By Jukka Jokilehto

An old Roman friend of mine used to say that the restoration of historic objects requires three things: the head, the hands, and the heart of the restorer. We can translate this by saying that the conservation of cultural heritage requires an understanding of the resource and its significance, the skills for the necessary conservation work, and love for the heritage.

We can speak of communication with the heritage resource as an informed and active learning process. The past couple of centuries have been characterized by such a process, which has evolved and developed in relation to the different aspects of the built environment. The process has usually been started by an initial interest, bringing one to ask questions about a place; the greater one’s involvement, the more one learns to understand, appreciate, and love—or perhaps dislike—the place and its particular character. This intense involvement becomes the basis for the generation of values and for decisions concerning the conservation and reuse, the modification, or even the destruction of a site. This dynamic is, in fact, also the basis for the modern theory of conservation and restoration, understood as a critical process leading from knowledge to conservation action.

While the protection and restoration of ancient monuments and works of art owned by the public became accepted policy in many countries earlier in this century, beginning in the 1950s we can detect an active approach to defining the scope and objectives of the conservation of nonmonumental architecture. Signs can be seen in various national initiatives undertaken soon after World War II. For example, before 1945 in the United Kingdom, only a few ancient monuments were protected at the national level. Now, at the end of the century, the number of listed properties exceeds half a million. The concept of the “conservation area” was introduced in the Civic Amenities Act in 1967, and it has since become a major tool in planning control of historic areas in England. At present, about 9,000 such areas have been protected. Similar developments can be seen elsewhere, including most European countries and Japan (where the listing of historic areas was introduced in the 1970s), as well as in some countries in Asia, North Africa, and North and South America.

Today, policies for the treatment of historic buildings vary greatly, ranging from minimal intervention and conservative repair to artistic restoration, modernization, and ruthless adaptations according to the fashion of reuse and modern life. An early example of restoration policy is colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, started in the 1930s, with the aim of reestablishing the 18th- century form of the town. In France, the 1962 Law of Malraux placed emphasis on architectural values, as seen in areas of Paris, Strasbourg, and Colmar. Restoration thus often resulted in expensive reconstruction at the cost of losing the character of the old—that is, by eliminating past changes and rebuilding the “original” form, a replica was created.

A different approach was adopted in the Old Buda in Hungary. There, emphasis was given to the memorial value of the place, and the remains of war-damaged buildings were displayed as part of new constructions. A similar effect is seen in the restoration of historic buildings in some Italian towns, such as Pisa, Verona, and Florence, and in some places in Poland and the Czech Republic. Even though the purpose is to display fragments of different historic phases rather than to repair all damage or restore the architectural appearance of a building, aesthetically speaking, the results are seldom satisfactory.

Conservation image

Modern conservation and restoration treatments, in the Latin meaning of the words, have generally been reserved for buildings or areas of particular significance. “Ordinary” structures, even if architecturally valuable, have been given less attention. In many countries, this has led to “facadism” (i.e., keeping the facade while destroying the building), and the preservation of selected features, rather than the preservation of a historic building as a whole. Examples can be found in all parts of the world, from London to Helsinki to Sydney. Such solutions are often justified as the lesser evil, since they take into account the need to satisfy the rights of individuals to control their own property. This trend is particularly manifest in large cities, where high-rise buildings may be allowed, and where old structures can become expensive obstacles.

A positive effort to counterbalance this trend was the Main Street project in North America in the 1980s. Although it perhaps tolerated facadism, the purpose was to increase public appreciation of historic areas by encouraging businesses to invest in the restoration and improvement of their character. More recently, the suffocation of downtown areas has led to a broader reassessment of the potential of the remaining historic fabric; such rehabilitation has had a positive impact in places such as Recife, Brazil.

The cornerstone of British conservation policy is conservative repair and maintenance. This policy, developed during the era of John Ruskin and William Morris, and, thanks to their influence, promoted by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, was supported by the later efforts of the Civic Trust, the amenity societies, and the English Heritage. The results are seen in numerous historic towns and villages, such as York, Chester, and Bath. A certain deviation from this policy occurred during the period of massive reconstruction and the introduction of industrial building practice in the decades following World War II. With the greater sensitivity to environmental care seen since the 1970s, repair and maintenance have again been incorporated into policies related to existing buildings. This is reflected in the requiring of regular professional inspections of church buildings in Britain. It is worth noting that British engineers have adopted guidelines for the survey of existing structures. In the mid-1970s, Sir Bernard Feilden used the method of visual inspection to convince the authorities to opt for the conservation of historic buildings in the old market area of the town of Chesterfield, rather than replacing them with new structures. Under this method, the responsible architect or surveyor undertakes a systematic visual survey of all parts of a building and writes a report that includes a description of the structure and an indication of any alterations affecting its condition, as well as recommendations for action and a list of problems needing further study.

