I want to set out a context for this area and in doing that a number of themes will run through what I have to say, such as the questions of monuments and the passage of time and how these relate to areas of memory and imagination and behind all of this will be the issues of culture and identity. In talking about these issues, my main focus will be on the physical fabric of monuments and sites. However, I will go a bit beyond that to talk about the connection between preservation and meaning and will try to connect that discussion with a wider international context.
In international terms, the starting point in terms of principle can be traced back to the Venice charter, which is a document produced in 1964 by experts in the area of conservation. The thinking behind that document at the time was that the business of preserving monuments would be facilitated by having international agreements, conventions and protocols that were shared between countries. A number of European countries came together in France to discuss this and subsequently met in Venice where the charter was drawn up.
In the documents I have supplied there is an interesting quotation from the first article of that charter, which is highlighted on the screen in my PowerPoint presentation. It states that the concept of an historic monument embraces not only the single architectural work, but also the rural or urban setting in which is found evidence of a particular civilization, a significant development or an historic event. It goes on to say that this applies to the more modest works of the past that have acquired cultural significance with the passage of time. The deliberations of the group do not only talk, therefore, about the great monuments but also about modest works that because of the passage of history or events have acquired a significance within their culture. Therefore, the group's prescriptions with regard to principles and procedures would apply equally in both cases.
There is a history to how these principles have evolved. If members will excuse me, I will go back a little to talk about that. Although the discussion about preserving monuments goes back to the times of the Renaissance, it mainly took wings in the 19th century, at a time when there was massive reconstruction of medieval buildings and all sorts of inventions were being imposed upon them, with significant demolition taking place in order to arrive somehow at what the true building should be like. However, it is really in the 20th century that we begin to see some progressive developments.
I started off with the Venice charter from 1964, which involved mainly European countries coming together on this. It is interesting that the main impetus for the development of conservation and preservation of monuments is clearly traceable to the aftermath of the two world wars. At times when societies were particularly conscious of the fragility of civilisation and its products. Therefore, we tended to get international congresses trying to arrive at definitions that would help the business of preservation.
A number of significant shifts took place within the course of the 20th century and I will mention these as we go along. From the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, we had a move to widen the discussion from the monument and historic area to historic towns and urban areas. Then, there was an attempt to draw wider landscapes into the understanding and the existence of landscapes of cultural significance was recognised. That particular discussion is particularly relevant to Ireland, where we have extensive landscapes that retain vestiges of the past and which, for one reason or another, have not been recognised over time, though they are beginning to be recognised now and people are paying attention to how we should deal with them. For example, the landscapes of early Christian monasteries need to be regarded as a whole, rather than considered as individual examples existing in a particular place. I will cover this again as we move along.
Generally, when discussing the preservation or conservation of monuments and places of cultural significance, I always put three questions forward as "coat hooks" to help our thinking on the issue. First, what is the significance of the monument or the place? Second, how is that significance embodied in the material fabric we see in front of us? Third, how is that significance maintained, revealed or protected in what we propose to do. These three layers help us address the issue.
With regard to the significance of the monument or place, this is an area where thinking has developed over the past few years. This area brings into play multidisciplinary scholarship, because it is not within the competence of any particular academic or other kind of discipline to fully describe the significance of a particular monument. One might look at it from an architectural, archeological, geographical, historical or other perspective. There is a question of its place in folklore and in literature. There are many different ways in which the significance of a place can be expressed. As members are aware, there has been some discussion about the city of Dublin and its possible inscription on world heritage site lists. One of the factors under consideration is that Dublin is and has been acknowledged as a city of literature. A number of buildings on world heritage site lists are there because they are places where there has been outstanding achievement in the arts, rather than for the architectural quality of the place itself.
Apart from this, there is the question of analysis of the fabric and detailed discussion of what exactly one is looking at and what remains on the ground in time. The attitude taken in this regard is that the building itself is a document. It is a document that was written at a point in time, but has since been progressively altered or written over by different generations under different circumstances. Therefore, there is what one might call a polymces, which is one of those medieval manuscripts which when finished was erased and written over, but the older text could still be read through the newer one. That is what buildings are - they are sedimentations of history. One of the jobs of the analyst now is to go through those sedimentations and portray them. His job is not necessarily to say this one is more important than that, but here they are, one after the other or one on top of the other.
