Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies

The Architectural and Townscape Heritage as a Factor Influencing Trends in Development

Jean Barthélemy


In addressing the complex role that culture can play in economic development, we must bring together a number of approaches from the greatest possible variety of viewpoints. Only the convergence of the studies resulting from these many lines of reasoning can lead to the formulation of objectives and recommendations which will be sufficiently relevant to be of use to society.

Each of the speakers will be expected to explain the specific basis and personal experience on which their thinking is founded. In this context, my viewpoint is that of a town-planner, architect and university teacher who for 30 years has been committed to the twofold aim of safeguarding the cultural diversity of the built-up environment and promoting modern architecture with emphasis on the ‘genius loci’. The day-to-day occurrences of practical experience in this field have provided me with insights and gradually revealed to me the cultural issues at stake today. Missions and expert evaluations conducted for UNESCO throughout the world have enabled me little by little to broaden this field of vision. I am therefore very much interested in the guidelines proposed by UNESCO in the framework of ‘creative diversity’.

The European experience of the heritage

You will remember that 30 years ago there were many town-planners and policy-makers who considered that the urban structure bequeathed to us by history was an unacceptable curb on progress as symbolized by economic development. In the most privileged regions, historic centres were doomed to self-destruction; the barbarous clashes between jumbled architectural styles, disrespect for scale, the swathes cut into towns by motorways, the massacre of trees, the gradual encroachment on open spaces and other attacks on the environment and culture were all generally recognized as the inevitable price of economic growth. Some people even dreamt of replacing historic centres by ‘real towns of the future’ planned for the convenience of cars and office blocks.

The question was, whether Europe was passively to accept the trivialization and cultural impoverishment of its territory.

In 1969, in a notable address to the European Conference of Ministers responsible for the Immovable Cultural Heritage, Prince Albert of Belgium - now King Albert II - aptly described the situation as follows:

We are beginning to realize that the preservation and enhancement of historic sites must form part of land-use planning, and be understood and recognized by the public at large, not as a nostalgic rearguard action by a select few, but as a modern concept’.

As regards the deep-rooted causes of the destruction of the heritage and the uglification of our living environment, he continued: ‘Vast interests are involved, and the partisans of humanism on the one hand, and the spirit of gain on the other, are not always equally armed’.

One could hardly be more direct and to the point. And this judgement confers its full scope on the undertaking to safeguard the heritage and place it in the mainstream of the future; in other words, the twofold commitment to:

  • protect old buildings while adapting them to changing lifestyles, and at the same time,
  • integrate new buildings into the framework fashioned by history.

Since then, there has been a regular succession of pro-heritage activities, greatly to the satisfaction of a growing number of individuals and associations for the protection of the immovable heritage. 1975 was proclaimed the European Architectural Heritage Year, a year which ended in a brilliant climax with the Amsterdam Congress, which defined the ‘integrated conservation’ concept as follows:

‘Integrated conservation:

  • is one of the major objectives of town and land-use planning;
  • involves the responsibility of local authorities and calls for citizen participation;
  • makes it necessary to adapt legislative and administrative measures;
  • requires appropriate funding;
  • calls for the promotion of professional methods, techniques and skills in restoration and rehabilitation.’

1981 saw the organization of the European Campaign for Urban Renaissance, with the slogan ‘Better Life for Towns’. Over more than a year, a vast movement of reflection spread through Europe: awareness-heightening by national committees, the choice and analysis of pilot projects to specify contemporary needs and find how best to meet them, international meetings, from Madrid to Delphi, on the main campaign themes and finally the great Berlin Conference which discussed, and defined in plenary session, the principles of a new town-planning doctrine and new methods of action compatible with the economic and cultural changes in today’s society. Rehabilitation and participation were the two key words to be inscribed in gold on the pediment of the Conference, which was the successful culmination of a long process of collective study.

Thus, as the debate develops, the ‘integrated conservation’ doctrine is seen not so much as a mere aesthetic approach but as truly central to human activity.

The globalization of the problem

At first sight it is by no means certain that this experience can be transposed to other continents. To begin with, there is the inevitable justified misgiving felt in other regions of the world about the promulgation of ideas and theses from ‘rich’ countries. A recognized failing of present-day societies is the servile adoption of general concepts which exert their influence regardless of their relevance or adaptability to a regional context. However, with the passage of time it has been realized that the end sought is precisely to combat any arbitrary oversimplified and reductionist tendency, by emphasizing:

  • a practical inductive method, in preference to deduction and abstraction;
  • a determination to gear action directly to the complexity of real situations;
  • the wise avoidance of preconceived ideas, and mistrust of demagogic slogans.

Three objectives, namely, that of preserving the architectural and townscape heritage, making it a proper part of the socio-economic future in all parts of the world and adapting new activities to local geographical and cultural contexts, are now regarded as entirely justified. The World Heritage List has helped this greatly by creating awareness of the extraordinary diversity and wealth of this prestigious heritage; and vernacular architecture, whose different merits are being increasingly revealed by recent studies, is included in this process.

