Posts Tagged ‘Global Heritage Fund’

Beyond the Bounds of Conservation

November 20, 2014

I hope you are a member of the organization I run, the Global Heritage Fund.

Our goal is to help save world heritage sites in impoverished regions by activating them as assets for the local community. Our methodology combines Planning, Conservation Science, Partnerships and Community Development, which we term Preservation By Design®. Our goal in our second decade is to make our Community Development more robust and replicable.
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Why? Because that is best for the heritage site – to have the community benefit from a resource that they protect and cultivate just as you would a crop or a precious natural area. Indeed, at several of our sites we have both natural area reserve and a heritage site, which makes sense, since World Heritage inscription covers three categories: Natural, Cultural, and Mixed.
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Now traditionally we look at pretty straightforward ways of measuring community development. Jobs. Income. The simple obvious answers for heritage sites include things like local people trained and employed in conservation of a site; local people employed in tourism and hospitality around a site; and indirect benefits of these activities for local business, agriculture, and so forth.
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But the more expertise we develop in community development, the more we realize that these numeric metrics are only the tip of the community benefit iceberg. This summer we built a health center on the trail to Ciudad Perdida, the 7-14C Tayrona site in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, on the Caribbean coast. The site also just received a Global Vision Award from Travel & Leisure magazine (it is on my desk right now – the award that is)
GHFCP4 Building a Medical Center
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A couple of years ago we built a bridge over the Buritaca River at another site on the three-day hike to Ciudad Perdida. Now of course we work to conserve the ancient rammed earth platforms and their stone surrounds, and the miles of stone staircases that connected the “cities” of the Tayrona.
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But we also build bridges and health centers and install efficient stoves and graywater treatment systems in the homestays, which seem to break the boundaries of what we consider heritage conservation.
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Why not? The bridge was built after someone died during a flash flood. Ostensibly it is for the tourists, but it has become a vital resource for the local people as it facilitates transportation in the same way the original stone staircases did a thousand years ago. The health center will help if there is an emergency on the trail, but will of course primarily serve the indigenous Kogi people who live here, own and operate homestays, help ferry tourists up the trail, and are a primary target for community development.
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You see, community development is not defined as the equivalent of economic development, and neither is simply numeric. A bridge, a health center – these are infrastructural improvements that affect a whole VARIETY of metrics and improve local life and livelihoods. When you properly approach community development as an integrated piece of heritage conservation – as we do at Global Heritage Fund – you realize that your goals and targets are more than numbers.
CP lodge Romauldo SG

Community development is a process of improvement, and that improvement can mean more and better jobs, more income and other things that can be assigned numbers. But it also means more opportunities, more access, more infrastructure and more choices and options for the local population. Interestingly, it can also mean more natural area conservation like I mentioned above, because increasingly conservation organizations are moving away from the wilderness model and looking to indigenous managed – landscapes as a way to conserve the best of nature and culture in the MOST sustainable way.
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Sustainability. Using resources in a way that allows the next generation to enjoy them as well. The cultural landscape – the world heritage site that contains monuments, relics and treasure from an ancient civilization WHILE still serving as the home and livelihood of an indigenous population – is the most sustainable solution for BOTH heritage and biodiversity.
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Planning for the Future; not Scrambling for the Past

September 21, 2014

I was re-reading one of my blogs from nine years ago (430 posts now – I guess I am about consistency and endurance whether I like it or not) and was struck (again) by my (consistent) non-ideological approach to heritage conservation. That blog “Heresy and Apostasy” basically took to task the concept that preservation had some kind of ideological purity and that those who didn’t try to save absolutely everything all the time were not “true” preservationists.

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I recalled my youth in the field, when I did come close to that position, but it was never one I was completely comfortable with. First, ideologies sit outside of history and thus fail all tests of time. Second and more to the point, I began my career working on a heritage area – the first in the U.S. – and the goals there were historic preservation, natural area preservation, recreation, and economic development. Preservation was part of planning for the future. Preservation was a wise economic decision, especially in a post-industrial economy.

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Lockport, Illinois

When I worked at Landmarks Illinois, we always tried to save important buildings, sites and structures, and sometimes we couldn’t. It seemed we were always reacting, trying to put out brush fires. It is a hard life being an advocate, because you care passionately and you will suffer many losses.

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And Mullets. And Inspector Gadget trench coats

We tried to plan. We did a lot of work on historic churches in Chicago, on historic boulevards, and other efforts that were pro-active, planning for the future rather than scrambling for the past. These efforts are intrinsically more satisfying, because rather than simply understanding a building, site or structure’s significance, you also understand its condition, context, and possibilities. But we spent a lot of time putting out the brush fires, or trying to.

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Despite the mullet, we did save the building

This is why I am honored to be leading Global Heritage Fund, an organization that focuses its efforts on Planning, Conservation, Partnerships and Community Development. Notice how similar that is to the description of heritage areas? We undertake projects only after a thoughtful review of how we can help a community not simply save a resource, but activate it economically for the future of that community.

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GHF project at Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Don’t get me wrong – we deal with threatened heritage. The problem is there is TONS of threatened heritage around the world – no one can save it all. But if you are going to try, you should approach the problem as one that needs to be solved for the future. GHF puts together not simply a plan to say NO to loss, but a plan to say HELLO to the future. How can a site survive not just the threat of destruction or deterioration but become a cherished and useful part of the community for the next generation?

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GHF project at Ciudad Perdida, Colombia

We have learned a lot recently about the importance of making sure the local community is part of the design and implementation of a project. This is a tenet of preservation planning since the Burra Charter amendments of 1999, but it is not always practiced. There are preservation/conservation traditionalists – the puritanical monks (a delightfully mixed metaphor) I referred to in my 2005 blog who actually abjure such practicality. For them, the test is the dedication to the cause, not the success of actually saving something.

