Archive for October, 2012

Conserving Culture and Conserving Nature: Assets and Liabilities

October 27, 2012

The World Heritage Convention is nearing the end of its 40th anniversary, and since what we do here at Global Heritage Fund is help preserve World Heritage Sites in developing countries, I have been fielding a lot of inquiries on the status of the World Heritage Convention. As in so many aspects of heritage conservation/historic preservation, I have seen evolution in the field. In terms of sites inscribed on the World Heritage list, I would venture that we have seen some of the same shifts we have seen in “historic preservation” as a whole.

When World Heritage began in 1972, it focused, like the rest of the field, on iconic and visual landmarks that were clearly identified with their countries or cultures, places like the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu and the Statue of Liberty

Been there, done that (1986)

I shot this in January 2012

2010, summer

Interestingly, this focus on “monuments” which characterized much of our field well into the 1980s, also included natural areas. Indeed, one of the curiosities of World Heritage status is that much of the world has used it to register key cultural sites that are architectural and artistic, like Versailles and Khajuraho and Suzhou’s gardens, while the U.S. used it mostly for national parks like Yellowstone and the Great Smoky Mountains, and very early historical sites like Cahokia Mounds and Independence Hall.

1982, my first trip to Europe

1986 again. Who knew the Internet existed in the 10th century?

Dear Suzhou, Lion Grove gardens, just this last June

Monk’s Mounds, Cahokia, 2008

Independence Hall in 2010.

The Europeans have even inscribed modern architecture on the World Heritage list, while the U.S. has only just gotten around to doing a Frank Lloyd Wright listing that is still being nominated. The addition of modern architecture to the mission of heritage conservation happened early in Chicago, but only starting in the late 1980s elsewhere.

Rietveld Schröderhuis, shot in 2010. Man, that was a busy year

Now, there were many iconic places on the World Heritage list from the beginning that were collections of monuments, essentially historic districts, such as the city centers of places like Rome and Florence and Salzburg and L’viv and Quebec and Cusco. City centers or historic districts make up a significant percentage of the sites, and even in an archaeologically rich country like Peru, your World Heritage Sites are as likely to be cities as they are archaeological sites.

Firenze, 1982 again

L’viv (L’viw) 2006

Cusco, January 2012

The criteria for these sites can be summarized by the phrase “outstanding universal value,” a phrase with meaning that has clearly shifted a bit over 40 years. Just as our heritage practice has expanded beyond monuments to districts and cultural landscapes, so we have expanded beyond a European notion of the artifact to include Eastern ideas about intangible heritage. China has proposed for inscription villages in Guizhou that we are currently investigating, and there the significance lies in their preservation of the intangible cultural heritage of minority groups like the Miao and Dong. Many of the newer listings are described as “cultural landscapes.” One of my favorites was the Wachau, a stretch of towns, vineyards and drop dead Baroque churches along the Danube River in Austria.

Stift Melk, 2005

Durnstein, 2005

Celtic stone circle in Nesselstauden, also 2005

Now, the World Heritage list has three categories: Cultural, Natural, and Mixed, and all three are still inscribed each year. A lot of these are iconic as well, places like Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Halong Bay, Vietnam. 2001. This is getting to be like a James Bond movie location list.

Archaeological sites are frequent on the list as well, both cultural ones, like Chavin de Huantar in Peru, where GHF has been working for almost a decade, and sites like the 2012 listing for a seam of dinosaur fossils in China. Another site we worked on, Catalhoyuk in Turkey, was inscribed this year, and our other project there, Göbekli Tepe, is very likely to be inscribed soon. Archaeological sites require conservation from the moment they are unearthed, but they also reveal in their investigation their “outstanding universal value.”

Catalhoyuk, Building 77, 2010. Global Heritage Fund photo by Banu Aydinoglugil

I field a lot of questions from reporters about how World Heritage listing protects sites, and of course the answer is that the listing alone cannot restore or even protect sites, as the 2001 destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas and the current destruction of Islamic World Heritage sites (by Islamic rebels – it’s complicated) in Mali at Djenne and Timbuktu proves. Like any landmark status, World Heritage opens doors to funding, generates public and private support for protection, but relies of local laws for protection. We learned this working in Lima, another historic city centre. And of course, it has been in the news with the civill war in Syria.

Barrios Altos, Lima, 2012

World Heritage status can also generate tourism, as sites like Lijiang in China have demonstrated. In fact, it can generate too much, as both Machu Picchu and Angkor have learned.

Lijiang, 2008. I was also there in 2004.

Looking the other way at Machu Picchu. Toward the terraces that made it all possible. 2012.

Crowding out Angkor Wat, 2012. I guess this was a busy year too.

Natural. Cultural. I was sitting in the forest at home looking at the trees a few nights ago and I had a revelation about the difference between natural area conservation and historic preservation (heritage conservation). It is an economic difference, that has significant implications for those of us who try to achieve these things. Even more importantly, it has implications for how we raise money to achieve preservation of cultural sites.