To illustrate the role devolving on vernacular architecture, I cannot do better than relate a visit of mine to Côte d’Ivoire, to the village of Niablé, in the remote hinterland of the Agni.

In a camp for labourers harvesting coffee and cocoa beans, I went inside an adobe hut with a well-ventilated thatched roof set on a bamboo frame. Much can be learned from these ingenious building systems, which combine economy of means with inventive technology. I relaxed in a sort of deck chair, its first-class design providing a host of useful ideas on how to achieve perfect streamlining to fit the reclining human body, sturdiness and faultless industrial design. These all constitute unique irrefutable evidence of human ingenuity. We must reverently preserve this evidence. Naturally we must not try to replicate it, since times have changed. Human beings develop new needs in contact with other civilizations. Yet these lessons do have undeniable value by way of analogy. We should take as our example the ethic directly mirrored in these constructions.

However, it is the egregious mistakes made in flagrant contradiction with traditionalism that have furnished the best arguments for a wiser and more sensitive way of using space.

There is no denying that, as regards town-planning, the most spectacular case of disillusionment has been that of the new city of Brasilia. It was to have been a beacon, a universal model at long last delivered from the tyranny of roads, the ideal city, proud symbol of the triumph of technology and efficiency.

Alas, the contrast is dramatic between yesterday’s hopes and today’s reality. After 25 years, despite the gigantic efforts made and the conjunction of the most prestigious talents, the city has no life of its own. Broadly speaking, it is no more than a huge reddish desert with a few showpiece buildings dotted about.

The workers are cramped together some 30 kilometres away in satellite towns or improvised dormitory towns. As soon as they can afford it, civil servants escape from these surroundings and get contractors to build them smart little suburban houses on soulless housing estates.

Paradoxically, the authorities end up by listing and protecting the original temporary dwellings which housed the workers on the site. Sheltered by the leafy branches of tropical trees, these dwellings are still inhabited - indeed, fully inhabited. Over the years they have been lovingly embellished. It is an irony of fate that only a kilometre away from the modern town whose open spaces are forlorn lifeless wastelands, and where merely to walk from one building to another is an expedition in itself, a traditional town neighbourhood is radiant with life.

Sao Paulo is an equally evocative example. In this town teeming with life, where people go about their business in a crazily unplanned environment at the risk of being knocked down in the midst of motorways eating up the last few square metres of open space, a few hectares have survived, by a miracle as it were, where life is worth living and the bustle of nightlife is a joy to the inhabitants. These scattered pockets of activity, with their mingled smells of pizza and exotic fruit, are the only old districts to have withstood the madness of unbridled development; they are the only areas where the architectural heritage has survived the devastation created by property speculation.

Many similar examples might be cited: glass-walled buildings in the tropics, air-conditioned at great cost and often ineffectively, prefabricated five-storey dwellings exposed to the desert sun¼ There is a long list of the mistakes made in the context of development, regardless of the lessons of history; development which thinks that technology can override the elementary principles deriving from a careful study of sites, climate, local materials and resources and the history of the human race.

Broadening the concept of heritage

Thirty years ago, when the Venice Charter was being drawn up, recommending at international level a number of principles to guide work on historic monuments, very few of us imagined the scope subsequently to be acquired by what Françoise Choay describes as ‘the heritage cult’. Still fewer of us gauged the full significance that was to be ascribed to it, both in time and in space, ranging from ancient ruins to hydraulic lifts, from simple country cottages to vast urban zones.

This is an undeniably important fact of society, indisputably linked to the great collective disenchantment with the degradation and dehumanization of living conditions. It can even be argued that this reversal of attitude may be rooted much farther back in the collective subconscious . This would mean restating the entire problem of the conservation of sites and monuments from a new standpoint.

Year by year, the growing popular success of the European heritage days confirms the emergence of a genuinely ‘social’ perception of the architectural heritage which reflects the eminently emotional attitude underlying the recognition of the heritage.

The definition of the heritage is thus continually on the move. This is the result of a collective awareness, i.e. the fear of losing familiar landmarks which are the very foundation of our memory of places and atmospheres. The aim is to preserve living environments, not merely built-up sites.

It is in this context that the intangible cultural heritage takes on its full significance: languages, dialects, oral traditions, accents, customs, handicrafts, religious and popular festivals and markets are all evidence of an age-old culture firmly anchored in each specific neighbourhood and combining to create its overall local colour. Throughout the world this heritage is at risk from the pressure of an artificially concocted culture owing its success to the media and unbridled commercial backing. It must be recognized that the gradual disappearance of these various facets of the intangible cultural heritage is a serious blow to the ‘spirit’ of place, the coherent atmosphere of urban environments and the global authenticity of cultural identity.

Identifying in each country the intangible heritage and, above all, those who possess the necessary skills, is undeniably a priority of any action to protect cultural diversity, one of the most threatened treasures of humankind.

The need to go back to our ethical sources

Today, we must ask ourselves what is to be the future of the extraordinary cultural wealth bequeathed to us by history. Is there not a risk that this tangible historical input will be effaced by a world launched on the great adventure of high technology?

This is the fundamental question we need to ask ourselves.

