Posts Tagged ‘Transylvania’

The Transylvanian Heritage Landscape

May 31, 2015

It was just as they said it would be.  Like walking into a fairy tale.  Quaint villages lined with brightly painted stucco houses with rust-colored tile roofs, fortified churches and watchtowers, an architecture at once Classic and Romantic.  Furrowed fields in a patchwork, horse-drawn carts, forests brimming with wolves and bears and a sense that not only have we left behind the 20th and 21st centuries but even the late 18th is seeming a bit too hectic for this cultural landscape.

village view viscri

Viscri

sachiz square

Saschiz

landscape fallow

This is Transylvania, one of the rarest cultural landscapes in the world, where villages settled by “Saxons” (actually from Luxembourg, Westphalia and Mosel valley) from the 12th century have been preserved in the heart of Romania.  This became a project of Global Heritage Fund in late 2012 and in my final week as a GHF staffer I had the opportunity to enjoy this place and see how – like Guizhou – it is an opportunity to preserve not simply buildings, but a unique cultural landscape increasingly rare in our radically urbanized world.  This pastoral ideal is shared by civilizations East and West, North and South – to have a connection to the land, to dig one’s hands into the rich loam of a cultural inheritance, to measure the days by the evening greetings, the rising moon, cicada flutters, cock’s cries and the swirling racing of the sheperd’s dog.

copsa mare green cruci

Copsa Mare

How do you save this?  The first Global Heritage Fund project was to help create a kiln, needed to make the traditional tiles that are increasingly thereatened by industrial tiles that lack their richness and depth.  We saw the kiln in action – or rather, the tile making and drying, for the kiln will fire some 14000 tiles in a week.  This is near the village of Apos.

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The drying shed, with reclaimed roof tiles.

horse and mixer

Mixing the clay with a one-horsepower engine.

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tile making101

Making the tiles

There are nearly 170 Transylvanian Saxon towns, each centered on a fortified church and featuring a settlement pattern dating from the Mosel valley in the 12th century.  Rows of houses with gates into a courtyard that features auxiliary buildings and is backed by a large barn that is contiguous with neighboring barns.  Behind are individual fields.  The churches, originally Catholic, all became Evangelical Lutheran during the reformation, despite being surrounded by Catholic Hungarians, Greek Catholic and Orthodox Romanians and Roma.  The Saxons came at the invitation of the Hungarian king, who wanted to fortify this rich land (once Roman Dacia) against invading Tatars and Turks, hence the fortified churches,

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Fortress church at Viscri (Deutschen Weisskirche)

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Fortified church in Archita

The Saxons began to leave after World War II, and with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the rump German population of about 400,000 nearly all left for Germany.  Only about 35,000 remain, so part of the challenge is to save a landscape that has been inherited by Romanian and Roma populations.  Fortunately, there is hope, because this landscape was historically diverse and there is interest in keeping the houses, the churches, and small farm fields – more about those later.

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Typical facade, Daia

daia barn behind corner

Auxiliary buildings left and barn behind, Daia

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Fields behind barns, Daia

The Saxons were a blessing for historians because they put dates on EVERYTHING!  Beams in the houses, sheepskin coats,, treasure chests, you name it, they dated it.

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Ceiling beam in a Daia house 1822

EVmusee artifacts dates

Artifacts in Eugen Vaida’s ethnography museum, Altina

Last year I worked with GHF Chair Dan Thorne to focus our scattered efforts in Transylvania on one village, where we could have a measurable impact and create a model that would ideally be imitated by others.  The village is Daia – once Denndorf – and the results are encouraging.  We focused first on emergency repair and stabilization, and also on restoring facades.  Our next steps will tackle more of the cultural landscape, but first a few views of the work so far in this village of about 280 houses and more than 600 milk cows.

daia blue 2 view

Facade restored in Daia, 2015.

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This restoration included reclaiming the original inscription in German in the center of the facade.

daia blue restor sign

daia blue sign restor

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Another restored facade, Daia

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A roof repair we funded. 

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And another successful project.

The work is led by Eugen Vaida, an architect and tireless advocate, who together with his wife and fellow architect Vera, has been saving houses throughout the Carpathian village of Transylvania under the mantle of his non-profit Monumentum.  He also works with William Blacker, famed author of Along the Enchanted Way who has worked to save these village landscapes for decades along with Prince Charles of England.  ARTTA – The Anglo-Romanian Trust for Traditional Architecture, is another key partner.  (If you have been paying attention to this blog you know it is ALL about the partnerships!!)

