Posts Tagged ‘World Heritage Sites’

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.
Trail 20 huts
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.
vw to lock 8s

Libya 2013

April 7, 2013

old city banners
Everywhere you look in the Old City of Tripoli you see banners and flags of the new Libya, red, green and black with the Islamic star and crescent. There is a vibrant market here, perhaps more vibrant because the banking system remains dysfunctional some 20 months after the successful revolution that overthrew Moammar Gaddafi after a 42-year long dictatorship. The market also reveals the manifold diversity of Libyan heritage and identity: people from every part of the world who have come to this southern Mediterranean trading port for perhaps three thousand years: from Phoenicia, Greece, Rome, Sub-Saharan Africa, Arabia, Byzantium, Egypt, Turkey and more.
old city market2
old city merchant
Under Gaddafi, history began when he came to power in 1969 but when we met with the Deputy Prime Minister he told us vociferously and repeatedly that he wanted Libyans to appreciate the incredible depth and richness of their heritage. This country is a crossroads: central to the Mediterranean trade of the ancient world; key to the Arabian trade routes across North Africa; marked by caravan routes and oases used for over a thousand years by Amazigh (Berber) traders; and one of several access points to the massive African interior. Libya’s World Heritage sites include both the amazing coastal ruins of Punic, Greek, Roman and Byzantine origin as well as the caravan points of the interior like Ghadames, central to the spread and preservation of Islam.
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Sabratha
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Famous theater at Sabratha, reconstructed by Fascist Italy in 1930s
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Roman mosaic tilework in baths near the theater, Sabratha
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Caesars from Sabratha in the National Museum, Tripoli
The roman Emperors Septimus Severus and Caracalla came from Libya, and Tripoli’s famous red castle is studded with ancient Roman columns, used as building material here as in Rome itself, until the dawn of historical consciousness two hundred years ago.
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Under the dictator, historical consciousness was limited by political control. Many of the Greek and Roman sites were simply assigned to various Western archaeologists, as if there was little local identification with them. This of course is the opposite of the modern approach to heritage conservation that we practice at Global Heritage Fund. The only way to sustainably preserve heritage – tangible or intangible – is to engage the community in that enterprise from the beginning, and to realize the economic benefits of that enterprise IN the community.
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Arch of Marcus Aurelius in Old City, Tripoli
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architectural fragments near Aurelian arch, Tripoli
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View into mosque, Old City Tripoli
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Tilework at mosque, Old City Tripoli
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Tilework in Byzantine basilica, Sabratha museum
Our approach, led by our Chairman Dan Thorne, was not to choose a site but to ask the Libyan officials where Global Heritage Fund could be of help. Our goal as we enter our second decade as an international conservancy is to “lead with expertise” by bringing the best experts not only in architecture, conservation science and archaeology, but also education, training, tourism, and economic development. The officials we met with, from the Department of Antiquities to the Minister of Culture and Deputy Prime Minister himself, all agreed with this approach and were incredibly welcoming of our input. We will be presenting them with a menu of possible projects, including a national database and condition assessment of heritage sites; a high-level convening of international heritage experts; to more detailed work at individual sites, such as Cyrene, which GHF supported in the past and for which a conservation management plan was drafted. We hope to complete that plan now.
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Cyrene
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Meeting with Minister of Culture Habib. Photo by Bob Stanton.
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Global Heritage Fund team with Minister of Culture, Head of Antiquities and officials at Aurelian arch. Photo by Bob Stanton.
The challenge in heritage conservation in Libya remains the same as in many places: how do you successfully integrate the community into the process? How do you economically activate the site in a way that sustains its conservation without introducing new threats? How do you insure that conservation science is practiced at the highest standard while at the same time insuring that the long-term stewards of the site are the primary voice in its preservation and disposition?
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mosque in Old City, Tripoli
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synagogue in Old City, Tripoli
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Immersion baptistery at Byzantine church, Sabratha
Tourism will come to Libya once the security situation stabilizes. It is an hour’s flight from Rome, and the ruins are stunning by any standard. Moreover, there was no heritage lost during the six-month revolution, a dramatic contrast to the loss that occurred in Iraq or that is currently occurring in Syria. The National Museum was untouched, for example, with the notable exception of Gaddafi’s VW Beetle, which was smashed.
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The heads and arms were lost centuries ago
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The Leptis Magna room in the National Museum
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Mosaic with architecture in National Museum
The challenges in Libya are exacerbated by the deliberate disruption of heritage engineered by the dictator and by regional factionalism and challenges to the new government. On the plus side, the country has no debt and significant oil resources. At the same time, the Deputy Prime Minister insisted that the future of Libya lies not in natural resources; not in agriculture; not in industry, but in the service economy. This means that the resource that must be developed is the people, and the key to this development is education. He told us of his plans to rebuild the educational system, and the central role that heritage must play in that development.
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Courtyard in the Red Castle, Tripoli
MA arch night
Seeing heritage in this way was inspiring, for our team, which of course includes Libyans. Heritage is not a luxury but a foundation of civilized society; a source of identity and nation-building; a source of pride and income.