Modern societies are developing in an infernal spiral that levels everything in its path. The best jostles with the worst, and individuals lose their bearings, alternatively panic-stricken by a flood of disasters and instances of appalling behaviour, and attracted by the intoxicating idea of technological progress. Each day has its trail of events which confirm our perplexity. The post-industrial era is no longer at the gates; it has entered into everyday life.

The fate of the cultural heritage as a whole is directly bound up with this changing scene. We cannot deny the evidence that our thinking can no longer be confined to in-depth scientific considerations on specific subjects strictly limited to our individual expert field. Society expects us to take part in devising new objectives for humankind and to enrich the socio-economic debate by injecting into it a humanistic vision drawing its inspiration from the sources of the heritage.

The inescapable fact is that, as regards the quality of life, the achievements of industrial society are less appealing than we might have expected from all the ingenuity and efforts put into them.

The destruction of basic environmental balances, the growing heaps of waste material of all kinds, the spread of selfish materialism, the extremes of degrading commercialism, the widening economic gap between rich and poor countries¼ virtually every month brings its share of alarming news to arrest our attention.

These disasters, apparently so different in kind, have points in common. They concern human beings directly, both physically and intellectually. Whether they affect health or the quality of the living environment, they are the result of a state of mind which finds satisfaction in elementary economic calculations. Selfishly individualistic and collectively damaging, they are all the result of a non-ethical outlook.

It is therefore incumbent on us to construct an ethic that will be adapted to our high-tech society.

In my view, this is the real challenge of the future.

Land-use management

One aspect of this challenge is land-use management, an increasingly basic challenge for the human race. Undeniable proof of this is the fact that the most authoritative international monitoring organizations, such as the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), whose economic dimension indicates by definition the major thrust of its thinking, are beginning to express concern.

A consolidated report on the urban environment drawn up following many expert studies states that the studies already carried out under OECD programmes on urban economic development show that improving the quality of the environment in our towns is in many respects an essential prerequisite for their economic renewal. It has now become obvious that improving the quality of the environment in our towns is in many cases a prerequisite for economic growth. The report goes on to say that the field of application of urban environment improvement policies is vast, since it comprises town-planning, housing policy, utilities, urban economic policy, the protection of the urban framework, environmental improvement, traffic regulation, waste management and recycling, energy management and the protection of the natural world. In applying these policies it is often necessary to combine different measure. It is particularly desirable to supplement these measures wherever possible by economic instruments and introduce incentives and counter-incentives, taking into account the threat of the potential cost of urban activities to urban environments.

In other words, it is much better, even economically, to make good land-use planning choices rather than accept approximate alternatives known to be inadequate which then have to be offset by costly technological contrivances. We must not justify the sickness by its medical treatment.

These considerations indicate how far we have come in the most specialized economic centres of thought.

The deficiencies of economic indicators

It is worth while making a detour into the field of economics in order to give greater substance to our reflection.

After the Second World War, all were agreed that the priority objective should be economic growth. It was necessary to measure this. A practical method had to be found based on easily accessible statistics. Since national production consists of extremely heterogeneous elements, only the monetary movements taking place at the time of financial transactions indicate quantifiable easily-processed data. It is on this basis that Gross National Product aggregates all the ‘added values’ recorded in each country’s annual economic activities. This is the yardstick for measuring annual growth which has been used for the last 20 years to present the evidence of well-being and progress to public opinion.

Yet these indicators are seriously flawed by gaps which falsify our judgement. The first is that they are blind to the social utility of each operation. They lump together industrial production and the cost of the ensuing harmful effects, the cost of new building and that of demolishing what was there before. Obviously such calculations yield countless absurd results, already noted with dry humour. For example, the total demolition of the Belgian town of Mons, and its identical reconstruction, would substantially increase GNP! Obviously we must abandon this erroneous type of accounting in favour of what Philippe Saint-Marc calls a ‘net satisfaction criterion’. This would distinguish between activities which genuinely help to improve well-being, those which reconstitute or seek to offset the loss of well-being, and those which run counter to well-being.

A second mistake is the gross failure to take account of the borrowings levied on nature and the heritage. To take the same example, the destruction of Mons would be itself a fine contribution to growth, thanks to the money spent on such a dire undertaking. Yet the irreparable economic, social and cultural damage would never be recorded in the accounts. This is the harsh and horrifying reality.

Thirdly, it must be clearly noted that by its nature, no unpaid act can have any effect on this curious GNP yardstick. Though the social balance sheet may be excellent, though a climate of mutual support and friendship may promote voluntary aid to the destitute and activities to encourage the arts, the economic indicator shows no reaction.

These incomplete measuring instruments are dangerous on account of their fascination, which may lead us into a fool’s paradise.

In a famous article, John Kenneth Galbraith, professor of economics at Harvard University, confirmed the absurdity of these defective yardsticks. He noticed that tourists from major industrial cities flocked every summer to visit the remains of pre-industrial civilizations. Why? Because towns such as Athens, Florence, Venice and Kyoto, though extremely poor by the standards of modern cities, had inherent in their daily life a much greater proportion of beauty. As the ethical dimension was not within the scope of the industrial system, the members of that system naturally considered it negligible. Yet, to a much greater extent than the very facile yardstick of production, that of aesthetic achievement will one day be decisive for a society which cares about progress’.