Let me refer to one of the international organisations that has had much to say on this area, UNESCO. It has produced various categories of monument and criteria by which their value can be judged. It has done this because it administers a system of world heritage sites and prescribes which are world heritage sites. Therefore, it has had to produce definitions that allow it to make choices and judgments. In terms of monuments, UNESCO has identified historical, artistic and scientific criteria to be applied. In terms of sites, it has identified historical, aesthetic, ethnological or anthropological criteria and in natural sites, aesthetic and scientific criteria. Of course, all of these overlap and interpenetrate one another.
When it comes to the business of identifying the value of a monument, there are a number of international agreements that are relevant. I have mentioned already that there is a progression involved and I will briefly explain what that progression has been. The Venice Charter of 1964, which states that it does not apply just to modest works of the past, has the great monuments in mind. The next document that is really significant from an Irish point of view was produced in Australia in 1979 and is called the Burra Charter. It differs from other charters because in Australia one is not necessarily looking at huge monuments dating from the 12th or 14th centuries. Very often one is dealing with landscapes of cultural significance, namely, landscapes that were highly significant to the indigenous peoples of Australia. Therefore, one had to reformulate one's thinking about conservation to take account of cultural inheritances that are very different from the European model.
The Burra Charter is particularly interesting for several reasons. One is that because the Australians had to go to this effort, they did not take too much for granted in terms of definitions. They had to spell out exactly what they meant, which means that the charter contains good definitions and explanatory memoranda. If, for example, reference is made to a cultural site, a paragraph in the charter explains exactly what the reference means. Therefore, the charter is very useful from the point of view of understanding the arguments. From an Irish point of view, the charter represents the first time that the idea of a cultural landscape was articulated clearly and the first time that guidelines were given on how to approach it.
The next document that is relevant is the Nara document on authenticity. I will deal with authenticity in more detail later but it is the critical factor in this entire discussion. The Nara document originated in Japan and was produced to address the nature of many Japanese monuments which were built of timber. Some of them are over 1,000 years old but they still exist because they have been progressively repaired, with pieces replaced, over time. If one looks at a Japanese temple that is 1,200 years old, some of the timber one is looking at may be only five years old, while some of it may be 500 years old. The European perspective that demands that one must maintain the original material intact, in all circumstances, has to be modified by virtue of the fact that there are types of cultural inheritance where that idea does not apply. There is a refinement of definition that comes from Nara, which begins to talk about the nature of authenticity. It relates the nature of authenticity to the cultural context in which the monument is produced. The Nara document also produces another valuable idea, namely, that there is not just tangible heritage that one can touch and that is physical, but also intangible heritage. The authors are talking here about the craft and the knowledge that is inherent and implicit in the individuals who build and repair these things. The Nara authors recognised that this is every bit as important as the artefact in itself.
The last document I wish to draw attention to is the Declaration of San Antonio from 1996. That arose, initially, as a challenge to the Nara document on authenticity. It comes from the Americas and the authors took issue with the idea of a particular culture as being in some way related to nationalism. They argued that the experience of the Americas is that within a particular nationalism there are many subcultures and quite often, as one can imagine in a colonial situation, a minority culture imposes its way on majority cultures within the society. They required, therefore, a further definition of where the question of cultural identity might go. Between the various aforementioned documents the issues of monuments and sites, cultural landscapes, tangible and intangible heritage and representation and embodiment are addressed. By embodiment, I mean that a monument, apart from representing something actually embodies, in its fabric, a significance.