Thanks to our team in Libya, led by Board Chair Dan Thorne, UK Board Member Alia al-Senussi, Hafed Walda, Bob Stanton and myself. Thanks also to Board members Paul and Mary Slawson for their support.

World Heritage City Chicago

March 24, 2012

ImageLast Saturday, Irena Bakova, Director-General of UNESCO, was in Chicago for a meet-and-greet with local heritage conservation professionals, and last night ICOMOS Director Gustavo Araoz spoke as part of the Chicago Modern: More Than Mies series, presented by the Save Prentice Coalition of AIA Chicago, docomomo Midwest, Landmarks Illinois, The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Chicago.  Both talked about Chicago’s singular architectural legacy and suggested that Chicago would be an ideal World Heritage city.

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Let that sink in for a second while we review World Heritage.  It started back in 1972 as the first international heritage conservation list, one incorporating both natural and cultural heritage.   The U.S. jumped in early, inscribing the world’s first national park (Yellowstone) along with several other parks and a number of sites like Taos Pueblo and Mesa Verde as witness to our PreColumbian history.  We kind of treated World Heritage like we treated our first landmarks law, the 1906 Antiquities Act, which was largely limited to natural and archaeological sites.   Illinois has more National Historic Landmarks than any other state, thanks to Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe and atomic bombs and other things that helped our region rock the socks off the 20th century.  But our only World Heritage site is Cahokia Mounds.

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pyramids.  in Illinois.  Metropolis 1010..

Not only that, but the U.S. World Heritage program went into hibernation through the 1990s while the rest of the world was inscribing sites and turning them into tourist attractions while validating and underscoring their own cultural achievements.  

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count the lights – Mexico OWNS us.

To be on the list a site must establish universal cultural value, and we have seen the list reflect the expanding diversity of the heritage conservation movement over the years.  Europe has added significant sites reflecting industry (Falun, one of my favorites) and modern architecture, like the Dessau Bauhaus and Rietveld’s Shroeder House in Utrecht.

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yes, it is a strip mine.

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NIIICE!!

China has listed several whole cities, including of course Lijiang in Yunnan, my favorite touristic monoculture admonition, and Pingyao, the walled city in Shanxi I have written about before.  These become tourist magnets following inscription, which has both its good and bad points.  I am just back from Angkor, where World Heritage status and a functional government has watched tourism jump from 1 million to almost 3 million visitors a year over the last decade, causing many to wonder if the famously flawed Khmer engineering can handle the stress.

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On the other side, we have our work in the World Heritage Cercado of Lima, where the depredations of poverty, disinvestment and even termites still threaten a heritage city where only a portion is considered safe for tourism. 

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So what does all this portend for Gustavo’s suggestion that Chicago become a World Heritage city?  Of course, you have the huge World Heritage problem that such status requires full owner consent, and Chicagoans are Americans who are loathe to lose even a toothpick from their bundled property rights.  But Chicago easily meets the criteria.

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We invented a new kind of architecture in the 1880s with the skeletal frame highrise and that technology and type traveled the entire world and is still how we build high today.  We hosted the brightest talents of modernism and gave the world the 20th century discipline of city planning.  The contributions have outstanding universal value, to be sure.

