Posts Tagged ‘world heritage’

Heritage in the Age of Virtual Reconstruction

October 27, 2015

I was going to write this blog on Saturday when I heard the legendary Harold Kalman speak at the National Trust for Canada conference in Calgary.  I had the honor of being the opening keynote speaker on Thursday night, and Harold won at least two awards on Friday night, including one for lifetime achievement.  Notwithstanding his elder statesman role, he had some keen insights into where heritage is in 2015, and the keenest came when he answered the inevitable question.


Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria.  BEFORE.

I got this question a lot during my years at Global Heritage Fund:  What can we do about the destruction of monuments by Daesh (ISIS) as recently happened in Palmyra?  Hal Kalman had an interesting answer distinguished by its lack of urgency.  Monuments get damaged and destroyed.  The Parthenon was pretty well blown to bits in the 17th century.  That Roman bridge I saw in the Ossola Valley got blown up in World War II, and yet there it is.

roman bridge

Kalman’s response was neither cavalier nor a call for reconstruction.  Indeed, the preceding discussion had focused on the 21st century approach to heritage – which was of course my topic Thursday night – which is an approach that has shifted from the preservation of physical materials to VALUES and ASSOCIATIONS.  This is the basis of reforms I have proposed in the U.S. and elsewhere.  Since the 1999 Burra Charter and the 2003 ICOMOS statement on intangible heritage, we have evolved to a new understading of What. We. Are. Trying. To. Preserve.


From VOA TV Ashna via Twitter and Lionsroar.

Yesterday we saw these stunning images of 3-D holographic projections of the famed Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.  Undertaken by a wealthy Chinese couple, the virtual reconstruction of the Buddhas destroyed by the Taliban in February 2001 has garnered a ton of attention.  Have you heard of the Bamiyan Buddhas?  Of course you have.  And has their destruction by the Taliban erased them from your memory?  Have they been erased from our collective patrimoinie?  Au contraire.

I posted this on Facebook this morning and a friend commented “Would love to see this site someday.”  Think about that for a minute.  Didn’t the Taliban destroy it despite the protestations of millions around the world?  Isn’t it GONE?

No.  We want to see it and now we have the technology to do so.  We have been using technology to supplement and animate heritage sites for decades and the technology keeps getting better.  Heck, even in the 1960s you could go to Rome and by a book showing ancient Roman sites as they are with acetate pages that flipped onto the surviving elements and allowed you a vision of what the site looked like 2000 years before.

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Basilica of Maxentius NOW

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Basilica of Maxentius THEN

Hal Kalman quoted several recent scholars, including Australia’s Laurajane Smith and my friend Ned Kaufman who have focused on the preservation of values and associations.  The values and associations of the Bamiyan Buddhas have not gone away – you could argue that their physical destruction has even intensified those values and associations.

Now of course there are still the fragments, the niches in the walls, the valley context, so in many ways they are currently in a physical state not unlike the Basilica of Maxentius.  Unlike Louis Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange, they have not been replaced by a careless hulk that not only erases but replaces their context.


might make a nice hologram…

This is not to say we don’t want authenticity.  Indeed, the entire heritage enterprise is about authenticity and that is key to my call for the reform of historic preservation practice in the United States.  Authenticity is not found only in buildings or fragments of buildings.  As the Nara Document on Authenticity (1994) stated:

“authenticity judgements may be linked to the worth of a great variety of sources of information. Aspects of the sources may include form and design, materials and substance, use and function, traditions and techniques, location and setting, and spirit and feeling, and other internal and external factors.”


Shinto temple, Ise, Japan.  A thousand years old and rebuilt every generation. Authentically.

Heritage is not a luxury, it is a fundamental social value that differentiates us from beasts.  The whole world is poised right now – as they have been since the start of the Syrian civil war – to run in and do something about all of this world heritage as soon as they are able.  Daesh (ISIS) has mobilized concern for sites of outstanding universal value just as the Taliban did before them, and contrary to their supposed motivations, they are increasing the value and association of these sites.


Warsaw was rebuilt after World War II because it had to be and because we had incredibly good, precise documentation of what it looked like.  The Parthenon has been partly and may someday be entirely put back together despite the vandalous use of it as an ammunition depot by the Ottomans and the even more vandalous Venetian volleys that pelted it with a thousand shells during the siege of 1687.  The temple had survived incredibly intact until that point.


But at least we have Nashville….

If we understand heritage in a mature way, and we welcome it as a future enterprise in an age of virtual reconstruction, the infantile destroyers will never be able to take it away from us.  It is like travel itself, not only a wonderful investment in your education and understanding, but an investment that cannot be stolen from you while you breathe.  You can take away a stone or knock down an arch or blow up a statue but you cannot take away our memories, our thoughts, our values, and our social conscience.

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.


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.

sacro bldg

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.

alamo diS

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!

