What is cultural heritage?
- Heritage is the possessions or assets inherited. It can be historical, artistic or cultural.
- Cultural is anything related to culture. Culture however is the arts or any manifestation of intellectual human collective achievement.
So, cultural heritage is the legacy of cultural assets we have inherited from past generations. At the same time, the term or concept cultural asset was developed in the second half of the 20th century. Therefore, a cultural asset is the set of objects with artistic or historical value that are a testimony of human culture or a cultural identity. Unfortunately, there has been a great loss of cultural asset, partly due to destructive historical events such as wars. However, it has also been due to the traditional concept of history, focused in the greatest political, economic, scientific… events. Luckily, “new history” has signified a major turning point, since it is focused in the everyday human life. As a consequence, it has also focused on the tools or instruments of human use. This way, we are now more conscious about the importance of cultural asset, which has had an extremely positive impact in cultural heritage.
As I mentioned before, cultural asset is a relatively new concept. In fact, it was first used in 1954, in The Hague Convention. Cultural asset comprehends material assets like monuments, works of art, antiques… but also customs, gastronomy, economy… The latter are signs or witnesses of a culture with a great testimonial value.
Why should we preserve heritage?
We must simply preserve heritage in order not to lose our cultural identity. Heritage is the result of human history, and it has a lot of value: historical, artistic, cultural, economic and social value and the value of authenticity an antiquity. To help preservation, cultural assets are gathered in catalogs. From architects’ point of view, they have the responsibility to help preserve heritage and not to destroy it. This means that in their work they must adapt to it and completely respect it.
What should we preserve?
As architects, we must respect every aspect of the space: the matter, construction techniques, shapes and dimensions, colours, materials and textures, character and the use, environment and of course its meaning. It is not just about the physical aspect, but also about its meaning and values.
How to preserve?
On the one hand, we can assure preservation via legislative instruments. Firstly, institutions can protect or conserve on different degrees assets through legal action. Secondly, it is also necessary to enumerate and describe the assets found. This way, an inventory is formed, helping preservation. Thirdly, assets must be listed. When cataloging, we can indirectly and preventively preserve assets, providing knowledge and valuation of them.
On the other hand, we can also preserve assets via interventions:
- Preservation: Actions on the asset to avoid possible harms or damages. For instance, reducing the number of visitors in a monument
- Maintenance: maintenance of a good with punctual and non-radical repairs in order to prolong its good state. The ideal preservation of a monument would be through temporal and small changes to maintain it.
- Consolidation: strengthening of a structure of a building, resulting in higher consistency.
- Repairing: practice related to the process of maintenance. It means to fix anything broken.
- Restoration: direct intervention on the building to improve its legibility, which has been damage because of time. It doesn’t pass falsifications of the nature of it.
- Adaptation: it consists of returning something to its initial state of functionality or efficiency.
- Reconstruction: it is the partial or total reconstruction of a building, usually after a destructive event.
- Anastilosis: the archaeological term for the reconstruction of a building in ruins using its initial architectural elements or parts.
- Ripristinar: to return a building to its earlier age. It is not a recommended procedure since it erases modifications along the different eras of history, modification which also have cultural value.
In conclusion, institution have the responsibility to preserve cultural goods, since they are part of our history, of our identity. But not only institutions, architects have that responsibility, too.
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