Posts Tagged ‘UNESCO’

World Heritage in Texas!

July 5, 2015

This is the time of year new World Heritage sites are inscribed by UNESCO.  The total number passed 1000 last year, after over 40 years of the program.  As I have noted before, the United States has not taken advantage of World Heritage status in many years, partly due to a political funding dispute.  Absurdly, the U.S. has refused to pay its UNESCO dues for many years, so even though we can arguably afford to take care of our sites, at World Heritage level, we are deadbeats.

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The Alamo.  Remember?

Many developing nations sought WH inscription to promote sites for tourism and development, but lacked the resources it takes to produce a verifiably management plan for each site, hence groups like Global Heritage Fund.

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Sacro Monte, Ossola valley, Italy

I had the honor of speaking on the subject of architecture and heritage at this World Heritage site in Italy on my birthday last week.  Italy has more WH sites inscribed than any other country, which is not surprising given the influence of its histories and designs on the rest of the world.  Still, it is good to finally see U.S. sites attaining this status and it is especially exciting for me that a site a few hundred yards from my birthplace now has been recognized for its outstanding universal value.  Plus, many of my dear friends, like Shanon Shea Miller, have worked on this project for several years, and many other friends, like Andrew Potts, were on hand in Bonn, Germany, for the inscription.

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Now I guess the rest of the world has to remember the Alamo too…

The five Franciscan missions that include the Alamo were inscribed yesterday and they represent not only a very interesting period in world history, they also are an important chapter in the history of heritage conservation (historic preservation) in America.  After the fledgling preservationists of San Antonio were formed to fight a plan to pave the river downtown and insert a new street grid – hence creating the famous Riverwalk – they next turned their attention to saving the four missions that run in a line from the Alamo south.   The San Antonio Conservation Society remains one of the most important heritage groups in the country.

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Mission San Jose, built 1768

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And its famous rose window….

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Mission Espada

Five years ago I made a point of visiting each of the missions (and blogged about it) and was struck by the consistency of their conservation, style, and rich interpretation, which is key.  The California missions – mostly founded by another Franciscan friar, Junipero Serra – form a much longer chain along El Camino Real but their history is more diverse, and you certainly can’t visit them all in a day.

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Mission Concepcion

While the history of the Alamo has always focused more on its role as a bastion for Anglo Texan settlers against the Mexican Army in 1836, the other missions present the rich – and complicated – history of how these missions were founded to convert and economically exploit native populations.  They were not churches as much as Indian towns centered on churches that functioned like haciendas or plantations.

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Interpretive panels at Mission Concepcion

It is not a simple or moralizing history, and we might say the same for their initial preservation 90 years ago, when heritage sites tended toward the saccharine and idealized in their stories.

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Mission San Juan Capistrano

Several San Antonio dignitaries were on hand in Bonn to celebrate the inscription, including Mayor Ivy Collins.  They feel the inscription will bring as much as $100 million in new tourism and development investment to the city and area.  Certainly these are fascinating sites, both visually and historically, and they make a trip to this excellent city more valuable.

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Foundations of church at Mission Espada

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Church interior, Mission Espada

One of the interesting facts about the inscription is that many of the missions are still active churches, or have been reactivated, and thus present over 250 years of human use.  At several of them you can see remnants of the other buildings that made up these towns/plantations, and there has been an active and effective archaeological investigation at the sites for a long time,  They predate the California missions by a few years, and their ongoing conservation and interpretation (four are part of a National Historic Park created over 30 years ago) has been of high quality.

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Arch and ornamental entrance, Mission San Jose

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Stone entrance detail, Mission Concepcion

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Gate at Mission Espada

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Courtyard area with stove, Mission San Jose

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Mission Concepcion

So Remember not only the Alamo, but the five San Antonio missions that together describe centuries of history, settlement, belief and community in a unique North American cultural place!

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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.

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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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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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