GHF 2.0

August 29, 2013

The Global Heritage Fund was founded a decade ago to “help preserve and sustain the most significant and endangered heritage sites in the developing world.” Part of the reason I came to California to join, and now run, this organization was because of this mission and the methodology – Preservation By Design® – that Founder Jeff Morgan established to realize the mission.
CP i main iBest
and the chance to see incredible sites like this Tayrona city dating back 1300 years in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia.

Jeff trademarked his approach: a focus on careful PLANNING – both conservation planning and site management planning; the latest in scientific CONSERVATION; local and national PARTNERSHIPS; and most importantly, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT. What attracted me to the organization back in 2008 was this mission and methodology, because it was in line with my understanding of historic preservation/heritage conservation, an understanding you can see repeated in this blog over the last eight years.
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Pingyao, China. I first visited this site for GHF in 2008.

I was thinking about some of my early blogs back in 2005, especially the one called Heresy and Apostasy. I had, together with one of the big preservation organizations, agreed to a plan that saved some buildings but demolished others. This upset the holy hermits of preservation, who like all ideologues and fundamentalists, brook no blurred lines in their pursuit of purity.
Bas Relief detailD
No blurred lines here – Jayavarman VII bas-relief, Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia

Not only did I find that approach unrealistic and unproductive in 2005, I found it that way in 1983 when I was the punk with the halo. That is because my introduction to historic preservation was through the heritage area, a Reagan-era public-private partnership model that paired historic preservation with natural conservation, tourism, and economic development. Sound familiar?
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Lock 8 and 1840s locktender’s house, Aux Sable, Illinois

Now of course I screamed and shouted to save buildings, but for over thirty years I have understood preservation/conservation to be an economic strategy. I recognize the distinction between the museum and the everyday to be an artificial distinction. You can raise money to preserve a museum piece, to be sure, but you need to keep raising that money – forever. I soon realized that the majority of preservation happens not by removing objects from our everyday and our economy, but by placing them at the center of our everyday economy. By exploiting their use value.
cuz it costs lots of money to remove things from society

Within the basic impulse to SAVE something is the impulse to keep it forever from harm, and the tendency to remove it from the economic everyday that threatened it. But this tendency is dead wrong on every level, because hermetic removal is at best a temporary solution. You can no more escape the economic everyday than you can escape the atmosphere. Moreover, if we take a piece of heritage and say, make it a house museum, we are in fact repurposing the site for a new use. One that happens to suck eggs economically, for the most part.
c-m overhang
Wanna lose a million dollars a year? Take a general store and turn it into a house museum.

So Global Heritage Fund was designed to help communities lift themselves out of poverty by conserving their world heritage. Job training in conservation. Community based tourism. Maintenance and enhancement of craft traditions. Building community value and investment by saving its root heritage.
jianzi, Pingyao

So, the obvious question is: are you just selling out? Is this also a legacy of thirty years of neoliberal backlash that just needs a robust statist solution where everything valuable stays in the museum where it belongs? No. The reality is this: I can spend millions of dollars restoring a heritage site, but if the local community does not benefit from that site, all of my money is wasted and it will just need to be preserved again ten or twenty years from now.

Worse, if an outside NGO comes in and conserves an architectural or archaeological treasure without involving the local community FROM THE GET-GO, you not only create a dependency on millions of dollars every decade; but you alienate the locals, who might decide to loot the site, since they have lost ownership of it.
chornankap sacerdotisa
chotune museum
This is last year’s discovery of a sacerdotista at Chornankap; and the museum of Chotune/Chornankap in Peru. There used to be looters there. Now the local community supports the archaeological sites and everyone gets their wedding pictures taken in front of the museum. If looters come, the community chases them away.

So, the reality is that this model of investing the community with an initial stake in the project is better for the conservation of the site. And better for the community. In fact, it is the true model of sustainability. We have been misled (I also found a 2005 blog about “greenwashing”) into thinking sustainability is in the DESIGN. No, it is in the design process, which means it is something you PLAN, by insuring that long-term stewards are part of the project from the beginning.
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Local planners documenting courtyards in Pingyao, 2008

Of course, we still have to raise money, but ideally we can leverage more money and investment with this model. My vision for GHF 2.0 is to take this to the next step: to lead with expertise in conservation science; to plan with community needs and desires first; to leverage multiple partnerships to maximize impact; to identify economically viable models for sustaining sites; and to promote community development as the best way to save heritage. Because it is.
Bas Relief workers on wall

We are celebrating our first ten years with a big Gala here in Silicon Valley on October 2, which you can read about here. In the meantime, visit our website and learn about projects, investigations, future tours and an organization that understands how heritage conservation has always worked. And always will.

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:

Capacity Building
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.


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!