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When I was young and impatient, I resisted the impulse to plan. The building had to be saved and we should try everything in our power to do it! No matter what! But that can lead to non-sustainable preservation. There are some buildings I labored to save SEVERAL times before someone came up with a PLAN to really conserve them for the next generation.

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Saved four times in ten years. I kid you not.

I just wrote an article referencing the first house saved in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1922. And again in 1924. And again in 1932. That is not unusual, that is what happens without a plan.

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I guess third time is the charm

The second reason planning is so important is community. The people who live around a world heritage site are its stewards, and if they don’t feel ownership of the project from the initial planning stages, all of your money is wasted. This is our biggest logistical challenge at Global Heritage Fund, but when I see it happen, it is the most rewarding because it means every nickel is being well spent.

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tea and oranges all the way from China

This is not enough for either the puritans or the romantics, who suffer from nostalgia, that 17th century disease that was “dangerous but not always fatal. Leeches, warm hypnotic emulsions, opium and a return to the Alps usually soothed the symptoms.” When I was a twenty-something advocate, I was once accused of nostaglia and I bristled visibly. I don’t save things because I have a disease of the past. I save them because they make the future better.

When you lose world heritage

Better is not just a pure economic term. Wealth alone is meaningless without culture, and heritage sites are repositories of culture, which is what differentiates humans from animals. They are records of culture and roots of new culture, and their value lies not in the permanence of their meaning but in their physical permanence. This is what allows them to keep granting meaning to our communities.

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Weishan, Yunnan

The economic argument is essential because it dictates survival – then once you have a threshold of survival, you can worry about research and interpretation and reinterpretation. And at Global Heritage Fund (join here!) we pride ourselves on bringing the latest scientific conservation techniques and practices to every site. That is the Conservation piece. Then we have the Planning piece, which leads directly into the Community Development piece. Partnerships is the fourth piece of our special GHF puzzle. We collaborate with partners, because we will only be there a few years but someone has to watch over these sites over generations.

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Sustainable Development

August 23, 2014

Sustainability has been a popular buzz word for quite a while now, and the basic meaning is pretty clear: do things in such a manner that you can continue to do them.

Trail 20 huts

When it comes to natural resources, it means using them in a way that does not deny the next generation the opportunity to use them. When it comes to economics, it means a system of effort and reward that can bring prosperity to the next generation, not just the current one. When it comes to society, it means that social structures, human rights and livable communities are likewise structured in a way that they can be passed on to the next generation. You get the basic idea: Do things in a way that allows you to keep doing them.

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There is a fourth pillar of sustainability, and that is culture. This implies that you need to create systems and structures of exchange and production that work in concert with local cultures. This is why various colonial attempts to civilize other parts of the world throughout history don’t work and aren’t sustainable: they try to replace local culture. Even if you offer people better environment, economics and society, you can’t do that without considering culture or it won’t work.
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We tend to focus on the environmental side of sustainability – using scarce world resources in a manner that does not deny future generations. Obviously this favors things like renewable energy sources, efficient agricultural practices, mitigating the negative effects of our altered ecosphere, etc. Secondly, we do seem to “get” the economic side of the equation: how do we craft our production consumption and exchange in a way that allows it to continue for our kids?
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or not

Now this becomes a problem in economics because many of our financial institutions and systems for the creation and maintenance of corporate capital function on a short-term basis, not the long-term basis implied by the quest for sustainability. Profitability is measured in three month chunks and stock markets careen up and down by the minute with the discipline and patience of a pubescent child.
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I totally get it. I don’t want to grow up either.

So, what are good types of sustainable economic development? This is a question I wrestle with a lot because at Global Heritage Fund (Join us now!) we don’t just conserve heritage sites – we insist on projects that involve the local community and provide them with new economic opportunities.
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Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

These can range from hands-on training as stone conservators or masons, new hospitality jobs as areas open to tourism, and a host of economic spinoffs as a heritage site becomes an attraction not only for visitors but for residents. Significant sites also generate public investment, further bolstering the local economy.
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One of the locally owned homestays on the trail to Ciudad Perdida, where local revenues have grown from almost zero to $27m annually in the last decade.

Now in my work in preservation in the United States over the last 32 years, I spent a lot of time talking about the economic benefits of reusing old buildings, the economic impact of historic districts (its all about the externalities! – check out this one.) Historic sites are inherently the most sustainable form of development, and the logic is both straightforward and universal.
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Think of standard forms of economic development. A factory. An office building, a shopping mall, a farm or a power plant. Even a prison. These are all things that produce jobs for the local economy. They are investments that create profits and usually leverage the public investment that is handmaiden to all forms of economic development.
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Oil refinery. Let’s not forget oil refineries.

Now these are REAL forms of economic development if you listen to some folks, because they create a lot more jobs and economic impacts than some sappy historic site, right? And for the hormone-addled denizens of stock markets, they are great because that big impact is monetized quickly. Then what?
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Well, then the factory closes and you tear it down. And the jobs leave. In fact, the famous 2005 Supreme Court case – Kelo – that upheld the right of governments to condemn private land and turn it over to other private developers for economic development purposes has some very ironic facts at the heart of the case. You can see my 2009 blog about it here. The City of New London condemned a bunch of houses to make way for a multipurpose development around a Pfizer factory. In 2005 their right to do so was upheld and by 2009 the factory and thousands of jobs were gone. That is not sustainable development.

If jobs pick up and move quickly in New England, imagine how much easier it is to do that in the places where Global Heritage Fund works, the parts of the world that REALLY need jobs and economic development?
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I have a colleague who worked for some big tech firms as they moved their factories from California to various parts of Asia, and they kept moving every few years. There was no factory that lasted even a generation, not to mention two generations.

