Posts tagged with "UNESCO World Heritage Site":
Walking the central streets of Asmara, Eritrea, for the first time can be quite a puzzling experience for a foreigner. The capital city is full of structures and modernist buildings that blend Art Deco and Futurist styles. Shops and bars have signage that could easily be found in Italy: Farmacia Centrale, Bar Crispi, Cinema Roma, mixed with many in the Tigrinya and Arabic languages.
In fact, the city was planned and built in its current form during the Italian colonization of Eritrea starting in the 1890s. When the Fascist Regime took over, Mussolini set out to build an overseas empire with Asmara as the model city of his colonial expansion.
Many recognize the effects of colonization on the architectural quality of the city. But few acknowledge one of its most controversial aspects: racial segregation.
Since the very beginning, the city’s master plans aimed to separate Italians from Eritreans and enforced this when dividing the city into four separate sections: a European-only quarter in the south, an Eritrean quarter in the north, a mixed zone around the central market for both groups, and an industrial zone in the northeast.
Historically, Eritreans needed a special permit to cross into the European-only side of Asmara to go to work as housekeepers, artisans, and masons. Today, some of the local elderly still refer to the city’s center as the “Fenced Field” because one of the original Italian outposts was called Campo Cintato–or “fenced field” in Italian.
The Eritrean quarter, known as Aba Shawl, was the most densely populated in the city and largely left unplanned. Ninety years later, the effects of this lack of planning are still visible today. The construction quality of the buildings is not comparable to the rest of Asmara; some have neither running water nor bathrooms. When it rains, the streets get coated in mud because there is no stormwater drainage system. The people who live here are still poorer than inhabitants elsewhere in the city.
But despite all of this—or perhaps due to the lack of planning—Aba Shawl has become the Eritrean face of Asmara, which complements the Italian part of town.
Starting in the 1910s, Italian architects merged vernacular Eritrean elements into the architecture of the city—both in Italian and indigenous areas—and constructed a mosque, an Orthodox church, and movie theaters for the Eritrean population.
In 1938, the Fascists, intending to enforce newly drafted racial law, set forth a plan to bulldoze Aba Shawl and relocate its dwellers farther out from the city center. However, the local governor—afraid of alienating the indigenous population—stopped the plan. A few years later, Mussolini lost control of the country to the British, and Eritrea began a decade-long struggle to achieve full independence. This didn’t come until 1993, after a gruesome war with Ethiopia. Since then, the Eritrean capital has been in the process of reclamation and reappropriation of its colonial past and architectural legacy. In 2017, UNESCO declared the center of Asmara, including Aba Shawl, a world heritage site.
When asked why Asmarinos care so much about their city, a worker from its heritage office said: “These buildings might have been designed by the Italians, but it’s our grandfathers who built them, it’s us who preserved them and live in them. These buildings are our own buildings now.”
In 2009, architectural photographer Peter Aaron set out to Syria with his wife Brooke Allen, an author and professor of literature at Bennington College, and their two daughters. Armed with a Canon 5D modified to only register infrared light, Aaron began a two-week journey in a minivan to visit 15 sites across Syria. Put on exhibition at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, what began as a personal collection stemming from a family vacation has developed into the photographic project that is Syria Before the Deluge.
Since the start of the Syrian Civil War, there has been no dearth of imagery and footage bringing the horrors and destruction of the conflict to an international audience. The country’s history has been relegated to a veritable carousel slide projection of architectural and human destruction; Aleppo lies in Stalingrad-esque ruins while pent-up political and sectarian animosity has unleashed one calamity after the next, at a level not witnessed since the Yugoslav Wars. Syria Before the Deluge presents the country's ancient architectural heritage in 40 images of breathtaking detail, clearing the fog of war by casting a humanizing light on the war’s victims with scenes of daily life and placing the conflict within the vast continuity of the region’s civilization.
Traversing the country’s ancient urban centers of Damascus and Aleppo, through their many souqs, mosques, and labyrinthine streets, Aaron’s images display a vibrant contemporary society inhabiting the successive layers of the old. Remains of Roman civilization are embedded within these urban ensembles, sites such as Damascus’s Bab Sharqi, a Roman arch topped with a medieval minaret, have collected the accretions of time with Islamic and Roman architectural pieces—towering minarets and geometric spandrels—abutting contemporary concrete construction.