So economic indicators are surprisingly undeveloped on the subject of the heritage. Whether natural or architectural, the heritage is the first victim of the system, through the disregard of borrowings from nature and the heritage, indifference to the social utility of works, and ignorance of any value deemed to be unquantifiable, in particular aesthetic value.

New models are now being studied which will in the end succeed in gaining recognition.

The duty to steer growth

The merit of these new indicators will be to change the debate. The argument will no longer be about growth rates, but about the right direction for growth.

A new ethical trend is emerging as the inevitable alternative to unbridled industrial growth. It will, of course, take time to gain ground, and it will not be easy, since it will upset many of our habits and readjust the balance in many situations. It will mean respecting durability and quality, taking into account the real environmental costs of each operation, and it will advocate recycling, adapting and refurbishing. It will be wary of gigantism, and for each project, task or team, will seek the reasonable appropriate scale suitable to the ends sought. It will open up exhilarating prospects for those who, in a world of megalomania and depersonalization, jealously preserve the love of initiative, responsibility, creativity and workmanship.

With this in mind, the general objectives are in my view clear. Where industrial society has led to repetitive tasks and enslavement to the machine, we must reinstate initiative and creativity. Where it has led only to standardization, we must reintroduce the topographical and cultural dimensions which constitute the ‘spirit’ of a place. Where it has led to pollution and environmental degradation, we must upgrade the quality of life. Waste and disorder must give way to wisdom and coherence. Where only the short term has been taken into account, we must now think of the long term.

It is amusing to recall that, as far back as 1851, in his report to the French Government on the great Crystal Palace exhibition in London, the Comte de Laborde concluded by expressing a somewhat similar hope: ‘Human life has been improved by the machine; I should like it now to be embellished’. In fact this hope came to nothing, but it can be looked on as achievable if we succeed in making judicious use of the tremendous resources made available by the new technologies.

The marriage of the pre- and post-industrial worlds

We must, however, keep an eye on the utilization thresholds of these new tools. There is no doubt that they can be further developed and fine-tuned in their fields of application. The mind is incapable of grasping all their possibilities as a back-up for analysis, planning and management of the world we live in, but we must be aware of the limits to their field of operation.

To be more specific, let us take a familiar field, that of the building industry. It must be recognized that the process which will have to be introduced with a view to industrializing construction comes up directly against two inevitable obstacles:

  • the diversification of problems due to the disparity and dispersion of the sites concerned;
  • the impossibility of forgoing the advantages of mass construction in order to find the right answer to the elementary physical laws of architecture.

The tragedy of the industrialization of the building industry is staring us in the face.

Here I recall a significant event. I remember 30 years ago hearing Marcel Lods, one of the most famous French architects and a wholehearted believer in industrialization, comment scathingly on the appalling contrast between construction methods in the automobile and real estate industries: on the one hand, mass production, shortly afterwards to be automated; and on the other, an antiquated system, scarcely mechanized at all, still based on the wheel-barrow and the trowel.

It was with a bitter feeling that, 15 years later, I found myself on a building site near Rouen looking at an industrial housing estate designed by Marcel Lods: newly installed metal frames already eaten by rust, thin dividing walls which were the opposite of soundproof¼ I was sincerely saddened to the see the collapse of the hopes and beliefs of a talented old architect.

I can give you other examples of the failure of idealistic theories.

It is worth noting the progress of the thought of an outstanding exponent of architectural futurology, Yona Friedman. Twenty-five years ago he planned a huge metal lattice-work construction 30 metres above the rooftops of Paris, on which prefabricated elements would be placed by helicopter. The advantage of the system would be that these elements could be easily replaced as technologies developed.

Friedman also wrote and illustrated a small textbook for the Council of Europe in connection with the European Architectural Heritage Year. It contained a drawing of children playing football in the street, and was entitled ‘Your town belongs to you’. In 1980, for the European Campaign for Urban Renaissance, he enlarged on this in another very explicit brochure. This was an astonishing U-turn of opinion which was particularly revealing of a revolution in ways of thinking.

Far from being unimportant, this was an undeniable turning-point which we should remember in order to reinforce our convictions. With the continuing advance of technology, we are increasingly aware of the senselessness of the efforts made to adapt all human activities to the same standards and make them comply with the same productivity levels. In my view, this is a fundamental point. Construction is central to the debate.

The fact is that while some organizational and conceptual aspects of construction can be easily fitted into the highest of high technologies - the computer is a very valuable aid in carrying out the tasks of design and monitoring - by contrast, other aspects of construction are inevitably much more the concern of pre-industrial skills¼ at least if the aim is to achieve a certain level of efficiency and quality. The challenge thus facing construction is how to succeed in making these two worlds live in harmony side by side, with the objective of producing a high-quality living environment.