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So, if the historic site pictured above generates economic activity, will it be torn down and the jobs moved to another town? What do you think?

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To some extent we have accepted the 21st century economic reality, creative destruction, but the interesting thing to me is that developing heritage sites works against this trend. Heritage sites can not only provide jobs for their conservation and tourism, they can become externalities that continue to contribute to local economies as long as they survive. They enrich a place. If they are well conserved, they will last generations.
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That is sustainable development.

Stepping Into World Heritage and Why

June 30, 2014

It has been six years since I wrote about stepwells, those amazing structures found throughout the Indian subcontinent. Communal water sources, stepwells range from simple community structures to elaborate complexes replete with stunning architectural detail. When I wrote six years ago I described the Adalaj stepwell in Ahmedabad, but I only included a single image, so I am remedying that here.
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I was thinking about stepwells last week because here at Global Heritage Fund (join us here!) we began our joint investigation of stepwell conservation last week when Ahmedabad architect Yatin Pandya journeyed to see the initial stepwell restoration projects in Rajastan led by Gram Bharati Samiti and make recommendations for the next step.

I was also thinking about stepwells because I spoke to a Chicago friend who has been documenting hundreds of them throughout India over recent years. They are fascinating structures, essentially underground, but often decorated with elaborate architectural trabeations and sculptural groups, as you can see at the most famous one, Rani Ke Vav in Gujarat, which was inscribed as a World Heritage Site last week by UNESCO.
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Rani_ki_Vav_sculptures

Stepwells encapsulate the mission of Global Heritage Fund: they are heritage sites that were – and often can remain – the centerpiece of a community, a source for water, yes, but also a source of communal pride. Especially when they have been recognized by UNESCO for their “outstanding universal value.”

Why should we care about history? I have spent my life answering that question and I recognize that most people are focused on the present.

When we say “HERITAGE” we are in fact talking about the present – and the future.

Why is World Heritage important? Because of a problem in the PRESENT that threatens the FUTURE. We recognize sites of “outstanding universal value” because we are concerned that they may not make it into the future. These listings are a call to action.

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Tomioka silk mill warehouse, Japan, one of several industrial sericulture sites inscribed

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Van Nelle tobacco factory, Rotterdam. This one is found on the cover of books of modern architecture

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Qenko near Cusco, a major stop on the Qhapaq Nan

The Qhapaq Nan, or Inca Road, was one of the more exciting inscriptions this year, because it is all about context. The road runs through six countries, roughly from Quito, Ecuador to Santiago, Chile, including Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Argentina. 273 sites over 6000 kilometers. Talk about your cultural landscape! At Global Heritage Fund, we investigated several sites along the road as potential investigations, including the site of Pachacamac, one of the ancillary Qhapaq Nan routes and the most important coastal arhcaeological site in South America.
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Near Templo del So, Pachacamac, 2012

As the World Heritage meeting was taking place, I was standing on Donkey Hill in Los Gatos, looking out over San Jose and all the way up to Moffett Field when my phone rang (Thanks, Modern World!) and it was Al-Jazeera wanting to interview me about the new World Heritage listings.

Their piece that evening focused on the Pyu Kingdom sites in Myanmar, which was great, because Global Heritage Fund got involved last year with Sri Ksetra, the most notable of these sites, through the work of our Founder, Jeff Morgan. I was amazed that the stupendous stupa-laden site of Pagan (or Bagan) was not listed, since that was one of the most impressive sites I visited during my first Asian sojourn in 1986.
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Stupa-fying

But the interview inevitably turned to the same topic my previous two interviews with them focused on: what do you do about sites that are in conflict zones? Earlier this year UNESCO put on the THREATENED list all six sites in Syria, which I was interviewed about in March. What do you do?
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The question begs for an answer that somehow you can intervene, but of course neither UNESCO nor organizations like Global Heritage Fund have the ability to intervene in a war. Moreover, throughout history, heritage sites have not only suffered from wars, but they are often TARGETED because they have great spiritual value to local populations. Destroying them is a way of terrorizing those populations, or in the case of the 1990s Mostar bridge, splitting the populations along sectarian lines.
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and its later restoration was a step to mending those divisions

The Bamiyan Buddhas were targeted by the Taliban and the jihadists in Iraq are currently threatening a range of heritage sites there, nihilism in the guise of religion. What can you do about these threats? I told the interviewer that UNESCO has very limited resources – they have now inscribed over 1000 sites in the last 42 years. This designation does not bring much money – “that is why organizations like Global Heritage Fund exist” I told them. We need to raise the money and identify national partners to save or restore sites like these – UNESCO can offer technical support but not so much money.

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World Heritage status is like National Historic Landmark status or local landmark status. It is the recognition of outstanding value for massive resources (think 273 sites over 6000 km) and it brings them to the attention of both the professional heritage community and the general public. It is that RECOGNITION that local and national governments, and private philanthropies like GHF – use to leverage the funds needed to save these vital places. The status means you can lobby governments to spend more on these sites because they are more important. It means you can try to generate philanthropy based on the same concept – here is where you can MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

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Talk about a money pit – one of my all-time favorite World Heritage Sites – the Falun mine, in Sweden. Photo by author, 2007.

Indeed, World Heritage status, like landmark status, is often TARGETED to help save threatened sites. UNESCO named several such as new inscriptions (listings) last week, including South Jerusalem, Erbil Citadel in Iraq, Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, and the City of Potosi, Bolivia. Threats are of course not only conflict but also poaching, looting, uncontrolled development and climate change. GHF documented these threats to our global heritage several years ago in print, and we are still fighting, although we are fighting to SAVE while others are fighting to DESTROY.

When you lose world heritage

To truly save a site, it must benefit the local community that lives there, which is the GHF model. Because heritage is ALWAYS about the future.