Outside of the country’s principal demographic centers, past the Aramaic-speaking mountain towns of Reef Demashq, the “dead cities” of northwestern Syria are depicted as moraine-like vestiges dotting the rugged arid landscape. The abandoned urban settlements, numbering over seven hundred, are the hallmarks of a Byzantine civilization that gradually vanished, with its Greco-Roman architectural language of archways, colonnades, and carefully proportioned stone ashlar. The author notes that the current refugee crisis afflicting Syria has led to a renewed life for the "dead cities" as an embattled shelter for those fleeing the civil war's armed factions.Where Syria Before the Deluge rises to a work of historical record is in Aaron's depiction of UNESCO World Heritage Sites now ravaged by the conflict. Palmyra's Temple of Bel, infamously exploded by ISIL, which documented the event for the world to see, is captured in its ruinous magnificence as a global exemplar of Greco-Roman and Middle Eastern architectural syncretism, with nearly 50-foot tall fluted Corinthian columns and detailed Middle Eastern scenes. Located less than 15 miles from the Turkish border, the Church of St. Simeon Stylites, now subject to multiple military incursions and aerial bombardments, still stands—complex stonework along its archways, pediments, remnants of vaults, and all. Considering their historical role as military bastions, it is none too surprising that the imposing Crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers and the Citadel of Aleppo have renewed their intended functions. Over their millennium-long existence, the forts, like Syria itself, have passed through the hands of Kurds, Christians, Ottomans, and Arabs, with Aaron capturing the layering of one civilization's architectural character over the next. It is on this note that the author expands: the general audience cannot "comprehend the intense concentration of ancient structures; many of them have been in continuous use for centuries and even millennia, through waves of different civilizations.” Through pictorially contextualizing the current civil war within Syria's successive waves of invasions, cultural flowering, and internal strife, Syria Before the Deluge inspires a degree of hope that the region will emerge again from the ruins.
Today the Trump administration announced the United States will leave UNESCO, the United Nations development agency, over the organization's alleged “anti-Israel bias.”
Leaving UNESCO might seem like typical Trump isolationism, but the U.S.'s beef with the organization goes back to previous administrations. After UNESCO accepted Palestinians as full members in 2011, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration axed its funding. With no funds forthcoming, the U.S. lost its vote in the agency in 2013.
The State Department briefly outlined its reasoning in a press release: "This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO."
The Israel controversy re-ignited this summer after UNESCO named Hebron's city center a Palestinian World Heritage Site. The city, one of the world's oldest, sits in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
UNESCO, officially the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is known mainly for naming and overseeing World Heritage Sites, a list that includes over 1,000 protected natural and built environments of great importance to humanity. In the U.S., listed sites include the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall, as well as national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Worldwide, UNESCO also promotes education, gender equity initiatives, access to culture and science, and the pursuit of liberal democratic ideals like freedom of expression.
The U.S. will withdraw on December 31, 2018, but will remain active in the group as a nonmember observer.
The Hall of Nations and the Nehru Pavilion are outstanding representatives of Indi’s post-independence architectural heritage and for this reason must be preserved. The Museum of Modern Art is fully committed to helping in any way we can to ensure the preservation of these important monuments of modern architectural culture.Meanwhile, an IPTO official told the New Indian Express: "the buildings were not categorized as heritage by the Heritage Conservation of Committee (HCC) as those are only 45-years-old. So, we have demolished those for the new project. Demolition of the Nehru Pavilion is still going on." Why does a trade promotion organization have agency in demolishing a building, you wonder? IPTO, it turns out, is backed by India's ministry of commerce and industry and is charged with promoting global trade. International expos and trade fairs used to be held at the Hall of Nations. Now IPTO has deemed the building surplus to requirements as it seeks a new venue, due to come in the shape of the Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre (IECC). You can view those plans here. "The layout plan of IECC, which inevitably involves demolition of these structures, has already been approved by statutory authorities concerned, like the Delhi Urban Arts Commission, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation, and the National Monuments Authority," the IPTO official added. To find out more about the Hall of Nations, watch a short documentary on the building below:
This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.
Preservation efforts aimed at recognizing and restoring Cuba’s storied architectural relics—long a pet project within professional and academic circles—might finally become mainstream as the country adopts market-based policies.