Moreover on second thoughts, the pre- and post-industrial worlds, which are at first sight so strongly contrasted, are in agreement when it comes to the most sensitive human aspects:

  • the high level of training, creativity and professional ethics required for all those actively involved;
  • as a corollary, the tremendous satisfaction felt by all those who apply them with sincere conviction.

It is quite possible that we may end up by looking on the industrial age as a parenthesis - admittedly an indispensable one in the development of societies - but a limited one pending the advent of a world which harvests the most precious fruits of earlier civilizations and combines them with its own new resources.

Putting our trust in humankind

How to leave behind the polluting and enslaving stage of human development and bring about the harmonious existence of the world of artificial intelligence alongside that of craft skills (the two technological poles essential to the quality of human life) - such is precisely the challenge of the future.

Naturally, we must realize what we are doing; if we are trying to trace the lines of force of the future, it is with the secret - and justifiable - aim of influencing its course. Forecasting the future means inevitably putting our trust in humankind.

Pessimists will always imagine society making the wrong choice; creating, as it were, a fatal gulf between an ‘elite’ obsessed with increasingly sophisticated technologies on the one hand, and on the other the majority of society, with nothing to do, fiddling with video games and fruit machines, living in the foul and sordid atmosphere of an environment which has spun out of control.

This nightmarish vision must be discarded, if we do not wish to lose all faith in humanity.

Recognizing afresh the value of skills

I have compared these two scenarios because in my view they provide the best reasons for preserving the architectural, and in particular the urban, heritage; also the best reasons for promoting the advent of a new architecture and new town-planning based on the extraordinary wealth represented for humankind by the diversity of human cultures and the impressive range of their specific features in different parts of the world.

With this in mind, today’s architecture can embark on persevering investigations with a view to devising tomorrow’s models for living environments and town-planning. We now know that the excessive technological sophistication that is the culmination of an ‘all-purpose’ international architecture is not only ill-suited to people’s cultures and customs, but also too expensive to be provided for the majority of the population. We must therefore seek out an architecture more attuned to each locality, better adapted to the climate, more concerned with making proper use of available local materials, natural resources and skills, and, in a word, closer to people and cultures. The architecture of tomorrow will turn its back on the aridity, uniformity and inhuman arrogance of industrial models, and rediscover the poetry, complexity and friendliness of the quality of life that we all long to see.

In my view, the basic structure and the finishing touches to a building should rely to a great extent on the skills of professionals and craftworkers, whose important socio-economic role should at long last be recognized; while the furnishing and fittings of buildings should, without hesitation, increasingly rely on the marvellous input from high-tech industries.

In this way, every form of technology, from the most traditional to the most revolutionary, will have its own logically defined role, fully adapted to the functional requirements of the task incumbent on it in the process of constituting the human living environment.

Firmly convinced of this, we shall live through an absorbing period in human history in which tradition will no longer be despised. Such a revival is in fact both logical and natural, as the expression of the quest for a new balance and a new harmony to take the place of flagrant excesses. Trying to apply worldwide the same inflexible simplistic approaches, disavowing centuries of history, imposing universal standards, ignoring the whole fabric of culture and customs woven from the gradual adaptation of communities to geography and climate - anything of this kind is totally doomed to failure.

In a world of standardization and increasing interdependence, human beings feel the need for identity, the need to see themselves as links in the long chain of descent whose distinctiveness they help to perpetuate. In this quest, the architectural and townscape heritage plays a fundamental part. It is the obvious significant benchmark which serves as a witness and a reference. It is a providential escape from anonymity.

Past centuries have fashioned the ‘genius loci’ in such differing geographical contexts, driven by such complex dynamic forces, that it is certainly the richest cultural field of study that can be addressed by the inquiring human spirit.

The lessons of the immovable cultural heritage

This being the case, how can we now define the concept of the immovable cultural heritage?

First it is naturally, in all its component parts - from the general organization of land-use in towns to the smallest architectural vestige - the concrete expression of the idea of the durability of humankind, the irrefutable trace left by the great human chain which, from one generation to the next, has helped to create our everyday environment. It makes us aware of the ‘duration’ of history, the ‘solidity’ of time on which to base the ideas of chronology and continuity. It is thus the most practical approach to a feeling of human solidarity in time and an understanding of the importance of citizenship; a kind of collective heritage, for which we share democratic responsibility. By participating in the protection of this common heritage so as to hand on this visible historical testimony to future generations, we shall be acting as ‘responsible citizens’.

But there are also other lessons from the cultural heritage which today are of fundamental value. In whatever part of the world it lies, the architectural heritage is the fruit of intensive cross-cultural exchanges going far beyond frontiers and oceans. What would St Mark’s Basilica in Venice have been like without the artistry of the Byzantine world? The great adventure of the Romanesque churches of France cannot be understood without reference to the influence of the great monasteries of the Ottonian German emperors. The Renaissance, which spread throughout Europe, sprang from the artistic and cultural developments of the Italian quattrocento; even the Kremlin and the banks of the Moskva River bear its imprints. The Baroque churches which are the pride of the Mexicans are an intercontinental heritage.