Leading with Expertise

April 17, 2014

In approaching the second decade of the Global Heritage Fund, I have spoken of “Leading With Expertise”. This means going into a heritage sites in a developing region not with a massive restoration plan but with the best minds in modern conservation. This allows you to determine the best plan from both a conservation and community point of view, by determining precisely what the problems are and how best to approach them. It means resources are used more wisely, and by bringing in the best conservation experts we can leverage more partners, spreading the cost burden across many international, national and local entitites.
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The Sun Temple in Weishan, last week.

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What it looked like in 2006 when my SAIC class documented it

This is what we did in the past week’s mission to Weishan, Yunnan, China. Readers of this blog will recognize the Southern Silk Road city where I have worked over the last eleven years.

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The North Gate, 1390

Weishan was the home of Zhi Ni Ni who founded the Nanzhao Empire in 7th century AD.
Weishan Heritage Valley includes Weishan town with national landmark North Gate, which dates back to 1390, and several Ming era temples and courtyards, the Dong Lian Hua Muslim village national landmark, the Weibaoshan temple mountain with the national landmark Chang Chuen temple, and 22 other Taoist and Buddhist sites.
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Wen Chung Palace pavilion, Weibaoshan

Most recently, GHF brought international conservation expertise to Weishan to develop recommendations for preserving the Yi people mural “Dancing Under The Pine Trees” at the Wen Chung temple on the sacred mountain Weibaoshan. Painted in 1759, the mural is the symbol of the Yi people of Weishan and documents their cultural traditions, but is threatened by moisture, structural weakness, and environmental factors.
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Karena Morton with GHF Project Director Han Li

Karena Morton, an international mural conservator who works for the National Museum of Ireland, spent three days meticulously documenting and analyzing the issues affecting the mural, which include its position on a pavilion situated in a pool in the innermost temple courtyard.
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By “leading with expertise,” GHF is helping Weishan make the right conservation decision for this cultural icon, insuring that local officials spend their money wisely.
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Our work in Guizhou is also emblematic of “leading with expertise” because the challenge here, as elsewhere in China, is not the infusion of funds but the organization of the effort and GHF’s own Han Li, China Project Director since 2008, is the organizational nexus of the combined efforts of UNESCO, the Guizhou Cultural Ministry, Peking and Tongi Universities, and the Chinese NGO You Cheng, which works to conserve intangible heritage.
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这是 典型 的 贵州 村庄

As Han said in a recent program on Chinese television, the goal in Guizhou with villages like Dali Dong is not to make them tourist sites, but to add tourism while buttressing the basic economic vitality of the village within its traditional built and natural environment.
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Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Han Li’s expertise has led the Provincial Department of Culture to place her at the center of the project, leveraging the resources of Global Heritage Fund tenfold, with contributions by Peking University and UNESCO as well. Our impact is not defined by the size of our investment, but by the expertise of our people, who have assembled broad partnerships to achieve a common goal, conserving a traditional village, its agricultural landscape and ways of life.
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DD lane overhangs

That is a tall order, but another expert, Dr. Du Xiaofan of UNESCO’s Beijing office, is pioneering the cultural landscape model in China. The goal is to promote community equality and involvement – as the Burra Charter calls for – rather than bring in tons of outside funding. Tourism can supplement the local economy, but must not replace it – for if the local culture is lost, there will be no reason to visit.
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Global Heritage Fund also brought Gerald Adelmann, director of Openlands Project and Board member of the Center for US-China Arts Exchange at Columbia University, to Guizhou to see the project at Dali Dong village. I have worked with Jerry for three decades, since he pioneered the combination of cultural and natural conservation with the first heritage area in the United States. Jerry brings a wealth of experience to the challenge of preserving traditional villages, not just their architecture but their agricultural lands, their crafts, and their patterns of life. This is the greatest challenge of the 21t century, one GHF is tackling from Transylvania to Timbuktu.

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Jerry Adelmann, Karena Morton and Han Li at Yi people mural, Wen Chung Palace, Weibaoshan.

As a rapidly developing country, China has arguably emerged from developing status and does not present the same economic challenges as other GHF sites. But their need for expertise is clear and explicit, from the overreliance on tourism that threatened to destroy the city of Lijiang (GHF’s first project in China) to the current cultural landscape challenge in Guizhou.

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Traditional covered bridge in Dali Dong village

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Han Li leading partnership discussion in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

Dr. Wang Hongguang told me that international expertise is needed because research in cultural heritage issues is not yet advanced enough in China. Thus, targeted model projects and the expertise brought by GHF through people like Han Li, Karena Morton and Jerry Adelmann can easily leverage ten times the investment. More importantly, this expertise means that China will have examples of the right way to approach key cultural sites, and will in the future be able to replicate and even export these models.
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Couple at landmark courtyard house in Dali Dong village, Guizhou

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Yangon Heritage

March 6, 2014

Rangoon. The Garden City of the Orient. It really was, and thanks to a half-century of neglect, it still is. Sort of like Havana, Rangoon gives you that sense of stepping back in time, before the glass skyscraper shopping centers, before Rayon and ubiquitous telephony. I rarely wax nostalgic but when I walked the streets of Rangoon in May of 1986, I fell in love with the colonial architecture.
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You could feel the sense of time there. I have never been to Havana, but I have experienced the sense of time frozen in architecture in a few other places – Budapest a decade ago, Georgetown (Malaysia, not D.C.) in the 80s, even Leeds back in ’82. It is an architecture that begs for preservation but not restoration. It is messy but it is literally dripping with history; with significance
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I was in Chicago last week meeting with Thant Myint-U, an historian, author and leader in both the preservation movement in Burma as well as its peace process and emergent democracy. Global Heritage Fund is working with Yangon Heritage Trust because like YHT, we see conservation of architectural heritage as a vital social and economic development tool.