Lima Day 1

June 9, 2011

Our first day in Lima, Peru was a full one – 9 to 5, most of that in the offices of the Municipality, looking at their new city planning efforts, largely in the realm of greening the city and providing more opportunities for urban agriculture, under the leadership of our colleagues Gunther Merzthal and Anna Zuchetti. The project began with my SAIC colleague Frances Whitehead, who came here last January to work on urban agriculture projects. When she discovered that the center of Lima – an area known as the “Cercado” for the now-vanished city wall – is a World Heritage Site, she brought me into the project along with Douglas Pancoast of our Architecture Interior Architecture and Designed Objects program. Part of the Cercado is of course the Plaza de Armas, which is spectacular in that distinctively Colonial Baroque style found throughout the Spanish Americas.

Archbsihop’s Palace, Plaza de Armas

Detail, Palacio de Gobierno

Detail, Archbishop’s Palace

Palacio de Gobierno
The most distinctive feature of Lima architecture is the balcony, these wonderful wooden structures, many of which have been restored in the central area.

We spent a good part of the afternoon in the Cercado, which is largely a poor inner-city area once you get a few blocks away from the banks and the plazas. Much of the area is fairly dangerous, and beyond the historic buildings we visited sites that are prime for new huertas, or agricultural park areas the city hopes to develop. Many of these communities are “gated” in a de facto way, due to the high crime conditions.

Here is one of the huerta sites, with a view to an even more impoverished squatter development on the hill in the background. This is in Casa 4, one of six districts in the Cercado.

Here is another park in Casa 6, an area that runs along the river. It is about to be completed.

And here is the very unfortunate condition of the river along the edge of the park.

One of the nicest parks is the Parque La Muralla, which is centered along the archaeological ruins of the original city wall, which stood for some 200 years (1670-1870, roughly). The park includes an excellent museum of the history of the wall and the city.

And it also has a little petting zoo, so I can prove I was in Peru: Here is a llama

Not that you need to go to Peru to see llamas. You can actually see them on the southwest side of Chicago in an oil refinery along the Sanitary and Ship Canal…..

more tomorrow, when we meet the Mayor…


July 18, 2008

The Global Heritage Fund invited me to Pingyao as a new member of their Senior Advisory Board, so I was able to tag the trip on the back end of my work with the US China Arts Exchange Yunnan Sustainability Conference in Dali. All it required was a long layover in Beijing (not that bad, found a cool spot with an outlet and edited my book) and then a flight to Taiyuan, and then an hour ride with Han and Han to the loveliest hotel – a traditional Chinese courtyard house outfitted with all of the latest luxuries. I experienced what I like to call “The Dingle Effect” which is the arrival at a lovely, welcoming hotel after a long and arduous journey – it happened to Felicity and I in 1997 when we arrived in Dingle and it happened again in Pingyao.

Pingyao was a place I always wanted to see – the only Chinese city with a completely intact city wall hundreds of years old, running for more than 2.5 km around the historic town, which features over 3000 courtyard houses and a number of excellent temples. By contrast, our lovely Weishan in Yunnan – which lost most of its wall – has perhaps 100 original courtyard houses. Han Li is the new China project director for Global Heritage Fund, and I got the chance to see her EXCELLENT work at organizing a bunch of planning and architecture professionals to do a survey of courtyard houses there. Having done a similar project in Weishan in 2006, I was duly impressed with GHF’s careful and intelligent planning process under Han’s leadership.

Han was very generous showing me the project and also showing me the town. We got a special tour of the Shuanglin Temple, 6 km outside of the walls, which has the most amazing collections of THOUSANDS of sculptural pieces in multiple temples. How these things survived the Cultural Revolution is amazing – apparently the local Party Secretary told officials the temples were being used as granaries.

The current Party Secretary took us on a tour, and it was well nigh overwhelming, even during a month in which I saw the terra cotta army at Xian, the adjacent Hanyangling figures, the Buddhist murals at Baisha in Yunnan and the Shanghai museum. Architectural elements and naturalistic clouds formed the backdrop for sculptural groups that filled the interior of the temples in insistent undulations of exuberance and minutiae…

Not only that, but Pingyao has an amazing collection of reclaimed sculpture in its Taoist temple- from Taoist immortals to ancient Tang stelae. It is a bit of a jumble, but I truly felt I had stumbled into the best collection of sculpture in China…

Not to mention architecture – the duogong at the Gingxu temple I just mentioned were particularly exciting – evidencing the earlier Song influence much more than typical Qing rigidity and formalism…

And all of this was ON TOP OF the things Pingyao is known for: namely, its wall, its courtyard houses, and its draft banks that basically created a national banking system in the 19th century.

So, many thanks to GHF and Han Li and Jasmin Arneja (and other Han and Mr. Ji!) for their hospitality. It was a quick but very impressive visit and being located basically halfway between Beijing and Xi’an, a must for every traveler interested in architecture and sculpture. Final image (for now) Han and I on the wall near the east gate:


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