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No one doubts this, and it would be a brilliant move by the Mayor since the city is trying to build its international tourist appeal.  Do you know that Newark, N.J. gets half a million MORE foreign tourists each year than Chicago?  Can you explain that in an objective way?  Would Newark qualify for World Heritage status?

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In the meantime, we are finally playing a bit of catch up, proposing a list of 10 great Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings, including Unity Temple and Robie House (it is a good list) and slavery sites and a few others that will bring the U.S. in to the 20th century in terms of cultural conservation and World Heritage.  Chicago’s city inscription may have to wait until we join the 21st century.

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Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat

March 13, 2012


I realize of course that I am quite blessed to be able to visit Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat with the first two months of the year, two stunning experiences in the realm of historic buildings and the remnants of ancient civilizations.

These World Heritage sites of course record remarkable civilizations and deserve conservation due to their multiplicity of values, including the familiar historic and artistic values, but in many ways it is useful to consider their engineering prowess, because they are the remnants of significant civilizations.

Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire for some 600 years, and it was a city of a million when Paris was a city of 30,000; Angkor Wat itself, the Vaishnavite temple of Suryavarman II, is the world’s largest religious structure, covering some 500 acres, the centerpiece for a city of 1,000,000.

model of Angkor Wat at Royal Palace in Phnom Penh
While we have the monuments, we no longer have the city, sacked by the Thais in 1431 and abandoned to the jungle and local worship. What made the city possible were the massive Barays or reservoirs, the largest 6 miles by 1 mile, completely manmade and allowing the Khmers to produce three rice crops per year, a feat occasionally achieved further down the Mekong today.

baray from airplane at Angkor, 2001
Similarly, what made Machu Piccu possible was another engineering marvel, a terraced irrigation system that still operates at certain Sacred Valley sites today. Like the roads of the Romans, the canals of the Chinese and the railroads of 19th century America, it is this less glamorous infrastructure that made the monuments possible.

But what also strikes me about these sites a half world apart is their visual beauty. Machu Picchu is a ruin of course, abandoned after less than a century and destroyed before the advancing Spanish. The variously restored and ruined houses and temples are not stunning individually, but the natural setting that hosted them is impossibly beautiful.

It is a visual beauty, framed by the backdrop of Huayna Picchu, and it remains a stunning vision from quite a distance throughout its approach: there is not a single good angle to see it from but a wealth of choice spots to enjoy its vista.

Similarly, Angkor Wat was designed with incredible visual sense, the heights of the central quincunx of prasats (towers) raised to an elevation that was both a sacred Vaishnavite number (54) but also allowed them to remain visible and dominant throughout the long approach across a 600-foot moat and another thousand feet of procession through gates and past heavily decorated galleries.

2001 again
Aside from their brilliant irrigation and agricultural systems, when it came to buldings the Khmer were in horrible engineers, laying their stone without interlocking it, ignorant of the true arch and simply replicating in stone structures that originated in the completely different engineering world of wood. Their laterite interiors and heavy sandstone exteriors are thus often in collapse.

But despite this poor engineering, a far cry from the precise masonry joints of the Inka, Angkor is visually impeccable, arranged to be apprehended as impressively in the flat jungle as Machu Picchu is in the high mountain. In a tropical climate, it is an exterior architecture of towers and narrow corbelled galleries connecting them.

And the decoration is of course exquisite, especially the famous bas reliefs of the third gallery, almost 13,000 linear feet of dense battle and processional scenes at least 8 feet in height.

Put your money on the Pandavas. Kauravas don’t stand a chance
Jayavaman VII tried to top Angkor Wat a century later with the 54 towers of the Bayon, his Buddhist temple at the center of his city, but the engineering was equally suspect and the visual sense requires the original gilding to be appreciated from afar: only with the complex as you reel from the giant Buddha heads with their Mona Lisa smiles at every turn do you finally apprehend its majesty.

In heritage conservation, Angkor itself – a vast archaeological park incorporated dozens of temples built between the 9th and 14th centuries – is a great challenge. When I first saw it in 2001, there were over a million visitors a year.

Now there are likely 3 million this year and 5 million within the next five, a challenge even for stones spread across a landscape as large as several cities. Machu Picchu has similar challenges with its numbers.