One of my favorite World Heritage sites, Falun, a 300-year old open pit mine in Sweden. Photo from 2007.

Because if you look at the tourism angle, or even the house museum angle, you might see a great parallel between natural area conservation and heritage conservation of things like archaeological sites or house museums. Both require large infusions of cash and the only return they provide is from gate receipts, which typically only provide a fifth of the operating costs, not to mention capital costs.


Cave 16 (Kailasa) at Ellora, India. 1986. My FAVORITE heritage site. An entire temple, carved out of the side of the mountain from the top down. Twice the scale of the Parthenon. Way. Wicked. Cool.

It occured to me that when I help restore a historic World Heritage city like Pingyao, I am activating an asset. It may take some capital infusion to get it going, as we did by restoring courtyard houses there, but now the municipality is sponsoring grants to restore more houses, and new projects are activating this rich walled city. Pingyao is an asset, and it is an economic engine.

VROOM VROOM! June of this year.

Whereas if I am trying to save a wonderful natural landscape, I am working on the other side of the ledger. Wetlands and rainforests are obviously important, but in economic terms they are a liability. Now, having said that, I live in a place where real estate values are insane partly due to the amount of preserved natural areas. This is the idea behind common pool resource theory: the value of the natural area is alienated to the surrounding real estate. But to save it, you are still dealing with a liability, even if you tax all the surrounding property based on the increment it is earning from the conservation.

Natural area conservation is dealing with NON USE Value while much – most, I would argue – of historic preservation is dealing with USE Value. Conserving a natural area is a permanent drain on fiscal resources, but as Pingyao demonstrates, once you get a capital infusion into an historic building or district, it becomes a productive member of the economy, and can often pay its own way. Indeed, it should pay its own way.


Krems, Austria, 2005
What this means for organizations like mine is that not only is our mission different, but our way of raising funds is different, and can shift from a charitable to a business mode in a way conservation organizations can not. This is the idea behind an idea I have been working on with our Board of Trustees called GHF 2.0, which posits that we can become a more efficient organization by leveraging conservation, archaeological, architectural and economic development expertise through a model that recognizes that we are saving assets, not liabilities, and that they can become generative economic assets.


I don’t know if the World Heritage Convention thought of this in 1972 – I kind of doubt it, because we are still fighting our way out of the curatorial ghetto. But in 29 3/4 years of practice, I have seen how these engines work and I will continue to tune and prime them in the effort to save sites of outstanding universal value in a way that insures their social, environmental, cultural and economic sustainability.

The Global Heritage Value

October 10, 2012

I have often blogged before about the value a heritage conservation organization brings to a heritage site and its local community. And about the seeming conundrum of having state, national and international organizations working on this when “All Preservation is Local.”

In my international work over the last several years, and especially since coming to the Global Heritage Fund full-time, the value of being an “outsider” has become more apparent. It is more than the items I listed a year and a half ago:

Resources
Capacity Building
Partnerships
Credibility and Context

These are all true. We focus on sites of outstanding universal value, lending credibility to local preservation efforts. We partner with UNESCO and the World Bank and USAID and national and local cultural, archaeological and historical agencies, and many universities. We train locals in conservation and crafts and business development, and of course we bring financial and technical resources not available locally.

Wen Chung palace, Weibaoshan, Yunnan

I think most people focus on the simple issue of resources, but usually the sheer size of resources available for heritage conservation is greater within a country or community than without. The value of the outside comes in how those resources are deployed or organized. This is my job in a nutshell.

with Unidad de Ejecutora de Marcahuamachuco, Peru

When Han Li, who runs our China programs, spoke to our Board and donors last week, she outline the true “Value Proposition” of an outside NGO working in a place like China: we do what the local entities cannot do. They can fund infrastructure projects and adopt plans, but they may be hampered bureaucratically from producing the type of plan that incorporates heritage, or from sequencing a project in the best way. Moreover, as was apparent to me in Weishan last year, different agencies within government operate independently and sometimes at odds with each other: the outsider gives them the excuse to work together.

new bridge at Confucian temple reconstruction, Weishan

Han also pointed out how Global Heritage Fund can not only bridge over the “silos” of bureaucracy to get projects done, but can operate in private arenas where governments can’t go. We provide a mechanism for completing projects.

workers at Marcahuamachuco, Peru

In Peru, we are proposing to bring high technology to projects that don’t have it – that is probably a more obvious advantage of an outside NGO (especially one from Silicon Valley) but I still think the key value is logistical: a non-governmental, non-profit organization can straddle all sorts of boundaries. We can provide seed funding or planning to get a project going; we can provide technical and community development expertise to round out a heritage conservation project and make it work better for the community; we can leverage other public and private funds to make a minor project and major community asset.


Huaca Ventaron, Peru, courtesy Ignacio Alva Meneces

My job at Global Heritage Fund includes maintaining contact with international experts in architecture, archaeology, community development, conservation, training, cultural resource management, finance, planning and all sorts from geology to botany. The goal is more than saving an historic site: it is to develop that site in a way that brings economic benefit to those who live there. It is never that simple to do, but the goal is simple, albeit a little counterintuitive to those who think of heritage as a luxury, or preservation as an elite activity.

