer (SIKB).

When certification became mandatory, all companies carrying out archeological work were subsequently certified in 2016 and 2017. Certification requires reassessment every four years, so there has been a big peak in archeology inspections since Eline joined Kiwa.

“Customers often think I’ll drop by, fill in a report and be done, but it’s much more work than that,” she said. Every four years, Eline has to demonstrate she has assessed everyone at the company, on every sub-step of every protocol. This can mean speaking to 20 people at a large company.

Her advice to people who want to buy land is to check the documentation and be aware of the requirements related to archeology. “There is a cycle involved when premises have archeological value, and it has a price tag attached to it – this is mandatory certification, so it’s important to consider before making any decisions.”

Get certified with Kiwa

Eline and the team work on a variety of projects, from individual houses to city landmarks. Contact Kiwa to discuss your restoration work or archeology project.


Copyright photo of Dutch windmill: FW LM - Photography