Posts tagged with "UNESCO World Heritage Site":

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Trump pulls U.S. out of UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias

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.

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India flattens its iconic Hall of Nations building in New Delhi

On August 15, 1947, India became an independent state, free from Britain's colonial rule. In 1972, to mark the 25th anniversary of this momentous occasion, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi unveiled the Hall of Nations, designed by Indian architect Raj Rewal. A further twenty years on, however, the landmark building which once occupied the Pragati Maidan site has been demolished. Officially known as the Hall of Nations and Industries, the building was made from concrete cast in-situ and used a tesselating triangular structure to form a capped pyramid. It echoed the modernist manifestations of Chandigarh—a master planning project from Westerners Le Corbusier, Jane Drew, and Maxwell Fry. In 2016, Corbusier's Chandigarh Capitol Complex was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Speaking to the Quint, Rewal, an architect who studied in Delhi, said his work was "symbolic of an achievement by young architects in a newly-independent India, creating a style which could be constructed with limited means, yet be uniquely Indian." Rewal is a revered figure in India. In 1989, he was awarded the Gold Medal by the Indian Institute of Architects and his Hall of Nations building is considered to be his magnum opus. However, the Heritage Conservation Committee (HCC) maintained its ruling that only buildings older than 60 years can be considered for heritage status. These guidelines came into place just this February and the committee argued that because of this, Rewal had no legal right to preserve the building. Subsequently, the India Trade Promotion Organization (ITPO) decided the flatten the building and its neighboring Nehru Pavilion. As of yesterday, Rewal's work is now rubble. Attempts were made to save it, even in New York. Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, said:
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:
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As Cuba’s economy embraces global tourism, modernist works fall under threat

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.”

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VR tour of Wright’s Hollyhock House in the works

As part of a new project orchestrated by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in L.A.’s Barnsdall Park could soon be accessible to the public via virtual reality. The Mayan-Revival style home was built between 1919 and 1921 as Wright’s first Los Angeles–based residential commission and presaged the architect’s experimental “textile block” technology, a system Wright envisioned as a do-it-yourself solution for prefabricated building. The house is also considered the first work in the architect’s post-Prairie Style period. Previously, in Wright’s Prairie Style work, divisions between interior and exterior were stark and emphasized; with the Hollyhock House, that dichotomy gave way to a more fluid relationship between landscape and space, interior and exterior, presaging certain tendencies inherent in the coming modernism movement. The home was also an influential project on Wright understudy Rudolph Schindler. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007 and has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structure was renovated most recently starting in 2010 by architects Brenda Lavin & Associates, a $ 4.4 million modernization and restoration scheme that aimed to bring the structure back to its original luster. The DCA is seeking to make the relic more accessible to the general public and, more specifically, for patrons who cannot enter the building due to its noncompliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The historic status of the work makes ADA-focused retrofits impossible. Instead, DCA is working to transform the interiors of the structure into a virtual reality experience that can be accessed both on-site in Barnsdall Park and via the internet. According to DCA, the virtualization project could potentially increase the accessibility of the house by 210%, an increase that could perhaps boost physical attendance at the site, as well. The push would make the site’s bid for UNESCO status potentially more plausible. The nomination was organized by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and submitted as a group nomination including nine other Wright buildings, including the Fallingwater, Guggenheim, Taliesin, and Taliesin West projects in 2015. While the status of the nomination is still pending, the DCA proposal will be working its way toward approval by the Los Angeles City Council's Innovation, Grants, Technology, Commerce and Trade Committee, the full L.A. City Council, and ultimately, the L.A. Mayor’s office.