The next question that arises is how significance is embodied in the fabric. That is fundamentally a question of evidence and authenticity. Basically, it is a requirement that somehow one establishes the evidence for whatever value one is ascribing to something. In terms of the physical environment, that requires fairly intensive examination. UNESCO, since 1978, has applied a test of authenticity and the idea behind it is that ultimately one is trying to find the truth and to determine the real situation. One must be able to stand over the propositions one makes in terms of the significance of the monument one is trying to preserve. The preservation of that evidence, that is, the evidence upon which one bases one's judgment, is the primary material goal of conservation and preservation. It is not just a matter of preserving the building, as such, but also of preserving the evidence of that building over time. This is a fundamental consideration.
The retention of material authenticity is a critical point. The Venice Charter has a lot to say on this issue and contains what could be described as guidelines. It states that evidence should not be removed or falsified. When one is repairing a building one must recognise the evidence upon which one is basing one's judgment and ensure that whatever one does to repair the building does not change the reading of that, which it is very possible to do. The charter goes on to state that material fabric should be retained and repaired and that where materials have decayed beyond repair they should be replaced with like materials. One does not substitute materials unless it is absolutely unavoidable. Of course, one of the very basic points in this regard is that old buildings have a habit of moving. They do not shift location but they move, and introducing modern materials into buildings that are moving can be incredibly damaging. We have seen many examples where, in order to stabilise a building where the walls are moving, large amounts of concrete are introduced. However, concrete does not move so the rest of the building moves, the concrete stays where it is and a whole succession of seismological events can occur in slow motion, over time, as a result. Basically, one does not do that sort of thing but one replaces like with like. The charter states that new work should be compatible with the old and bear a contemporary stamp. This is wide open to interpretation in terms of how one might propose to do that. It is important to make sure that whatever one does now, it will be possible for somebody in 30 or 40 years to see clearly that the work was done in 2012. There are many ways of doing that but one must make sure one does it correctly or else one is in danger of falsifying the evidence. One cannot assume that the records we have now will be transmitted into the future.
Another important point is that work should be reversible, if possible. The idea behind that is very simple, namely, that nobody has all the answers. In other words, one can make a decision today but one's knowledge is incomplete. One might know better next year and might not have made the same decision or done the same thing. Therefore, in theory, work should be reversible but that is not always possible with buildings. If one inserts something to hold a building up, for example, it is not that easy to take it out again without consequences. It is very difficult to reverse certain kinds of work. The final notable point is that all periods and phases of building should be respected equally. Again, that is a matter of judgment because obviously some phases in a building are more significant than others.
The starting point is that one should not try to produce a single coherent unambiguous work. One is there to preserve evidence.
The Venice Charter refers to maintaining a setting that does not detract from the significance in terms of scale, form and function with regard to the preservation of a monument. Primarily, this comes from people looking at medieval cathedrals, the Acropolis in Athens and the great monuments of the past. It is not easy to translate that principle to the case of everyday architecture that has become significant with the passage of time. We should consider how we understand this principle and how it should be explored and expressed. I have provided some illustrations which are somewhat tongue in cheek. I am unsure whether the committee members can see them on the screen but in one there is a nice shiny office block with what was the foyer of a theatre in front of it. The idea was somehow to retain something from the past while developing the area behind it for new uses. Unfortunately, the joke of this illustration is that the part in front is actually reconstructed; it is not the original retained structure. It was rebuilt as a fake to show that those involved cared about the original structure. The other illustration is completely ridiculous. It involves a case where the developers were obliged to keep the building but they wished to maximise the use of the site and they simply built the new building on top of the old building. Basic challenges arise, especially when one is working in dense urban areas. There are difficulties with the business of trying to accommodate changing urban functions while at the same time trying to maintain the significance of a particular place or monument.
There is great significance to a place as well. We are trying to establish the truth of a given place as it exists. This means not only its history must be taken into account but also its contemporary reality. We only have responsibility for conserving or preserving our heritage at a given point in time. We exist for a limited period but the buildings were there before us and hopefully they will still be there after us. We can only exercise our responsibility for the short span when we have the ability to do so.
The question of interpretation is always upfront. There will be multiple narratives, especially for complex sites where there are complex and sometimes conflicting histories. A transformation process occurs through the action of preservation or conservation. The object is not the same after we finish acting on it as it was before. Afterwards, it embodies one's action. A transformation process is involved in preserving a building.