This is a building used by archaeologists and conservators at the twin sites of Chotune and Chornankap near Lambayeque in Peru. They have made amazing discoveries of royal and religious tombs here, and they are conserving great artifacts. But the most exciting story is on that little plaque there – this is a building that houses archives and conservation labs. And they have a museum with a life-size diorama interpreting the landing of Nyamlap, a famed 13th century event in the area. And the community is TOTALLY into it. The Mayor BUILT their lab. Everyone in town has their wedding photos taken here. It is THEIR site.

museum

This is a major shift from 20 years ago, when local residents near heritage sites might become looters, digging and destroying the sites in the hope of a quick, short-term profit. The value of heritage, of course, is that in context and with local development, it is a sustainable, self-renewing resource, unlike the looting.


archaeological site of Chotune

Many parts of the world – like Iraq, or as recently as Sunday the important World Heritage site of Hampi in India – are beset by looting as people seek a quick fix for an economy in chaos due to conflict. It is very satisfying to see this new development in Peru – if looters show up at Chotune, the locals chase them away.

The old saw about teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish comes true in heritage development: if you exploit a heritage site, which is to say destroy it by demolition or looting, you eat for a day. If you develop the site, by rehabilitation and interpretation, you eat for a lifetime. This is our value proposition. Visit our website and join us!

Marcahuamachuco

October 3, 2012

“Despite increasing diversity among archaeologists and anthropologists, there is a strong tendency for researchers to have been socialized within a Western social tradition that places a high value on individualism, regards manual labor as unrewarding, and assumes the inevitability of hierarchy in any endeavor involving more than a few people.”

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The above comes from Theresa Topic’s article on Marcahuamachuco, a site in northern Peru which the Global Heritage Fund approved as a project in 2011.  I was there last week to evaluate next steps in the project, and while the greatest challenge lies in the hours I spent bouncing inside an SUV as it bounced off the scattered boulders that pass for roads to, around and on the site, I was still intrigued because the site presents a very unique physical layout.

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I had been told by biased sources that this was “the Machu Picchu of the North” and in many ways it paralleled that more famous (and much more recent) site in its monumentality and dramatic mountaintop setting.  According to the Topics, who began archaeological excavations here 20 years ago, the site dates from around 400 A.D. and unlike Machu Picchu, which was built and abandoned by the Inka in less than a century, Marcahuamachuco does not appear to have significant Inka (or Huari) occupation.

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What it does have are a lot of high walls, in both a circumferential “fortress” wall and a series of round enclosures on the southern end.  These are double walls with clear evidence of occupied stories inside, each story about 8 feet high, making walls of 25 feet in height in several locations.

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These are in stone, not the precisely joined masonry of the Inka but a more practical combination of large and small stones that has some seismic strength.  They reminded me of the round enclosures of the ancient Irish in the Burren and elsewhere, and of course my recent post on round structures.  Now, to be clear, the main structure, which is 5 stories high and labelled the Castillo or Castle, is not round, nor are most of the large buildings in the center of the complex.  Indeed, the northernmost complex are known as the rectangular towers, and these have yielded some interesting votive offerings in the last year.

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work on the torres rectangulares

What first struck me about the site (besides the SUV rollbar, which struck me repeatedly on the way there) were the huge halls that seemed to have been used as hostels or residences – massive rectangular structures reminiscent of the refectories in medieval European monasteries in their layout. This implies less a centralized, authoritarian hierarchy (always the least efficient form of social organization) than a familial federation. Less cult, more culture.

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here you can see where the floor supports are – this is the west wall

So let us return to Theresa Topic’s quote above:  what it appears we have in Marcahuamachuco is a ritual site where people stayed on site in large, likely clan-based structures for extended periods of time, although not permanently.  So, there is an analogy to Irish round enclosures, after all.  These assumptions are based on the amount of arable land in the vicinity, and the like use of certain structures for ceremonial purposes.  But it is the large residential structures which are in many ways the most interesting due to their scale and complexity.

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hearth visible in one of the round enclosures known as Monjas

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the massive west gate

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view from Monjas to western wall

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The site has a 360-degree, commanding view of the entire valley.  It also has some of the ceremonial structures we expect in Peruvian huacas and other sites, mostly in the plaza around the large Castillo building.

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The Castillo itself is intriguing because unlike the segmented masonry of the other structures, it appears to have been built, Bavinger style, in a kind of wrapping masonry spiral. 
Note the linear structure of the Monjas building below.

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The conjecture at this point is that various clan groups operated their own hostleries on the site while staying for some extended rituals.  Burning Man?  Much more research needs to be done, and we are hoping to help the local team – the Unidad Ejecutora de Marcahuamachuco – with mapping and other high-technology solutions to documentation and conservation. 

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Now we just need to get the roads fixed and we can bring tourists to an amazing site that is still waiting to tell its full story!

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