Conservation image

An important conservation challenge exists in seismic hazard areas, where building codes need to be properly interpreted for traditional structural systems to meet modern engineering constraints—as was the case in Montenegro after the 1979 earthquake. Often, relatively flexible historic structural systems have been altered or destroyed by the introduction of rigid reinforcements and concrete frames. As a result of research by specialized laboratories in the United States, Italy, and the former Yugoslavia, more appropriate reinforcement techniques have been developed. Much of the world’s cultural heritage lies in regions affected by natural hazards—from the Far East to the Mediterranean to Central America. These regions continue to require special attention if modern norms are to be integrated with the character and potential of historic structures.

The practice of building inspections and surveys has motivated the development of methods and techniques for the recording and study of buildings and materials. In the 1960s and 1970s, architectural photogrammetry was developed to provide support for such documentation; it has since been complemented by computerized recording techniques. At the same time, there has been considerable development in conservation science, now an indispensable tool for modern conservation practice. While the role of science in conservation has often been debated, its importance to methodology is certainly established. However, science does need to respond to the cultural assessment of the place. As Professor Paul Philippot has often stated, conservation of cultural heritage is fundamentally a cultural problem.

More and more professions are involved in the conservation of historic architecture. The Guidelines on Education and Training in the Conservation of Monuments, Ensembles, and Sites, prepared by the ICOMOS International Training Committee in 1993, list the skills that professional conservationists should be able to cover. On this basis, a British association, the Conference on Training in Architectural Conservation (COTAC), has drafted outline profiles of the main professions involved in multidisciplinary collaboration on conservation projects in the United Kingdom. The list of these disciplines, which demonstrates the range of conservation today, includes administrators or owners, archaeologists, architects, art and architectural historians, builders or contractors, conservation or historic buildings officers, conservators, civil and structural engineers, environmental engineers, landscape architects, historic gardens conservators, master craft workers, materials scientists, building economists (quantity surveyors), surveyors, town planners, and curators.

Apart from skilled labor, there is also the need for appropriate building materials. The problem of marketing is often an obstacle to the production of traditional materials. If they are produced in small quantities, the cost of production is high compared to that of industrial production. Can the modern building industry adopt traditional products in order to expand the market? The Council of Europe has made efforts to promote traditional crafts, and several training centers have been established. In some regions, such as the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, traditional skills have been maintained until the present, and they can become a link between the past and the future if planned as part of culturally sustainable development.

Conservation image

In Europe, the series of meetings organized in the European Architectural Heritage Year 1975 gave impetus to the protection of historic urban and rural areas. The final declaration of the concluding conference, the Amsterdam Declaration, launched the concept of “integrated conservation”—the integration of conservation requirements and cultural values into the planning process in historic urban areas. This concept had already been introduced in the European Charter of the Architectural Heritage, adopted by the Council of Europe in the same year. The reference for these concepts came from the management experiences of historic towns in several European countries, including Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy. The master plan prepared in Bologna in the early 1970s became an important reference regarding the objectives and the methods of planning in historic areas. Similar methods have since been introduced in other continents, including the preparation by a Unesco team of the master plan of Lamu, Kenya. Increasing emphasis is placed on social and economic issues, and an effort is made to rehabilitate old buildings, bringing back the original residents when possible, thus implementing the intentions of integrated conservation. In earlier restoration projects, such as those based on the example of Williamsburg or others in France, the cost of restoration often became prohibitive because such restoration was not based on respect for an existing historical reality but rather on the expensive reproduction of lost features. In many cases, this approach has led to complete renovation and often to gentrification and the reuse of such areas for tourism and museum functions, or to their conversion into luxury habitats by wealthy families.

The Recommendation Concerning the Safeguarding and Contemporary Role of Historic Areas, adopted by the General Conference of Unesco in November 1976, further supported the conservation and rehabilitation of historic areas. This recommendation emphasized the importance of considering the historic area as a coherent whole, “whose balance and nature depend on the fusion of the parts of which it is composed and which include human activities as much as the buildings, the spatial organization, and the surroundings.” Since the 1970s, there have also been various initiatives regarding the general environmental management of the earth, its ecology, and its natural and built resources. Major conferences include the 1996 Habitat II in Istanbul, where the management and planning of the built environment were among the key issues brought to the attention of decision makers.

The Brundtland Report, issued by the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987, emphasized environmentally sustainable development. A decade later it has been complemented by the Unesco report on cultural diversity. These two reports highlight issues to be properly integrated into planning processes. While some well-defined examples and case studies exist, local governments and private citizens need to be more involved in joint efforts to balance cultural values with economic and social arguments. Previously, particularly in Europe, legislation and planning norms were conceived in the context of government authority. The current greater involvement of the private sector requires a revision of this framework to accommodate present reality. A major effort is also needed for increased communication between specialists and nonspecialists, and for a clear definition of the roles of each for the benefit of our common architectural heritage.

Conservation image

Jukka Jokilehto is senior program advisor to ICCROM, where he formerly served as assistant to the director general; he is also the author of A History of Architectural Conservation, published this year. Since 1993 he has been president of the ICOMOS International Training Committee.