Some of the committee members might recognise the picture on the screen. It is one of the iconic images that has emerged in the past 15 years. It is a picture of the bridge in Mostar. The committee members may remember the appalling civil war that occurred during the break-up of Yugoslavia. Before it started, Mostar was a highly integrated city of Christians and Muslims. As positions became polarised during the war both sides became entrenched. I will not make any proposition about who did it most. Anyway, there was a target, the cultural monuments of the other side. Perhaps this was a way of denying the legitimacy of the other side or of sapping morale but either way certain sites were targeted. The bridge was one of these targets and it was destroyed by shelling.
When the war was finished and NATO and its associated bodies came in as temporary administrators, the proposition was aired that the bridge should be reconstructed and it was decided to do that. Now, it is a bridge between the two sides of Mostar. One side is substantially a Croat city and the other side is substantially a Bosnian city. The Bosnians are delighted to have the bridge in place but the Croats ignore it. Now, the act of reconstruction has created something which cuts across people's understanding or their desire of where they want to be. It has become a political statement produced by a body from outside that came into a highly fraught situation. The bridge now has a symbolism completely different from what it was before it was destroyed. It may have physical similarity and one could argue that it makes part of the city intact again but its meaning is now completely different and it is completely different on both sides of the river. This comes about because people are bringing their own cultural, political and social agenda to bear in their appreciation of it. There are overlays of meaning in the act of preservation and conservation. In the business of preservation we need to represent the understandings of the present because they evoke different things and memories. We need to understand the significance of the intervention.
The survival of a place is always strengthened by having a use compatible with its physical form and structure and its significance. This is another article of the Venice Charter and it has been repeated in other charters since. One might think that the proposition should be a basic tenet but it is not as simple as it seems. Modern usages put different demands on historic fabrics. Therefore, it becomes very important to be able to understand that by allowing new services to be put through a building there can be a loss of historic fabric and this may involve a loss of authenticity and it may potentially damage the evidence that the monument represents.
Any use of a building should be sustainable. This is where the focus moves to the question of future management. When we preserve a monument the question is what do we have in mind? Do we want it to be another museum? What do we want it to be? This is where some thought and creativity must be applied. Basically, when one is trying to preserve a monument, one is trying to preserve its significance in future but that is not a static thing; it evolves in time. We make our judgments about what we consider to be significant now but we must take into account the fact that life will change. Therefore, the monuments we preserve somehow need to accommodate our ability to keep telling the story of what is happening and how what happened at a given event in time has been commemorated and the meaning that has for contemporary society. After all, this is what monuments are supposed to do for us today. They are supposed to tell us something about what we are now and what sorts of things we consider valuable for the future. That is our job when it comes to preserving monuments and passing them on.
I have put up a picture. Some of the committee members might be familiar with it. I realise it is a little out of left field but it comes from the city of Sarajevo. I am unsure whether the committee members remember the beginnings of the war there. There was a bombardment of the city which targeted a market where 22 people were killed as they queued to shop. As part of that bombardment the national library was also destroyed. One day a cellist came down the street with his cello, sat down in front of the ruins and played an adagio in G minor. He played it for 22 days one after the other in the middle of the snipper fire, shelling and everything else.
His creative action had extraordinary influence in making people realise the fragility of the culture and what was happening. The image went viral worldwide and had its own influence, making people say: "Hold on. This goes too far. Apart from the human cost there is also a cultural cost to what we are doing, and can we stand by this sort of thing?"
We need to be creative about the use of monuments. We need to remember that places like cities are more than containers for human activity. They are also the locus for memory and the imagination. They help us to understand our own past by virtue of what they are now, but they are also places that allow us to imagine the future. James Joyce boasted that one could reconstruct Dublin from Ulysses. He might have been right, at least for parts of it.
I will conclude by posing the three questions again. What is the significance of the monument for the place? How is that significance embodied in the fabric? How is that significance maintained, revealed and preserved in the action or intervention that is proposed?