This will require a renewed focus on the heart of the discipline of heritage conservation – which is the management and planning of not only physical restoration but of management and use policies. In some ways it is simpler (although not simple and not without debate) to determine how to physically conserve a monument.

The greater challenge is how to manage the new city of tourists which has emerged to provide the site with an economic use, a use that can in fact threaten the resource itself. This was the challenge that cities like Charleston, New Orleans and Santa Barbara tackled in the 1930s, providing the basis for the modern policies which allow us to preserve the past as a vital part of our present life.

Lima Day 3

June 11, 2011

Day 3 in Lima was quite exhausting because we started by getting up at 5 AM to go to the farthest side of town (Comas) to join the Mayor as she started a project to plant 40,000 trees in the city. Here is SAIC’s Frances Whitehead, the leader of our Peru project, talking with Mayor Susanna Villaran. You can also see our main partners, Gunther Merzthal to the left and Anna Zuchetti to the right.

We got a chance to introduce the Mayor to our proposed collaboration, helping bring urban agriculture into the center of the city, the World Heritage area, while also supporting local community development. The ceremony included of course schoolchildren and the tree planting itself.


We then met with the Instituto Catastral, essentially a mapping agency that is developing a very impressive geographic database for the city, that will include not only aerial photos, lot sizes, but also condition assessments, historic status and other valuable information. We then returned to Barrios Altos, the section of the World Heritage area that is a bit of a rough inner-city neighborhood, to identify a half dozen possible projects for our students to work on. I was especially interested in buildings that had been carved out as parking in the rear, not because I liked that, but because it offers more opportunities for urban agriculture without removing any historic fabric (because it has already been removed!)


This second one is actually outside Barrios Altos in the central area.

There are a lot of beautiful facades in the area, and this is the more commercial section of the larger Barrios Altos neighborhood, so much of the ground floors are given over to shops.




Despite the deterioration in this area, you still see some of the famous Lima wooden balconies, including these two on Ayacucho, the second of which is an open balcony, the first such I saw.

Here is a classic heritage conservation/historic preservation situation: We found this lovely building which is a facade barely surviving, in the center area, with a huge space behind. The great irony here is that the building is actually owned by a finance ministry, which apparently does not have the resources to restore it.

Back to Barrios Altos. We needed to identify a half dozen possible projects, but we found about 27! Lots of great buildings: here are a few more:


Okay, can’t resist. Some of our group did not like this bit of total Corbu Brutalism but the archigeeks did….

Lima Day 2

June 10, 2011

Today we met with Arquitecto José Rodriguez Cárdenas, who is in charge of the Historic Center of Lima, to discuss possible projects in the World Heritage center of Lima. Now, most tourists see only the historic center, which includes the Cathedral and those lovely old buildings surrounding the Plaza de Armas

Turns out, most of the square was actually built in the 20th century, as we learned, although the feeling is of course from an earlier era. I was also surprised to find that many of the older buildings we saw within the World Heritage district were actually from the 1920s despite their obvious Baroque Colonial influences

If you look closely at the above detail, you note that despite the Baroque organization and basic forms, that much of the detail is actually inspired by local Inka traditions, which only begin to be appreciated in the 1920s. Now, we did find a nice stretch of Deco buildings, I would suspect actually from the 1930s. These are also in Barrios Altos, an area we hope to find some project sites in.


One of the peculiar advantages of Lima as a site for architecture is that it is in the rain shadow of the Andes, which means it basically doesn’t rain. Hence, flat roofs aren’t a problem. In fact, the traditional ornament of the rich overwrought Baroque buildings that characterized the Colonial and neoColonial periods often has trouble staying clean because their is no rain to rinse it off.

Barrios Altos is considered a somewhat rough neighborhood, so despite the World Heritage status there are many buildings which are in rough shape, which translates into potential projects to design, repurpose or add new elements, including not only building elements but urban agriculture, which is where our project began.