The implications of these economic and political changes for Cuba’s cultural heritage—much of which suffers from decades of deferred maintenance—are potentially vast and unknown. Architect Belmont Freeman, who has led many tours to Cuba on behalf of Docomomo and the Society of Architectural Historians, said, “There are a lot of cranes in Havana right now, every one of them related to a hotel project.”
Recent years have seen a ballooning interest in Cuba by international hoteliers. European luxury-hotel group Kempinski is set open its first hotel in Cuba this summer. The hotel will feature 246 rooms in the renovated Manzana de Gómez building, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was designed as Cuba’s first shopping mall in 1910. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is also entering Cuba by taking over operations of Havana’s neoclassical Hotel Inglaterra, the Hotel Quinta Avenida, and the colonial-era Hotel Santa Isabel. The move makes Starwood the first United States hotelier to enter the Cuban market since 1959. Hotel Quinta Avenida was renovated in 2016 and opened last summer. The Hotel Inglaterra, originally built in 1844, is expected to open in late 2017 after its renovation.
Real questions exist, however, not only in terms of the quality of these renovations, but also with regard to the status of other cultural, archeological, and architectural artifacts in the country. Cuba is home to a vast array of architectural history, including relics and sites important to the indigenous cultures that originally inhabited the island. However, colonial-era fortifications and more recent building stock, including successive waves of 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century development, make up the vast majority of structures across the country. What will happen to those less prominent and more sensitive relics? Many of the city’s inner neighborhoods are filled with eclectic Beaux Arts–style structures, while the outer city and its environs are a hotbed of proto- and early-modernism, with works like the Hotel Nacional by McKim, Mead & White from 1930 and the Habana Libre Hotel by Welton Becket with Lin Arroyo and Gabriela Menendez from 1958 standing out both in terms of architectural style and for their respective roles in local and international history.
Furthermore, the Revolution’s communist utopianism was codified through the prodigious production of radically progressive works of architecture by Cuban modernist architects. Those works include the expressionist National Schools of Art by Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi from 1961; the Brutalist Ciudad Universitaria Jose Antonio Echeverria (CUJAE) building by Humberto Alonso from 1961; and the vast neighborhoods of Habana del Este that are made up of locally derived designs modeled after Soviet modular apartments.
It is unclear if and when future building improvements are undertaken across the city, whether more recent works of architecture will be prized to the same degree as colonial-era works. Freeman painted a grim picture, saying, “There has been a steady pace of cosmetic refurbishment of old buildings in the colonial core of Old Havana, but (generally speaking) historic preservation efforts have not picked up in any significant way except for those related to tourism infrastructure.”
The effects of the recent formal economic and political changes in official policy are not necessarily new phenomena, however: Havana has strong track record of using historic preservation as an economic driver. The office of the City Historian, led by Eusebio Leal Spengler, has pioneered local attempts to embed the preservation and restoration of Old Havana’s neighborhoods into economic development plans. Old Havana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right, and while many projects in the colonial core have benefitted from Leal Spengler’s efforts—namely the restoration of Plaza Vieja and a slew of other properties the office has converted for hotel and tourismuses—many of the city’s early modernist and post-revolutionary architectural marvels sit in various states of decay and disrepair. The restoration of the National Art Schools was, until recently, slated for completion and renovation. Those efforts have petered out, subsumed by a new economic downturn following geopolitical turmoil in Venezuela, one of Cuba’s chief oil providers.
Cuban architect Universo Garcia Lorenzo, who was coordinating the renovations for the National Art Schools until the funding dried up, explained that with the Cuban government strapped for cash, major restoration projects in the country will have to rely on international funding. Some help is coming: The Italian government is funding the continuation of work on Gottardi’s School of Dramatic Arts and also, England’s Carlos Acosta International Dance Foundation was working to finance the rehabilitation of the ruined, Garatti-designed School of Ballet. But, Garcia Lorenzo said, “I can’t speculate now on when the restoration will be completed,” adding that despite the fact that Porro’s School of Plastic Arts and School of Modern Dance had been completely renovated in 2008, the current funding lapses meant there would be a shortage of funds “dedicated to maintaining those structures into the future.”
International funding cannot come soon enough, as the partially completed and dilapidated structures are exposed to the tropical elements. Garcia Lorenzo said, “Essentially, the three unfinished buildings are frozen in time, slowly decaying and waiting to be restored.”