The New York City-based World Monuments Fund creates a biennial watch list of architectural and cultural heritage sites worldwide with critical needs. Among those included for 2014 is the earthquake-damaged historic center of L’Aquila, Italy, where the Palazzo della Prefettura and other buildings were severely damaged in the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that occurred in 2009. Carla Bartolomucci/World Monuments Fund, 2009
The New York-based nonprofit World Monuments Fund has released its 2014 Watch list, identifying the top nominated heritage sites at risk worldwide.
October 29, 2013—Balancing the demands of the future with memories of the past is difficult when resources are scarce and budgets are tight. Protecting the architectural and cultural heritage highlights of past generations is a critical aspect of honoring their successes so that future generations can also experience them. In support of architectural and cultural preservation, every two years World Monuments Fund—a nonprofit heritage watch organization based in New York City—creates the World Monuments Fund Watch, a list of architectural and cultural heritage sites worldwide that have the most critical needs. Through inclusion on the list, which was initiated in 1996, attention is brought to areas and sites of particular interest that are in danger of being lost due to natural disasters, conflict, and redevelopment.
“The issues surrounding the preservation of historic places are multifold,” said Erica Avrami, Ph.D., the director of research and education for World Monuments Fund, who wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineering online. “Rather than one single threat, it is more often a combination of factors—economic, social, and environmental—that disconnect communities and their heritage, and thus imperil [the] survival of important sites.”
Earlier this month, the organization released its 2014 list, which includes 67 sites located in 41 countries. The bulk of the sites are located in Europe (18) and Latin America and the Caribbean (15), while Asia (13) and Sub-Saharan Africa (9) are also strongly represented. The fewest sites are located in the United States (6) and North Africa and the Middle East (6).
“The World Monuments Watch is intended to serve as a platform for raising awareness about heritage issues as well as specific sites, to demonstrate the range of challenges and opportunities in the field, and [to] catalyze positive change,” Avrami said.
The 630 ft tall, 1960s-era Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
in St. Louis—St. Louis’s famed arch—made this year’s list
because of the deterioration that it is experiencing due to age and
climate conditions, and the fact that limited resources exist for its
maintenance and upkeep. Media Services Staff, National Park
Service/World Monuments Fund, 2006
The critical needs of sites can be a result of natural disasters, such as is the case in the historic center of L’Aquila, Italy that dates back to the 13th century and was severely damaged in a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2009 (see “L’Aquila, Italy: The Next Lesson, Civil Engineering, November 2009, pages 46-53) or the early-20th-century Remigio Crespo Toral Museum in Ecuador, which has been closed since 1991 due to flooding and safety issues.
War-torn regions also appear on the list, as is the case with Syria. While three cultural heritage sites in Syria in particular have been mentioned to illustrate the danger that the ongoing conflict within that nation has placed on all of its cultural heritage sites, the nation as a whole is listed. A fire within the city of Aleppo in September 2012 damaged 150 shops in a 17th-century marketplace and the city’s Great Mosque. A missile strike earlier that year damaged the entrance to the city’s historic citadel, which had been in use for at least 4,000 years, according to World Monuments Fund.
A site’s critical need can also be a factor of age, rather than natural or man-made destruction. The 630 ft tall, 1960s-era Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis—better known by its colloquial moniker, the St. Louis Arch—made this year’s list because of the deterioration that it is experiencing simply due to age and climate conditions, and the fact that limited resources exist for its maintenance and upkeep.
Some heritage sites are in danger because of encroaching urbanization, as is the case in the Bukit Brown cemetery in Singapore, which dates back to the mid-19th century. Initially a cemetery for Chinese immigrants, it also serves as the final interment location for casualties from a World War II battle that took place on its grounds. This year, the government announced plans to bisect the cemetery with a new thoroughfare and proposed future redevelopment of portions of the cemetery for housing. Remains are being relocated or disposed of at sea, if unclaimed, as road construction commences, World Monuments Fund noted.
The Watch list also includes cultural heritage elements that are in danger of being lost altogether. Examples include small, iconic elements of the past, as well as buildings and even entire cities. Approximately 43,500 remaining gas lamps in Berlin, first introduced to the city in 1826 and currently being replaced with modern, electrical versions, are on this year’s list. Christ Church Cathedral, in Stone Town, Zanzibar, is an Anglican cathedral completed in 1879 upon the site of the city’s notorious slave market, closed six years earlier. While sectarian conflict, lack of resources, and political issues have stymied restoration projects locally, the cathedral appears on this year’s list to promote its conservation as a symbol of triumph and emancipation, according to the World Monuments Fund. The exodus of residents from the famed canals of Venice, Italy, which has seen cruise-ship-based tourist traffic grow 400 percent in the last five years—to 20,000 a day during peak seasons—has landed the entire city upon the Watch list.
Christ Church Cathedral, in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania, is
an Anglican cathedral completed in 1879 on the site of the city’s
notorious slave market, closed six years earlier. The cathedral
appears on this year’s list to promote its conservation for cultural
heritage reasons; it is seen as a symbol of triumph and
emancipation. Stephen Battle/World Monuments Fund, 2012
With such varied reasons for selection, the near-future steps that need to be taken to protect each of the sites encompasses a wide range depending on the issues, needs, and capacities of each country, according to Avrami. “But a key first step is raising awareness and reengaging communities with their heritage,” she noted. “The Watch draws attention to sites and their issues at an international level, but sustainable stewardship of historic places ultimately hinges on local action.”
World Monuments Fund promotes a day, known as Watch Day, which seeks to raise awareness for the sites on its Watch list.
Anyone can nominate a site for inclusion on the biennial watch list by filling out the requisite nomination forms and having the nomination endorsed by a creditable entity, such as a local organization, heritage professional, or government agency, according to Avrami. “There is then a rigorous review process involving World Monuments Fund staff and heritage professionals from around the world, and a final selection panel,” she said. Nearly 700 people were involved in the preparation and review of nominations for the 2014 Watch cycle.
“One of the biggest challenges is weighing all of these varied perspectives, from all around the world, and forging consensus about a final list,” Avrami said. “So many sites are in need, but not all can be helped through the Watch.”