Building on Ancash in Barrios Altos

Hard to do a green roof when there is no roof. This is actually a frequent condition, historic buildings that have become merely facades, with the interiors hollowed out in one way or another, usually as homes to more families than should live in such tight quarters, with barely a roof over their heads, or none at all.

note the bamboo lathe. Second floor only – first is adobe
These buildings are actually courtyards, strikingly reminiscent of the sites we deal with in Weishan, Yunnan, at least in volume. Wooden houses with somewhat ornamental facades but usually much more richness and space on the inside than the outside. And where there are courtyards, there is potential for urban agriculture. But it isn’t happening yet. What you do get a lot of are parking lots behind these facades.

You also get a fair amount of deterioration, not from rain, but from termite-like insects, who are doing a number on this edificio historico near the central market in Barrios Altos:


The ones that have been restored look great. Here is a nice group along Plaza Italia in Barrios Altos, before the neighborhood gets even rougher.


Just around the corner is this police building, which is a weird combination of sort of LaDouxian Mannerism and Art Deco.

And then of course there are more of the famous Lima Balconies. They even had an “Adopt a Balcony” program that led to many of these wooden wonders being preserved. Here are a few from Barrios Altos, followed by the longest one in town, close to the Plaza de Armas.




We learned a lot about the urban plan of Lima, which began as a royal city, a kind of walled treasury that had no industry to speak of. Huge religious foundations were and are a key part of the city, although many were lost with the redevelopment of the city after the demolition of the walls around 1870 and the creation of radial Parisian-style avenues that eliminated the impression of the city’s feudal origins. Large monastic and convent complexes survive – it seems there is another Baroque church around every corner, although this convent was converted into a shopping center, which is actually a really interesting architectural encounter, at the edge of Barrios Altos on Ucayali:




Our host Gunther Merzthal has been amazingly generous with his time, gracious and intelligent and turns out to be a brilliant networker as well. We didn’t get to see the Mayor today, but we hope to tomorrow. More view of old Lima:


What? You didn’t think Lima had a Chinatown? Every city has a Chinatown. Actually there is a fascinating history of ethnic diversity in Peru, and the Chinese and Japanese are a big part of it. One final view of old Lima to join the promise of “hasta mañana…”

Life and Death Heritage

January 14, 2011


On July 23, 1986 I attended the funeral procession/cremation of Tjokorda Gde Oka Sukawati, a prince and stepbrother to the last king of Ubud in Bali. I was traveling there (long story) and stumbled across the ceremony, which featured an amazing Pelebon procession in the Balinese Hindu tradition, including a bade, an 11-tiered pagoda tower used to carry the deceased to the cemetery,

A naga banda – basically a dragon vehicle, a lembu, the coffin in the shape of a bull (nandi), a swarm of people.

Now, the funeral tradition there and elsewhere is of course solemn, but it was also touristic. My camera lens caught the tourists lining up, even joining the procession, and local vendors using the occasion to sell t-shirts and the like.

When I lectured on Bali at the Field Museum in 1987 following the trip, I included my perceptions of the tourist side of the place, bolstered by an interview I had done there with Silvio Santosa, a native who had formed the Bina Wisata Foundation to help educate tourists about proper behavior, since they had a tendency to treat the place like Cancun during Spring Break.

Candi Dasa, Bali
What strikes me today is not the intangible heritage represented by the performance of the cremation ceremony or the challenges of keeping tourists from fornicating in ancient temples but the complex interweaving of tourism and heritage sites in general.



Lijiang, Yunnan, China, 2008
I have the good fortune of serving on the Senior Advisory Board of the Global Heritage Fund, which recently released a report “Saving Our Vanishing Heritage” which details not only GHF’s efforts to preserve World Heritage Sites in the developing world, but also the complex layering of tourism, economics and heritage conservation that can save – or destroy – such sites.

Angkor Wat, 3rd gallery, 2001
When I began in this field in the 1980s, heritage tourism was the latest and greatest idea: get people to come see history – built, living, or otherwise – and they will pay for the experience, generating the income sites need to survive. I saw Arthur Frommer speak about how heritage tourists avoid places that don’t preserve their history and how heritage tourists spend more than other tourists. We used lots of oversimplified multipliers in those days to calculate the economic benefits of preserving historic sites for tourism.