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Eugen Vaida at his home in Altina, where he maintains a museum of Transylvanian ethnicity

The next stage is to work on the cultural landscape.  Daia has a surfiet of cows, and Prince Charles did donate a milk storage container, but what if we upped the value of the milk by turning it into artisanal cheese?  We met with organic farmers Willy and Lavinia Shuster in the village of Mosna, and Lavinia has had success making cheese.

willy and cheese

Willy and cheese.

Another idea is to build a community kitchen where locals could make preserves and other products that add value to existing crops and what amounts to an agricultural subsistence economy.  We met with ADEPT, founded in 2002 and headquartered in Saschiz.  Their story is fascinating because it reminded me of how conservation organizations are now approaching the challenge of biodiversity.

ADEPT HQ

ADEPT HQ

ADEPT helps local farmers in a whole variety of ways, from a community kitchen where they can make jams and preserves, inexpensive fruit dryers, assistance in production, marketing and branding their products so that small-scale farms can survive.  But here is the kicker – ADEPT was not founded to save small farms.  It was founded to protect biodiversity – it is a conservation organization.  But, as I have written before, conservation organizations are rapidly abandoning the unworkable wilderness model for the more effective and sustainable indigenous managed landscape model.

landscape hedge

Cartesian dualism – what a joke!

It turns out that when 5000 families farm 85000 hectares of rolling landscape without fences and with a diversity of small agricultural plots – you get MORE species diversity than a wilderness area.  Yes, you heard right.  You get more species of wildflowers, of birds, of small mammals, of butterflies, of everything if you have a patchwork of agricultural uses.  It makes sense if you think about it.

lady in garden

ADEPT is already working with Daia on getting their milk to market.  Ideally we would love to get a community kitchen set up there, perhaps in this old kindergarten building with great windows?

daia school bldg

daia school window

Speaking of windows….

We have circulated a list of Do’s and Don’ts for Carpathian Village preservation and rehabilitation.  I saw several of these signs in many of the towns and it seems they are having a positive effect.

GHF dos and donts sign

copsa mare dos and donts

So there was a lot of hand-wringing about an incident last year where Eugen challenged a woman who had put in plastic replacement windows in her Daia house.  Heritage conservation gets a bad name by telling people they can’t do stuff, right?

daia replace windows

Except guess what.  You live with one of these plastic windows for a few months and pretty soon you are going to be longing for your original windows – which were 1.  repairable, 2.  double-glazed with a much more effective insulation gap between the panes, 3.  beautifully designed, and 4. fit the frame better, hence probably allowed LESS air infiltration.  SO there we are walking along and this lady comes out to volunteer that she is going to put the old windows BACK because they are better.

daia plead ganny

You gotta think about the future – plastic windows only last half a generation at best!

This little vignette actually describes the key aspect of 21st century cultural heritage conservation – you need to get in early, before the non-sustainable industries show up, and you need to make the people a part of the process from the very beginning.  I have blogged about the community-based approach to heritage conservation explicit in the Burra Charter many times before (see here for a recent example) but this isn’t rhetoric.  I’ve seen it in Yunnan, in Guizhou, in the Ukrainian Carpathians and now in the Romanian Carpathians.  And I’ve seen it on the South Side of Chicago.

daia street2 view from st

Daia, not the South Side of Chicago

Many of these villages, like Daia, have basically a subsistence economy based on agriculture, supplemented by some residents who travel to nearby countries part of the year for seasonal work in construction and the like.  Not dissimilar to the “empty middle” households of Guizhou where working-age adults are often in the coastal cities, leaving the elderly and children behind in the traditional village.  This is why we are working with ADEPT in Transylvania and You Cheng in Guizhou – to find new markets and production mechanisms that will make this cultural landscape economically sustainable.

daia fort church

Outside the fortified church in Daia

Our last day we did a horse-drawn carriage ride and hike through the woods above the village of Archita, witnessing bear claw scratches on trees and bumping through fields and rolling forage until the neatest little fairy tale town you can imagine appeared, centered on a steeple, nestled in rustling green folds.

horse ride panoramaL

horse ride town view bL

And now a few more views from the Carpathian Villages of Transylvania, a journey outside Time.

EVhaus detail

Marvelous architectural detail in Altina

daia fort church interior

View in to the fortified church in Daia

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I love this Daia facade – understated Classicism in a mantle of gemütlich Heimatstil

daia stone barn

Stone barn, Daia

blue house and gate

House and gate, Viscri

biertan vw to church

Town square and church in Biertan

copsa mare with festingkirche

green and brown house

Copsa Mare

high street house

daia sloper

Daia

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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.
GHF truck copy

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.

jumble of stones copy

PY walls 53s copy

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.

PY Nan st vwS copy

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.

Menghua bi detailS

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.

woodlawn gift shopS

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.

heshui geese 3 copy

Maybe our challenge is to make obsolescence itself obsolete.