09.40  A Conceptual Framework for Built Environment Cultural Values

9:00, Sunday 5 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

You can only manage what you see and understand. For this reason, the values we ascribe to the built environment and the “architectural” heritage are important in informing what we think we are doing when we set out to conserve places. I will propose that there are only four essentially distinguishable reasons why people feel (or should feel) the compunction to conserve buildings and places. These extend the range of justifications for conservation actions considerably beyond the normal rationales for heritage conservation, which I characterize as relating to identity exploration and the securing of evidence for various reasons. To these I add the sensible use of environmental resources—quoting Grammenos and Russell, “The most environmentally benign building is the one that does not have to be built,” because it already exists—considered in the framework of economic valuation, and the public or institutional value of conservation practices insofar as they crystallize social and collective action at a multiplicity of levels (as articulated in the 2004 report by Demos “Challenge and Change: HLF and Cultural Value”). It is a further aim of my research to make use of this restructuring of the rationales for conservation in framing a means of gathering and classifying information about places, whether in Burra Charter Conservation Plan processes, or inventorying, in order to make better decisions as to the management of their cultural heritage values. I have looked at the clusters of concepts that have been advanced across the world in legislative systems, and through Burra Charter Conservation Plans. A review of legislative systems and criticism of them, and the utilization by practitioners across the world of concepts of value in Conservation Plans that follow the Burra Charter methodology, will provide a test for the universality of these concepts. 

The contemporary theory of conservation suggests that object conservation is essentially about communication, and I will extrapolate this approach into place conservation, modifying and enlarging the concept in the process. This forms the basis for understanding a whole set of values that are related to identity-exploration or -assertion. This new analysis disentangles some of the contradictions and procedural difficulties about what and how we conserve. “Authenticity” is not important in the exploration of identity, but it is important in the preservation of evidence, for example. While it is a truism that the patina of age cannot be manufactured without the processes of time, this does not constitute a valid reason for the inclusion of all material culture under the environmental sustainability heading of a “scarce resource”; instead, the rude function of structures and enclosures are the durable elements of our inheritance that can remain serviceable if they can be pressed to new uses. Their capacity to carry meaning is a secondary consideration. Venice—the city—now belongs to the people of the world, and we are happy about what it communicates to us about who we are, and for that reason we visit it in large numbers. If this “adulterates” its “authenticity,” we are thinking about the wrong aspect of why it matters to us, what its “meaning” is.

The Heritage Council of Ireland

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