Thant is considered one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy Magazine and I think it is significant that he thinks so much about preservation.

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This is my photo of the great Shwedagon Pagoda, 1986.

For a couple of years now, there has been a rush to Rangoon, which sits neatly between the great South Asian cultural sphere of India and the great East Asian cultural sphere that includes China and Japan. The rush is prompted by openness, trade, and of course that time-capsule city that is just dying for redevelopment in the time-honored manner of all Asian cities….
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shang mus INup
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Yum. Can’t wait.

So Thant sees a rare opportunity to preserve the best of the old – and the garden city feel crafted by the original designers and NOT LOST due to the depredations of mid-century highway engineers – while allowing Rangoon to evolve into the 21st century. Almost every other such opportunity in Asia has been lost.
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Except the Bund, although it is dwarfed by the rest of Shanghai and outsmarted nightly by Pudong across the river.

Shortly after visiting Rangoon in 1986 I went to Singapore, and while it is cleaner and safer than anywhere in the U.S., my impression was: The alien shopping centers have landed and they are having a sale. Not warm and fuzzy. Not special character.

Rangoon is the last best hope for crafting a modern Asian city that respects not only a few odd landmarks, but an urban landscape, a balance of then and now, a place made humane by the urban patina of these buildings.
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There are challenges – sorting out the ownership and tenancy rights, and these are primary in Thant’s mission, which seeks to secure a conservation NOT reliant on gentrification. That is a tall order, but in every important sense, he is up to that challenge and I will work to make Global Heritage Fund a partner in that effort.

Another challenge lies in the naysayers. I heard it more than once – why would the Burmese want to preserve the colonial architecture built by the British who literally conquered the country?
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This is a common slam against preservation, and it ranks up there with the other fallacies used as excuses by those who find preservation HARD.

Fallacy Problem One: This assumes that the oppressed peoples IDENTIFY that architecture with oppression. They might. They might not. First thing you should do is ask them. Thant has and is acting on the answer.

Fallacy Problem Two: The architecture of oppression can become the people’s architecture in no time at all. Here is a palace of a despotic ruler:
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Except they chopped his head off and opened the building to the public as the WORLD’S FIRST MUSEUM causing, well, museums.

Here is a palace of 600 years of despotic rulers:
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So when radical Communists took over the country they demolished it, right? Um, no, they made it into a public museum and tourist attraction.

Here is what every NEW building in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos looks like:
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It’s French. You want to show off your newly minted middle-class status, you build a house in the style of the colonial powers. Short answer: Don’t assume what the architecture symbolizes to people until THEY TELL YOU.


Fallacy Problem Three:
The embedded notion here is that people just want to get ahead and you and your fancy-pants aesthetic snobbery are preventing them from their unencumbered march into prosperity.

This is a fallacy in the developed world as well, proceeding as it does from the assumption that ANYTHING that gets in the way of redevelopment is an impediment. Like buildings. Like zoning. Like laws. Like financing. Like infrastructure.

We don’t consider zoning or financing impediments but maybe we should, because they can shut down a development project COMPLETELY. An old building CAN’T DO THAT. The worst it can do is change the FORM of the development project.

Why is that so HARD? Maybe Yangon Heritage Trust will prove that is isn’t.
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Cultural Landscapes: The Confluence of Conservations

October 6, 2013

I have blogged previously about the differences between natural area conservation and heritage conservation, especially in terms of use-value, as I wrote about last year in this blog. The basic point was that natural area conservation is largely about preserving non-use value – a liability (or at least an externality), while heritage conservation is about preserving use-value – an asset.
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we could all use some of this

That blog also delved into the 41-year history of World Heritage, which includes both cultural, natural and “mixed” sites. I detailed how we had shifted in heritage conservation from iconic and monumental singular sites to broader cultural landscapes. In recent discussions with conservation foundations, I am sensing a new confluence of heritage conservation and natural conservation as both approaches are moving into the arena of cultural landscapes.
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Guizhou, China

More than one foundation that sees the conservation of natural areas as its mission has moved into funding efforts to protect indigenous peoples and landscapes: cultural landscapes that are NOT “wilderness” in any traditional sense, but whose balance of humans and nature seems to be in a sort of equilibrium we would not claim for our American cities and suburbs. At least two foundations I recently met with are looking at specific regions where indigeous people occupy – and farm or shepherd – a landscape in a way that may preserve the natural environment in an overall sense despite the “taint” of human occupation. Instead of merely keeping people out of these areas, the goal is to allow traditional indigenous economies to manage those landscapes in a sustainable way with traditional agriculturalist and pastoralist practices.
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Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

The evolution of natural area conservation from wilderness to occupied landscapes has occurred over a long period, and arguably efforts to preserve Andean watersheds or Central Asian steppes without regard to political boundaries has its roots in the earliest national parks. My own experience in heritage conservation began with an organization that is still not 50 years old that undertook a comprehensive look at the landscapes near Chicago and identified pristine nature amidst industrial and agricultural development and devised a scheme to preserve BOTH.
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Illinois & Michigan Canal near Channahon.

Arguably, it is the historic preservation people who got to the party late, focusing on iconic architectural landmarks to the exclusion of layered landscapes where history might best be captured in ordinary structures. In my dissertation research, I identified a gap between the traditional architectural preservationists who sought to save individual landmarks and those community activists who identified potential historic districts almost a century ago. Those groups slowly came together in the 1960s and 1970s, just as the environmental movement achieved an apex of influence on public policy.
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Greenwich Village, Manhattan
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Yosemite

It has been argued that both environmentalism and historic preservation are reactions against industrialization and its effects on the landscape; that both are somewhat nostalgic oppositions to economic growth. This argument fails to account for the entirety of my 30 years in the heritage development field but it does reveal an interesting bias that accounts for the current trends in regard to occupied landscapes.
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Here is Mount Vernon, famously saved in the mid-19th century from the depredations of development, especially “manufactories.” There is of course its iconic association with George Washington, but if you go there today you realize that it is a plantation, which is to say, a settled agricultural landscape. Ann Pamela Cunningham and her friends saw BOTH the house and the landscape as worthy of preservation. The first preservation group in the US was the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. The motives were nostalgic and anti-progress, but their goals were both historic and environmental.

