In November 2011, the UNESCO General Conference adopted a Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape that highlighted the need of Member States to “adopt the appropriate legislative institutional framework and measures, with a view to applying the principles and norms set out in this Recommendation in the territories under their jurisdiction”, and to “bring this Recommendation to the attention of the local, national and regional authorities, and of institutions, services or bodies and associations concerned with the safeguarding, conservation and management of historic urban areas and their wider geographical settings.”
This Recommendation followed another, issued in the 29th Session of the World Heritage Committee in July 2005, recommending that “the General Conference of UNESCO adopt a new Recommendation to complement and update the existing ones on the subject of conservation of historic urban landscapes, with special reference to the need to link contemporary architecture to the urban historic context” (Decision 29 COM 5D).
In preparing for this General Conference Recommendation, the World Heritage Centre has reviewed existing standard-setting documents, organized four expert meetings (in 2006, twice in 2007, and in 2009) and three planning meetings at UNESCO Headquarters (in 2006, 2008, and 2010) to facilitate consultations, discussions and the drafting of a new standard-setting instrument on the subject of Historic Urban Landscape. The outcomes of this process were published in the World Heritage Papers Series No. 27, “Managing Historic Cities”, while a preliminary study, together with the relevant observations and decisions of the Executive Board, was submitted to the 35th Session of the General Conference (October 2009), and which requested that the Director-General bring forward a new Recommendation on the conservation of historic urban landscape (35C/Resolution 42).
With rapid demographic increases and the concomitant economic pressure placed on urban areas, urban cultural heritage of all types is increasingly at greater risk. As a result, the number of cases studied and decided upon in World Heritage Committee Meetings has been increasing. Paramount in these cases has been the appearance of new high-rise buildings in or around World Heritage Sites and Cities and their visual impact on these Sites and Cities.
Though the Recommendation adopted in November 2011 recognizes and supports the evolution of historic cities in a way respectful of their heritage (i.e., both tangible and intangible), it also recognizes the need for further research on the matter of historic urban landscape and on the instruments and metrics needed by all parties for an appropriate and objective implementation of the terms of the Recommendation. If the policy rationale has been properly stated in the Recommendation, its implementation still requires the development of the objective instruments and criteria (i.e., practical guidelines) for how to link contemporary interventions (i.e., architecture) to the urban historic context; in other words, whether a new building fits harmoniously into the environment from the perspective of both its physical attributes and its functions. Here, the ‘problem’ lies both in the harmony of the intervention with its surroundings, as well as its harmony with life in those surroundings. After all, new functions can be disruptive and endanger World Heritage and the historic fabric just as much as, if not more than, form.
If the Recommendation on historic urban landscape is to be effective, these two aspects must be addressed and considered a top priority. This Meeting will address these two aspects with a focus on visual impact. Nevertheless, function, being somewhat easier to grasp and evaluate, will also be considered.
A major international three-day Conference will be organized in Seville (Spain) with the aim of bringing together a significant number of high-level scholars, professionals from different fields, policy makers and critics in order to shed new light on this issue and to try to identify new instruments, metrics and criteria by which professionals in urban architecture and heritage can make decisions in a more rational and objective manner.
More concretely, this Conference is intended to produce the following:
Practical guidelines, evaluation tools, checklists of attributes and an action plan for future research on topics related to the complete spectrum of interventional approaches, ranging from minimal and harmonious intervention at one end to serious rupture at the other.
Deskstop studies will be made for points 1 and 2, which will form the backbone of Conference. Points 3 and 4 will be covered through speakers and presentations, while point 5 represents the concrete results expected from the Conference. Special sessions will feature working groups and round-tables discussions to address specific issues and produce concrete recommendations.
The findings and final report from the Conference will be presented at the World Heritage Committee Meeting.
Goal of the Conference
The goal of this Conference is to identify evaluation tools, guidelines and mechanisms for addressing contemporary architecture in historic urban contexts, which could then be further developed in future seminars, meetings and conferences.