The Contemporary Architecture in the Historic Environment (CAHE) project is addressing one of the critical issues in heritage conservation—the management of change—by exploring the role of contemporary architecture in historic environments and developing methodologies and criteria for designing new buildings that are respectful of their historic contexts and assessing the impacts of these new constructions. CAHE will work with the professional community, including the planning, architectural, conservation, and development sectors, to develop objective standards that will form the basis of guidance and assessment tools that can assist in achieving a shared understanding of appropriate development in historic contexts, improve consistency in the decision-making process across a wide range of situations, and promote good design.


Change is inevitable in the historic environment. Buildings, streetscapes, and urban areas are dynamic places that are constantly adapting to the needs of their inhabitants, with each generation contributing uniquely to this evolution.

There are varying views on what constitutes appropriate new development within a historic context. Some argue that new architectural insertions should represent a continuum of building traditions and replicate the surrounding historic environment, while others advocate for the juxtaposition of new and old, with the new reflecting contemporary expression through different forms, styles, materials, and/or technologies. Between these two extremes are design responses that respect traditional architectural forms and hierarchies but are expressed using a contemporary architectural language.

The twentieth century brought rapid transformation to the urban landscape and the pace of change continues to increase in the twenty-first century and, with it, so have threats to the conservation of historic environments. Urban areas face development pressures to accommodate unparalleled urban population growth and new economic pressures. Modernism, the leading architectural force of the twentieth century, broke with traditional architectural and planning approaches, utilizing forms and materials that often contrasted with the existing historic environment. More recently, in response to economic pressures, civic leaders have promoted their cities by creating new landmarks, often turning to celebrity architects to create provocative designs that strive for individual attention, overshadowing traditional civic landmarks such as city halls and cathedrals.

The insertion of these attention-grabbing contemporary architectural designs often poses a greater threat to historic environments than earlier interventions. The World Heritage Centre recognized this in the early 2000s, when they nominated a number of sites to the List of World Heritage in Danger. The call for action by the World Heritage Committee to address this issue resulted in the 2005 conference in Vienna entitled "World Heritage and Contemporary Architecture–Managing the Historic Urban Landscape," the outcome of which was the Vienna Memorandum, which proposes an integrated approach to the sustainable conservation of historic cities, linking contemporary architecture, sustainable urban development, and landscape integrity to the historic urban context.

This, among other issues, led to UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape in 2011, which calls for the development of new planning tools, such as heritage, social, and environmental impact assessments, and regulatory systems to help protect the integrity and authenticity of urban heritage.

Goals and Objectives

CAHE seeks to better define the role of contemporary architectural interventions in the historic urban areas and to improve the quality of these interventions though:

  1. Research: Analyze how past and current architectural interventions in the historic environment have been addressed; identify key current issues and challenges; and, explore how these issues could be addressed and managed through the development of tools for the professional community.
  2. Engagement with the Professional Community: Work with the conservation, planning, architectural, and development communities to develop objective criteria and well-understood standards that will form the basis of these tools, so that they may be applied to a wide range of situations.
  3. Public Programming: Host lectures and symposia that bring together the wide range of professionals working in this area to raise awareness of and discuss critical issues.
  4. Key Resources: Disseminate existing resources through the creation of a project bibliography. Create and disseminate information, such as general guidelines or a case studies publication, to assist the professional community in designing and assessing the impacts of new buildings in historic contexts.

Page updated: August 2015