‘Cross-heritages’ are one way of establishing human relations. The acid test of a ‘cross-heritage’ is its ability to accommodate exchanges, tolerance and reciprocity.

Such is the European immovable cultural heritage, an undeniable source of rapprochement and understanding between peoples, provided one knows how to listen to its heartbeat and learn from it. This makes each of us realize the importance of creating awareness of the architectural heritage.

We must bow to the evidence: all over the world urban heritages which have been largely ignored for decades are now attracting special attention. In many cases, their protection is not due to government authorities but is the result of an awakening of public consciousness. The reason is that this heritage is the unique landmark which gives us our bearings in time and space; it is the memory which nurtures the mind, and allows intelligent creativity to blossom.

Creativity based on the diversity of the heritage

This is the wager in which I place all my hopes: primarily, belief in the possibility of uniting people in the cause of objectives adapted to the post-industrial age. Here the architectural and townscape heritage naturally takes pride of place; to quote Françoise Choay, it also confers ‘the competence to build’. Of course nothing is possible if we do not take the unprecedented step of going back to basic ethics. Young people are the first to feel this.

Let us make no mistake. The historical process which created and modelled towns cannot be abruptly halted. The urban image, the awareness of the past, has never ceased to evolve. It would be paradoxical if, on history’s behalf, we were artificially to arrest its development.

The rejection of any degradation of the urban image should never mean opposition to change, or a cult of the past. At the same time, the scope afforded to present-day changes should not entail the loss of urban identity. In the past, there were those who presented the problem posed in these terms as an insoluble dilemma. There are, in fact, towns which seem to have sacrificed everything to an unquenchable thirst for change, and others which on the contrary seem to bind the future hand and foot out of exaggerated deference to the past.

Fortunately, there is now no lack of examples to show that this is only a surface dilemma, since the forms corresponding to the needs for change are usually many and varied, and can thus be adapted to the requirements of each site. In the best of cases, today’s contribution enriches the town with a new stratum which has the added merit of bringing it up to date. The integration of new architecture into urban sites and the restoration of ancient buildings provide subjects for research and experiment which fascinate the best architects of our time and give rise to fruitful exchanges of ideas in schools of architecture.

Creative imagination, the fecundity of which cannot be denied or minimized, can embark on a new course. Far from setting aside reality, it should on the contrary become permeated with it, and grasp its full complexity. It no longer starts by distancing itself from what already exists. The layout of a site is no longer a constraint to be got round technically, but a given which stimulates an original solution. The special features of the urban environment are reference elements which guide research towards strengthening the character of a site.

Training needs

Let us review the situation and prospects outlined above so as to grasp the training problems implied.

How should we account for the degradation of the heritage and the pollution of the environment? By a shortage of qualified expert restorers? No, the causes lie much deeper. As each of us can see in our countries, these causes are individualism run riot, personal glorification, the profit motive and property speculation, the pervasive influence of advertising, commercialism, childish regulations and ‘red tape’ - in a word, the downside of an arrogant civilization which has disdainfully severed its ties with the past.

Future prospects clearly indicate that we are called on to reassess our land-use management and to devise a new humanism.

Stress must be laid on the multiplicity and diversity of the categories of people in all walks of life who are concerned with the architectural heritage and therefore very directly involved. Developers, planners, economists, private and public sector managers, property promoters, lawyers, jurists, engineers, contractors, craftworkers, tourist agents, etc. - there is an almost endless list of partners who, sometimes without being aware of it, bear a substantial share of responsibility for the changes made to the heritage. They cannot be left out of the educational process. To imagine today that it is possible to restrict action to a limited circle consisting chiefly of architects, historians and curators is an error and represents a real threat to any effective process for the overall revitalization of the architectural, townscape and environmental heritage.

This recognition of the need to widen our interest in education is the first marker to be noted as a preliminary to all subsequent reflection.

The questions are: what effective action can be taken with this in mind? how can we create awareness in different sectors of society? how can we instil the idea of respect for the cultural heritage into such varied operational contexts and professional circles? how do we start to tackle the problem?

We all know that it is in childhood, the time when memory absorbs and builds up its stores, when awareness of forms and matter takes shape, that the essence of human behaviour is fashioned, and that awareness of oneself and one’s relations with the environment develops. It is obviously here, during the specially impressionable period of a child’s early years, that major emphasis should be laid on renewing environmental education as a link with both past and future.

In a noteworthy report, Professor Piero Gazzola, the first President of ICOMOS, wrote:

Courses on environmental problems should not be confined to trainee architects but should be capable of interesting students in general

The truth of the matter is that for a community and each of its members, the only effective kind of savoir-faire is that of being in harmony with one’s architectural surroundings, of participating in the creation of a new environment; and this means a dynamic conception of the environment’.

This is the paramount goal on which we should set our sights. Let us not delude ourselves: with the exception of isolated cases resulting from a rare combination of circumstances, the protection and enhancement of the heritage and its insertion into an appropriate urban framework will be conditional on the results of this effort. ‘There is an ever growing need for humanist basic education, which should also continue into the first years at university, sandwiched between technical disciplines and special subjects’ was Piero Gazzola’s recommendation.

