ICCROM Built Heritage Forum at Tongji: Third Day Site Visit

On the last day, we visited two buildings in Shanghai, one slaughter house built in 1920s and Shanghai Centre finished in 2015. The former was an Arts and Crafts building purpose built as a slaughter house. Made in concrete and with the architect unknown, the design was different from any building found in Shanghai.

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ICCROM Built Heritage Forum at Tongji: First Day Morning Session Notes

The common themes during the morning speeches:

  • Heritage is not about admiring heritage itself but the value for development
  • Man = heritage/heritage = man
  • Heritage is not static
  • Heritage needs to be more process-driven and contribute to urbanisation
  • Destruction of heritage in China is too fast = protection is not fast enough
  • Culture as driver
  • Combine theory and practice
  • Heritage as an asset/resource

Alain Marinos from Chaillot in Paris

  • Case studies of heritage places utilized by the new generation and ‘third spaces’ in France
  • La Halle Pajol in Paris, his son works in there as one of the start-ups
  • Parc de la Vilette by Tsumi
  • The project is started by the community
    • It is from the ground up and government performs a supporting role to enable its visualisation
    • The government has since then been able to use this as a case study to support other kinds of community activities
    • What is essential is the community and their initiative

陈薇教授 from Northeast University

  • 金陵大报恩寺与塔的前世今生
  • Jin Ling Da En Temple and Tower
  • The tower had a heritage that existed in words, not in physical form
    • That is representative of Chinese heritage which was transmitted differently than Western heritage
  • The tower exists as ruins in some parts and completely absent in others
  • Different sections merit different strategies of conservation
    • Based on their historical importance
    • Issue of authenticity is key
    • How do you connect pieces?
    • How do you reconstruct history?
    • Framework is the most important to connect the pieces
      • From that people would be able to perceive and imagine with and within the framework – they can become active participants
    • That framework knowledge is understood through surveying and evaluating

张杰教授

  • 景德镇工业遗产
  • Regeneration of ceramic industrial heritage in Jingde Town
  • Intangible heritage and transmission/dissemination
  • Three key pointers
    • Conservation through social and economic development
    • Public space and urban infrastructure
    • Continuity of craftsmanship
  • Use industry as a driver of urban development (also providing employment)

ICCROM Built Heritage Forum at Tongji: Background Information on ICCROM

Built Heritage: A Cultural Motivator for Urban and Rural Development

In terms of ICCROM, the international organisation is more focused on training in the heritage sector. In terms of size, the order would be UNESCO > ICOMOS > ICCROM. In terms of operations, UNESCO takes charge of listing, ICOMOS takes charge of recommendations and identification and ICCROM in terms of training and education of people in practice. ICOMOS has been referred by people in the field (e.g. Matthias) as a ‘black box’, talking about its dire need to be more transparent and become less of a club and more of an inclusive organisation. UNESCO’s top-down approach of Charters and documents have also been commented on as being not effective on the ground, or even not been cared about. The ICCROM is, on the other hand, a much less known branch in built heritage. However, it is associated with WHITRAP, a training arm of UNESCO and was started in Suzhou, as an initiative by the Chinese government to bring people together since 2004.

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Buildings Must Die?

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Drawings of site 5 (East Shrine) showing wear and tear

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Drawings of site 5 (East Shrine) showing wear and tear

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One of the main characteristics of buildings in Guangzhou, which has a relatively humid climate, is how humidity changes their materials. As we see in the drawings above, water has risen above the course of stone on the ground and seeped into many of the brick walls. Over time, some of the bricks are corroded.

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When we say wear and tear, it is so very often that this is something to be repaired. The building is ‘sick’ and needs active input to stop it from its natural course. This reminds me of the book Buildings Must Die by Stephen Cairns and Jane Jacobs that talks about waste and value. In terms of traditional buildings, where do we draw the line to say that this wear and tear is a sign of the death or sign of history and value?

Another even more curious thing is: is there a Eastern/Western divide in the perception of value in historic architecture? Is there a more material understanding that exists in the Western world different from that of the East? In many cases of repair of traditional buildings in China, the most common way is to rebuild the structure from scratch. Timber is difficult to preserve and many scholars have built on that to say that the impermanence of wood, the most basic building material in Eastern cultures, creates a culture that does not revere the material. Instead, Eastern architecture is created for transience and change.

Going back to the urban village, do the actions of the villagers align with this statement? If we take that as an assumption, what attitude should we then have towards these buildings?

Should we let them die?

Three Schools, Three Concepts

1. Tower Heritage

Like the regenerated Liede Village, the way for traditional buildings to be preserved in a urban village redevelopment was to remove and rebuild them collectively in a different area. With the amount of heritage left in Xiaozhou Village, this method would mean that some buildings will be completely erased away. Is there a way to rebuild them in a vertical tower and preserve, not the location, but the craft of construction and the spatial relationships within and between buildings? Could the tower be an exercise, like the Ise Grand Shrine in Japan, in storing the memory instead of the physicality of the materials? When the mentality for preservation is strong enough in the future, could these buildings’ memories then be reinserted into a new urban design?

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2. Walled Heritage

The typical urban village building grows by securing the largest footprint possible with walls. Public spaces, however, are unprotected spaces there others could possibly encroach. Is the way to preserve these public spaces by creating that physical wall of protection? The resulting school would be strongly formalistic – based on traditional, inward-looking and highly efficient teaching methods. This wall would act as a boundary for the school and for the traditional buildings to be safe and monitored.

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3. Free School

If activating the public spaces is the key to preserving the traditional buildings, then could opening up the public spaces and allowing overlaps of uses be a possible way? In this case the streets regain their function of being semi-public/semi-private spaces where there is a mixture of different uses – chatting, washing, waiting, resting, playing. The linear building then act as a vessel of activities to activate the street and public space.

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