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Princeton Battlefield

So perhaps it is not unusual that these two movements are coalescing AGAIN. I remember being really struck by Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature a quarter-century ago when he argued that most of the truly wild places were gone. It is hard to find pieces of the planet untouched by civilization (or at least societies). I have visited the archaeological sites of many past civilizations who so despoiled their landscapes that they made deserts of rich fields and ruins of great cities.
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The Burren, Ireland. Cromwell’s general said of the landscape, heavily populated millenia earlier, “a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury him.”

If you look on the National Trust website today, you see the fruits of decades of efforts to move from icons to “places that matter” and you see that the targets of the movement in the U.S. are, in addition to architectural landmarks, places as vast and diverse as the Mississippi Delta, Chimney Rock and even Princeton Battlefield. Internationally, the trend is quite similar, and it is instructive to look at the goal of BOTH heritage and natural area conservation, which is NOT stopping change, but MANAGING change.
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Wachau, Austria

Managing change is what heritage conservation is all about. For the Global Heritage Fund project in Guizhou, our goal is to come up with ways of preserving both the structures and folkways of these World Heritage minority villages as they become linked by fast roadways to the big cities. It is a classic GHF problem requiring careful community planning and conservation while working with communities and partners to insure positive economic and social benefit.
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Waterwheel for pounding wood pulp to make paper, HeShui Village, Guizhou

Many of our projects combine heritage conservation with natural area conservation. We have had many support our Classical Mayan archaeological site of El Mirador in Guatemala because it preserves massive Mesoamerican pyramids as well as disappearing rainforest. Similarly, when you trek to our site of Ciudad Perdida in Colombia, you are in both the Tayrona indigenous area and a national park.
CP 39 terraces houses

Over thirty years ago I began working on an effort to save a landscape that had pristine natural areas, historic towns, steel plants and vast agricultural plots. It was a whole story of human existence layered into a landscape and it was a pioneering approach to the concept of conservation as managed change that does not remove nature or history from the economy, but manages its future as a vital – and conserved – element of the economy. I have been privileged to witness the confluence of heritage and natural conservation over those decades, and to be able to participate in it every day.
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Reuse and the Cultural Landscape

January 19, 2013

It has been almost three weeks since I blogged and since I officially became Executive Director of the Global Heritage Fund (GHF), which is NOT an excuse not to blog. But I have been busy. We are developing our slate of projects for the year.
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The mission of the Global Heritage Fund is to help protect heritage sites in the developing world through community development. This was the vision of Founder Jeff Morgan, who also crafted our Preservation by Design® strategy: equal parts Conservation, Planning, Community Development and Partnerships. He understood “preservation” as a community development strategy, and that attracted me to GHF.

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This strategy is what guides the decisions we are making now about projects. Morgan realized early on that archaeology sites were often not adequately conserved, since archaeologists were focused on excavation and research. Moreover, it was politically risky proposition to be involved in excavation as a foreign NGO: one misstep and you never work again. To this Morgan added architectural conservation, in sites like Banteay Chhmar, a 14th century Khmer temple in Cambodia and Pingyao, a traditional walled Chinese city with some 500 original courtyard houses.

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In addition to archaeology and architecture, this year we proposed two new projects that represent the cutting edge of our field: cultural landscapes. Having started my professional career 29.9 years ago on the U.S.’ first heritage area, this is a development I find very exciting. In both Transylvania (Romania) and Guizhou (China) were are working on World Heritage sites that are collections of minority villages.

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The architectural challenges are similar to Pingyao: how do we modernize and conserve traditional architectural forms? This is no small challenge, but the bigger challenge is how do we preserve the larger cultural landscape? Not simply the buildings, but the public spaces, the agricultural fields, and the traditional folkways, customs and processes that tie it all together?
Transylvania

The Chairman of our Board Dan Thorne recently described the sustainability of traditional agricultural practices as one of the greatest challenges for the heritage conservation field. If we want to visit places that are not simply static, lifeless museums, we need to preserve the life patterns – the social economy – of those places. Thorne opened my eyes to the fact that Transylvania and Guizhou, despite being a world apart, were dealing with the same issues.

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This is the challenge I have been grappling with in Weishan, China for a decade: how do you preserve the inhabitation of a landscape: the patterns of farming, cultural expression, urbanism and architectural form that make a particular place unique? I have spoken twice at ICOMOS Conferences about Weishan as a “contingent success” that as avoided both “catastrophic tourist development” and the sort of formulaic modernization that is careless and reckless with a community’s heritage and identity.

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In 2008 I participated in (and blogged about) a Sustainability Conference in Yunnan. I recently me with one of my colleagues from that trip, Christina Heyniger, an adventure travel professional and pioneer who posed the same question in a new way: sustainable stasis.

Do we have a model for a community that is not based on absolute growth, which therefore threatens either physical resources or folkways and traditional economies? Do we have a model for sustainable stasis?” Heyniger asked me. I could not think of one. Heyniger here enunciated a key question for our field, and one that has dogged me for years.