We can therefore draw three conclusions:

1. The field of action of educational reform should not be confined solely to special higher education.

2. The training guidelines to be recommended go far beyond present curricula content, and are primarily of an ethical nature.

3. One objective will be to give each discipline its rightful place without disturbing the coherence of the training programme as a whole.

It must be borne in mind that specialist training is not confined to specialized courses. While a child’s early education has little influence in the technical field, from the human point of view the outlook of the individual is formed continuously over a long period. We must therefore list the educational objectives to be sought from primary school onwards in order to inculcate a more perceptive attitude to the environment and greater awareness of the problems of integrated conservation.

In the general context of the environment, the objectives are clearly recapitulated in the Belgrade Charter. Experiments with 5 to 7 year-olds show that even at this age one can stimulate children to think about their urban environment by introducing the subject of how to build a village. Their lively imagination transforms building blocks into captivating houses and cardboard strips into asphalt roads, and they thus gain an overall idea of the complexity of the main conflicting choices involved in planning. In primary schools there is no need to dwell on the long-term impact of exercises in observing and describing the living environment, such as critical analysis of the advantages, disadvantages and dangers of certain paths taken.

The vital problem is how to revive in each of us the lost faculty of a sound understanding of form, the spirit of observation and a desire to analyse one’s impressions. It is surely paradoxical that the developing democratization of education should have coincided with a debasement of common sense in relation to the living environment and a wide swing away from the culture of architecture. This culture is all too often identified with committing to memory superficial images, with unexpectedly naive and pretentious results. There is an urgent need to make a huge effort of educational renewal which will replace today’s simple-minded respect for form by a sound appreciation of architectural criteria. Environmental awareness-heightening courses must cease to be superficial, and lay greater emphasis on observation and analysis. The teaching of the history of architecture should bring out the features common to successive styles which unite examples of the architecture of all periods and help pupils to discover the extraordinary interdependence of form, function and structure.

The fact that public opinion is so easily permeated by advertising and commercialism carried to extremes is another influence which should be set right at the level of secondary education. After that, it is too late.

The field of application of educational reform should extend to all levels, with emphasis at the primary and secondary levels on:

  • the habit of observation;
  • perception of images;
  • a critical approach;
  • creativity;
  • awareness of community solidarity;
  • pride in the values of the past;
  • respect for the environment.

Awareness-heightening and educational activities for young people

A symposium held at UNESCO Headquarters in December 1989 on introductory training for young people on the architectural heritage recommended that:

1. architectural heritage training be seen as a fundamental means of finding one’s bearings in time and space so as to use one’s origins as a basis for building the future;

2. heightening awareness of the architectural heritage be placed in its overall context, including both its integration in the built-up natural environment and its role in binding human groups together;

3. account be taken of the dynamic dimension of the architectural heritage, by studying both the process of architectural creation and ancient buildings;

4. a knowledge of traditional skills reveal the stores of intelligence and creativity accumulated by past generations, hence the responsibility devolving on us to be worthy of them by participating in the safeguarding of the heritage and constituting a high-quality living environment;

5. students be taught to appreciate not only the universal values of the architectural heritage of humankind but also the specific features which bear witness to the diversity of cultures, geographical contexts and changing societies.

In a word, this is a philosophy of action combining awareness of past values with recognition of the social responsibilities involved in any action affecting the heritage: a philosophy which sets out to arouse creativity and to guide it on lines, not of a break with its origins, but of a deep-rooted human continuity of culture.

A synergy to be developed

Let me once again use an illustration to stress the worldwide dimension of this movement. In Côte d’Ivoire, in the country of the Kong, action needs to be taken to safeguard the mosque in an admirable Senufu village which bears profoundly human testimony to an age-old culture still alive today. The attitudes and professional competence required to tackle problems of this kind are far removed from the normal training of an architect or curator.

We are looking at an extremely wide range of cultural, social and economic conditions which impinge on training needs. Even if the basic aims are only moderately affected by these conditions, the strategies and priorities to be promoted in education differ profoundly throughout the world.

We have to realize that these awareness-heightening and training efforts, at their very different levels, are all essential. Expert training is meaningless if not backed up by an informed and actively participating population. Conversely, general awareness-heightening, and in particular that for young people, is meaningless if it comes up against the inability of experts to translate into scientific and methodological terms the community aspiration towards a high-quality environment. These are not contradictory but complementary elements: a genuine synergy must be created.

What is vital - and it is not all that easy - is to ensure the convergence of all these efforts of awareness-heightening, education and vocational training at all levels. This is difficult because it involves increasing numbers of people and experts, and also, to be frank, more and more susceptibilities. We shall have to break down numerous barriers, devised by society in the interests of efficiency, between the different intellectual disciplines.

Not the least problem will be to restore to pride of place the skills of the craftworker, an essential partner whose merits are not always prized as they should be. In this connection, the Japanese concept of the conservation of the heritage, with special emphasis on the handing down of ancestral art by craftworkers, makes an undeniable contribution to reflection on culture.