Tien An Men, 2009
But in the last decade we have seen the effects of too much tourism. I spoke at an ICOMOS conference on tourism in the Pacific Rim in San Francisco in 2007, and that conference was inspired in part by the overabundance of tourism and the attendant wear-and-tear on historic sites, like the great temples of Angkor in Cambodia, which survived in the jungles for centuries and even the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s but are now beset by tourist numbers which exceed 2 million per year and looting of the more remote sites for the international art market. When I last saw Angkor 10 years ago the number was less than half that.

Angkor Wat 2001
Many of the challenges that Global Heritage Fund addresses as it seeks to build capacity for conservation are external to the heritage tourism economy: war, looting, and even the depredations of nature and climate.

Ta Prohm, Angkor, 2001
But many of the largest challenges are the tourists themselves. Macchu Picchu in Peru has gone from 420,000 visitors in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2009. Petra in Jordan has almost tripled to 900,000 in the last decade. Yet, at the same time, heritage tourism still represents a major economic engine for the developing world. The GHF report notes the dilemma: if the sites are simply exploited, they will be destroyed and cease to draw tourists. Macchu Picchu accounts for 90 percent of Peru’s tourism revenue. Part of the problem is sustainability planning: Peru has many other valuable heritage sites, but these have not been marketed, managed or developed. Planning at Angkor in the 1990s directed development to the outskirts of the site, but lack of controls has placed much private development in more sensitive areas. Moreover, despite the incredible value in heritage sites – GHF estimates $20-30 billion for the top 500 heritage sites – only a fraction of that revenue, $400-500 million, or 2-3 percent, is spent on the sites.

Coba, Mexico, 2006
The best projects work to train local officials, planners, developers and others in sustainable management and development practices. GHF’s project in the walled city of Pingyao, Shaanxi, China, is emblematic, and I had the opportunity to visit that site in 2008.



GHF has also worked to help Lijiang in China, which I cited as a bad example in my 2007 presentation, since the city was stripped of local authentic culture after becoming a world heritage site: the city’s buildings were preserved, but it became an ersatz tourist town: local businesses replaced by tourism shops, homes replaced by hotels. I called this catastrophic tourist development, since it replaces a sustainable and diverse local economy with a dangerously unbalanced economic monoculture.


Lijiang, 2008
Our work in Weishan, Yunnan, China over the last seven years with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Center for US-China Arts Exchange is focused on just this complex intersection: Heritage tourists want an authentic experience, not a commercialized stage set, which is what Lijiang is very like. Weishan has done a great job of preserving the real, everyday businesses along the Southern Silk Road that passes through the great 1390 North Gate and the Drum Tower. You can still see locals shopping for clothes, rice noodles drying on streetside racks, birds and jellies and coffins and shoes for sale, along with some antique shops and food stalls. The final chapter on Weishan is not written, but in 2007 and 2010 it is a model of sustainable development.


Weishan, 2009

Weishan noodle shop, 2006. Photo copyright Felicity Rich

noodles drying, Weishan 2006. Photo copyright Felicity Rich
Huge challenges remain: The international tourist market that appreciates authenticity is actually dwarfed by a domestic tourist market that is happy to visit the Chinese versions of Branson: artificially constructed sites with artificial histories and happy Happy entertainment. Authenticity is a challenging concept for most tourists, something I recall even when we used to work in Ireland in the Burren, where the great portal dolmen of Poulnabrone was surrounded by little tiny dolmens, built by tourists in acts of pure vandalism, destroying the delicate limestone pavement ecosystem to build little stonehenges that would fool the next tourist into thinking they were seeing a thousands-years-old structure.

Poulnabrone, Burren, Clare, Ireland, 2002
Again, my interest today is not in the misbehaving tourist as much as the economic context: heritage tourism is a boon AND a bust for historic sites and places seeking economic uplift. Heritage conservation is a huge expense AND a huge revenue source for countries at all levels of development. Economic development is a threat AND an opportunity – if done with long-term returns in mind for historic sites worldwide. It is not (I am tempted to say NEVER) an “EITHER OR” proposition but a “BOTH AND” proposition. The advantage the heritage conservationist brings to this challenge is quite simply the long view: we are not about the quick buck or the quick fix. We want to keep BOTH historic sites AND a productive local society for as long as we can.

Cashel, Ireland, 2002


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