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Our CFO Bob Stanton told me about heritage villages in Japan that do preserve the traditional crafts and other patterns of life. These become to some extent high-end tourist destinations, but in a larger sense, even that most hopeless of re-use strategies – the museum – needs something to sell in its gift shop to make ends meet. That is why they sell porcelain in Portmerion, neckties at Fallingwater, and whiskey at Mount Vernon. Perhaps there is a balance: tourism is always a piece of place economics. It is only dangerous when it is the only piece or it goes too far.

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In a real sense, the challenge is to fine-tune our approaches so that we can find new markets, new functions, new value in both elements of a cultural landscape: the tangible and the intangible. In both of the project proposals we are working with a series of other partners who will help design what could be a pathbreaking strategy not just for Europe and China, but for any place that wants to hang onto elements of its past that seem economically obsolete.

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Are they really economically obsolete? That is the first question. GHF is in Silicon Valley, where products are invented not out of need or even desire but from the realms of possibility, question and failure. I have only had a iPhone for two months but I could never have lived without it. We need to bring the Valley’s penchant for innovation to the world heritage cultural landscapes of the developing world. We need to find adaptive re-uses not only for buildings but also for ways of life.

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Maybe our challenge is to make obsolescence itself obsolete.

Heritage Communities: Guizhou, China

December 7, 2012

ImageIn small straw huts set along the river, men reach into cold pulpy water with large mesh racks, deftly picking up a thin sheet of pulp which they transfer to a stack of sheets.  They are making paper in Heshui village, as they have for over 600 years. 

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The technology seems little changed: between the straw huts are brick and stone kilns, and wooden water wheels along the river bank are connected to wood mallets that help pound the wood pulp to prepare it for its transformation into paper.

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Today one of the village leaders is making longer larger sheets that have been special ordered by a calligrapher in Hunan who appreciates their handmade quality.  We will try the calligraphy later, and indeed the ink stays in its place, making clear marks on the linenlike surface, speckled with splinters of pulp but clean crisp and hard to the touch.  There are 30 or 40 families that make paper in Heshui, and the lower sections of wooden walls on the houses are bleached white from years of hanging paper there to dry. 

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The traditional houses are in need of repair, protected by landmarks laws but decaying, In their ci tang or ancestral altars in the center of the sanheyuan courtyards you can find not only each family’s ancestors but also the name Cai Lun, the semi-mythical inventor of paper who lived two thousand years ago.

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In most cases of intangible heritage, the challenge is to make sure the next generation carries on a tradition it may see as antiquated, but that is not the problem in Heshui.  Here the young people want to make paper.  The problem lies in the market – the profit margins on the paper are small and they have had to import some of the wood pulp they need.   Outside of the special calligraphy paper, much of their handmade product is used for wrapping or even paper money that is burned for funerals and festivals.

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This is what GHF is doing in Guizhou.  With half a dozen partners, we will tackle the challenge of how to preserve a living landscape and traditional crafts and traditions in a modernizing world.  If successful, this replicable model will work not simply throughout the province of Guizhou or the nation of China, but throughout the developing world.

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Our partners are public and private, local, regional, national and international.  Guizhou is poised on the cusp of change: modern highways are reaching into formerly remote rural areas, threatening traditional landscapes.  The world heritage minority villages of Guizhou have numerous festivals and traditional crafts that will be attracting tourists from China and around the world.  These villages are linked to a planned tourist circuit that includes the dramatic FanJing mountain as well as numerous scenic valleys set within sharp towering mountains shrouded in mist.  The Guizhou project offers a rare opportunity to undertake planning before the hordes of tourists arrive.

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The cultural landscape model is being promoted in China by Dr. DU Xiaofan, head of UNESCO in Beijing, one of our key partners in the project,.  You Cheng, a pioneering Chinese NGO provides craft training to help local traditions find new purposes and new markets.  The Cultural Ministry of Guizhou province is involved in conservation projects and training as well as helping coordinate community involvement.  GHF’s China Director Han Li has been working with all of the partners for over a year, and all the partners are focused on insuring equitable community involvement.

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GHF will focus on tangible heritage – the traditional houses, the squares where festivals are held, the lanes that link the houses in their mountainside setting, and the covered bridges and water wheels that make this a special place with a look all its own.  We will help develop design guidelines so that the traditional houses still have a use and are not relegated to become museum pieces.  Design guidelines will also help position new construction and insure that the significant features of these cultural landscapes – the elements that give them outstanding universal value – are preserved. 

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The urge to preserve our past comes from a recognition that tradition in both its tangible and intangible formats is being lost to the change incipient in modernity.  It is not enough to save buildings alone if they are empty, unproductive shells that require massive subsidy.  At the same time, we recognize the need to modernize.  Heritage conservation is a community- and place-based process whereby a community determines what elements of its past it wants to have in its future in order to maintain its identity.

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Trip to Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

November 18, 2012


I am on the Global Heritage Fund UK trip to Cambodia this week to see our project at Banteay Chhmar. Led by our Senior Director John Sanday, OBE. We began the trip with a visit to Angkor, including the famous Angkor Wat. An image of Angkor Wat is the center of the Cambodian flag, and as our compatriot John Pike noted, Cambodia is the only country in the world with an image of a heritage site on its flag. You could argue that the very existence of the country is based on heritage – the Khmer empires of the 9th through 14th centuries were centered at Angkor, and the sheer quantity of intricately planned and carved stone monuments here made it impossible to overlook despite its weakened state.

Group of schoolchildren at Angkor Wat. The site resonates with national identity
Likely it would have been divided up by Thailand and Vietnam, but it became a valuable buffer between French Indochina and the Thai kingdom, itself surviving without colonization due to its position between the French and English. The Khmer enemy state of Champa disappeared from the map, and while the Khmer themselves became much less relevant with the rise of sea trade in the 14th and 15th centuries, their former empire left monuments impressive enough that France made the onetime kingdom a protectorate.

A Cham ship from the battle scene at Banteay Chhmar.