In economically underprivileged countries, this living tradition still survives in many cases, but it is threatened. Its continuing survival calls for urgent protection against the insidious lures of other cultures.

A symbolic conclusion

Since youth is the leaven of society, it is in its simmering cauldron that we can see the premises of the future. Youth feels most acutely the undying human aspiration to change. Naturally, like Brownian movement, its tremendous energy appears to be entirely random. It disperses and scatters in response to countless impulses sending it in all directions.

Yet certain trends of thought eventually emerge from this teeming activity. Some values go out of fashion, others acquire new attraction. To the careful observer of these slow changes which guide the future of humankind, the reinstatement of cultural identity, of respect for its roots, is a very obvious if somewhat unexpected phenomenon. Who would have thought only 50 years ago that young people would experience such a need to trace back their sources to regional cultural specificities? Who would have suspected that the futuristic energies purveyed by the apostles of industrial modernism would lose their fascination in less than half a century?

Let us get this clear. Young people are thrilled by the outermost fringes of high technology: informatics, automation, the audiovisual revolution, etc. But they reject the living environment which takes the form of anonymous tower blocks rearing up to the sky, and they continue to long for the charm of old-world houses. Some may think this a contradictory attitude, but I totally disagree. The fact is that we stand at the threshold of the post-industrial era. Youth feels this, and has the intuition that this new stage in universal history will have to be founded on a new social contract. The essential features of this contract appear immediately beneath the surface of these apparently contradictory fields. What we have to do is to organize the harmonious coexistence of human activities at the two extremes of production modes: computer-assisted design and pre-industrial skills, which form two contrasted facets, but each essential to the other, of a single process aimed at achieving quality and the expression of individuality.

Young people’s education in and familiarization with the architectural heritage firmly embody this vision of a future in which youth, the pledge of human ingenuity transcending the industrial era, will be associated with the heritage, testimony to immemorial skills. Surely this association is a marvellous symbol of the hopes of humankind.


UNESCO should:

1. Participate actively in a universal growth of awareness of the social and cultural issues at stake with the advent of the post-industrial era, and to this end

  • at the highest possible level, alert the bodies and institutions responsible for development throughout the world (OECD, World Bank, etc.) to the urgent need to redefine the major objectives of humankind in view of the upheavals caused by high-tech industry;
  • promote all necessary initiatives and research designed to incorporate social and cultural dimensions (environmental protection, aesthetics, durability, etc.) into economic assessments, in particular through the adoption of new indicators;
  • organize more working meetings, seminars, symposia and conferences on broad multidisciplinary lines to discuss guidelines for the economic and financial mechanisms to be promoted with a view to improving the living environment in all its diversity.

2. Take awareness-heightening, education and training for young people as its priority guideline, with particular reference to the architectural and townscape heritage, and to this end

  • organize periodically pluridisciplinary international meetings on this subject in order to gather and compare the results of experiments conducted throughout the world;
  • set up an educational databank and an international network accessible to all the experts concerned;
  • encourage pilot projects (young people’s work camps, etc.) for the restoration of the immovable heritage in all regions of the world.

3. Work to achieve recognition of the dignity of craftsmanship and its place in society, and to this end

  • encourage Member States to collect data on traditional skills;
  • help to set up databanks;
  • award fellowships for exchanges and further study;
  • recommend that Member States lay emphasis on the continuing preservation of the architectural heritage.

4. Promote the decentralization of and citizen participation in land-use planning, and to this end

  • request Member States to take all necessary steps (organization of heritage days, creation of advisory committees, decentralized decision-making, grants to public utility bodies, etc.) to make citizens aware of their responsibility for the heritage;
  • organize international meetings for exchanges of experience in participation.

Members States should:

1. List as fully as possible all the values that go to make up both the built-up and the intangible heritage, in particular the traditional structures of towns and villages and vernacular architecture.

2. Give priority to the restoration of the architectural heritage and the integration of new buildings into the traditional urban framework.

3. Introduce sensitization to the world of form at all levels of education (observation skills, spatial perception, a critical approach, creativity, awareness of community solidarity, a pride in the values of the past, respect for the environment).

4. Arrange for the collection and computerization of data on community savoir-vivre.

5. Reinstate the values of traditional building trades.

6. Help to institute genuine citizen participation in the safeguarding and enhancing of the living environment.

Jean Barthélemy teaches architecture at the University of Mons, Belgium. He is also a Professor at the Leuven Study Centre for the Conservation of the Architectural and Townscape Heritage (Belgium) and Visiting Professor to the Universities of São Paulo, Cherubusco, Valencia and Buenos Aires. He has conducted numerous missions as a Council of Europe and UNESCO expert. He is a well-known architect and the author of studies, articles and publications on the protection of the architectural heritage.

"Recasting cultural policies"
Jean Barthélemy
Bennett & Mercer
Néstor García Canclini
Cliche, Mitchell & Wiesand
Jérôme Huet
Britt Isaksson
Lofti Maherzi
Sally Jane Norman
Michiro Watanabe
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) A new globlal ethics
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) Recasting cultural policies
General introduction
recasting cultural policies