In addition to Angkor Wat itself, one of the great attractions at Angkor is of course the Bayon, built by the Buddhist king Jayavarman VII in the 14th century and featuring two famous elements: First, massive face towers with the distinctly Khmer faces of Buddhas (probably) known for their artistic sense of peace and repose, sometimes called portraits of the great king Jayavarman VII himself; and a rich series of bas-reliefs depicting both battles with the Cham and scenes of daily life.


Both represent a high point in Khmer art and architecture, distinguished both by their Buddhist iconography (the earlier Angkor monuments are Hindu) and their rich layered realism. But both also exist at a site over a hundred kilometers to the northwest hard on the Thai border, where Jayavarman built a similarly massive temple called Banteay Chhmar, with over three dozen face towers and a marvelous series of bas-reliefs.

Bas-relief wall at Banteay Chhmar

The site is largely a ruin, although sections survived, and six years ago it became a flagship project for the Global Heritage Fund. We have two major projects there finishing up this year, both led by John Sanday. First is a section of bas-relief wall that has been carefully put back together. Like the bas-reliefs at the Bayon, it depicts Jayavarman VII’s battles, and it also depicts the king himself.

The relief is vertically bisected at a couple points by rivers with fish, and I felt as if I were reading an account of the battles where the Khmer met the Cham at various rivers. The reconstruction is proceeding nicely due to a new crane we received thanks to Chris Brewer. The value of the project goes beyond the reconstruction which makes this part of the ruined temple sensible. Much of the value lies in the GHF model which emphasizes community development and poverty alleviation. Almost 50 local workers have been trained as stonemasons and continue to work in teams at the site. They have new skills as well as a new appreciation for THEIR heritage.

The second project slated to be completed this year is the reconstruction of Face Tower N 18. Like the Bayon, Banteay Chhmar had face towers – shikara spires that abandoned the traditional Hindu format of the repeated and redented aedicule for four massive faces with beatific Mona Lisa smiles. While some argue whether they are Brahma (who had four heads, so, yeah) or the Buddha (since Jayavarman VII was Buddhist and heavily promoted his piety) or even the King himself (you don’t get to be a king by being modest) the point is Banteay Chhmar is one of the most significant sites for these face towers, which came late in the art and iconography of the Khmer. It even has several separate satellite temples that are face towers.

Here it is – let’s please get a close-up of the stones being put back into place

Ready to slide the stone via winch onto tower.

Moving stone onto tower. Note safety hardhats

Winching onto tower. Note safety footwear…umm, er, nevermind.

Almost in place – you can see the face at lower left

It was very exciting to see the work actually taking place, and to know that our support of heritage was supporting economic development for a rural town that previously had few options outside of agriculture. And looting. This is a key tipping point in any community with world heritage in its midst. We might appreciate it from outside, but the key – and the central mission of the Global Heritage Fund – is to conserve that heritage by empowering and enriching the local community. Then they have an investment in saving that heritage – and they are the ones who will save it in the long run.

Some of the local Khmer conservation team with John Sanday (right)

Being literally a stone’s throw from the Thai border, Banteay Chhmar was one of those sites that was looted. Another section of the bas-relief gallery that surrounds the temple is known for its unique images of the multi-armed Boddhisatva Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion. Eight of these life-size figures survived into the 1960s, but two collapsed and then four were chiseled off in the 1990s and stolen. Two were recovered and can be seen in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Two have been restored on site, and two more remain at large.

Surviving (and revered) Avalokiteshvara at Banteay Chhmar, 2012

Here is our group at Banteay Chhmar:

Everyone agreed that visiting this rambling, massive site gave a sense of wonder and discovery that was absent from crowded Angkor. The next step is to implement the Heritage Vision which GHF Founder Jeff Morgan has supported through GHF. This vision imagines how the site can be restored and activated for the benefit of the community. Skywalks will allow visitors to safely walk above and around the toppled sections of some 48 shikara towers. The surviving sections of bas-relief can be visited, along with the restored section. The moat might be restored so you can pass the asuras and devas churning the Sea of Milk with the naga. Satellite face towers can be toured, and then a community area with restaurants and shops engendered. You can spend the night in traditional homestays, as we did.

In the ruins

balustrade at moat

the restored bas-relief wall during evening music and cocktails at the site. Also crickets.

Our homestasy hosts preparing a wedding cake

virtual reconstruction of the temple complex

We had a great discussion about how much you restore: the virtue of the two projects Global Heritage Fund has completed is that they allow you to see what key elements of the temple looked like originally. Then you can imagine the rest as you clamber above and along the ruins: this is how the best interpretation works, buy giving a role to the audience. By trusting people’s imaginations and cognitive abilities, rather than spelling it all out for them. It is a point I made 6 years ago at Tustan in the Ukraine and one I made again here: give people the tools and let them do the reconstruction in their minds – it engages them in a site in a deeper and more meaningful way.

A partially collapsed gallery

entrance to the hall of dancers

The site has it all: traditional Hindu temple layout and tower design; intricate bas-reliefs describing the history of an empire that controlled over a million people when Paris was a city of 30,000; the strangler figs you see in Ta Prohm and the
majestic and evocative face towers you see in the Bayon; the entrancing images of apsaras and the Buddhist iconography of Preah Khan, all in a remote jungle site far from the pressures of mass tourism at Angkor.

The king defeats the demon
It will only be two and a half hours by road from Siem Reap near Angkor, but for now Banteay Chhmar lies over 3 hours by sometimes poor roads from the rest of the tourists in Cambodia. We met with the Community Based Tourism group that GHF set up, and they provide homestays and guide services for about 500 tourists a year. They could easily handle 10,000, still a miniscule fraction of those descending on Angkor.

Meeting with Tath Sophal and the Community Based Tourism project


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