Heritage Conservation as an Export Product
Throughout the world, European standards on monument preservation and restoration are well-established as a key to effective conservation, reconstruction and protection of cultural heritage. More and more people from outside of Europe are also studying architecture and historic building conservation in Germany. They are then able to transfer the knowledge they have acquired back to their home countries.
Christian Raabe of RWTH Aachen University, Department of Historic Building Conservation and Research DHB), talks about historic building conservation education and the impact of this specific course.
Mr. Raabe, what do the European standards on heritage conservation comprise?
From an international viewpoint, the defined goal of monument preservation and restoration is always the same: the protection of cultural heritage. The idea that heritage conservation is a responsibility of the state goes back to around the year 1800. The Memorandum zur Denkmalpflege (memorandum on the preservation of monuments), issued by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1815, played an important role for the development in Germany in this respect and for the first time outlined structures for a state monument preservation. France adopted a first law on monument preservation in 1887, which has served as a model for modern heritage conservation legislation. The Venice Charta was then drawn up in 1964 and just a year later the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) was founded that also advises UNESCO on the World Heritage status. This led to the development of internationally recognised heritage conservation rules and methods.
Is it possible to transfer these conservation principles to areas outside of Europe? Where can or should concessions be made?
The goals and the methods are, of course, transferrable. Experts who are eager to preserve monuments in different countries belong to the same international organisations, such as ICOMOS, for instance, and they also attend the same international congresses. It is irrelevant whether they are European or not.
Concessions have to be made if the heritage protection laws are not sufficient, not observed, or if there is a wide margin left for interpretation of the legal basis, something that is uncommon here in Europe. Then there is the issue of financing and the question about the priority awarded to heritage conservation in the eyes of the people, in politics and in administration. Let us not forget that up until well into the nineteen eighties we simply demolished many buildings worthy of preservation in our country as well.
What courses on historic building conservation does your university offer?
The “classic” architecture course of studies at the RWTH University Aachen focuses on the theory of design and construction, flanked by five interdisciplinary fields: Cultural Heritage, Reuse and Redevelopment, Infrastructure, Production and Process, Material, Function and Production, Context and Form.
In the field of Cultural Heritage the subjects History of Architecture, History of Art, Theory of Architecture as well as Historic Building Conservation and Research are mandatory and elective subjects in the course programme. Historic Building Conservation prepares the students in practical aspects relating to the conservation and restoration of buildings. Besides the history of theory formation and monument preservation practice, the course explores the main documentation and examination methods and gives an introduction into the specific properties of historic materials and structures. There is also some theory on legal and institutional aspects to show how our national historic building preservation and also the World Heritage status are organised and the respectively applicable criteria.
What experiences have you had with students who come from other cultural environments, are there major differences in their concept of conservation value? Have you been able to inspire them in a way that will help them in their home country?
International definitions for conservation-worthy projects do indeed differ. Many students from different cultural environments are very interested in this topic. One often has the impression that here in Germany they are inclined to award greater importance to their own heritage and the need for conservation. The way historic monuments are dealt with in their home country is a subject of discussion and frequently comment on negatively.
It is rather like the development of environmental awareness: a society as well as the political and administrative representatives must accept the preservation of architectural heritage as an imperative obligation. For sensible heritage conservation I therefore need a “critical mass”. This also includes civil involvement, patronage and, of course, appropriate educational training.
We can offer our education courses. These naturally first and foremost focus on our own local conditions and architectural culture, the acquired knowledge is, however, translated by the students. But we cannot generate the “critical mass”, and if this is lacking we are just sending back lone warriors. But that is at least a start.
Cooperations exist between German universities and universities outside of Europe, at the Brandenburgische Technical University (BTU ) Cottbus Senftenberg with Helwan University in Cairo, for example, and at the RWTH Aachen with Iran.
Currently, with the support of the Foreign Office, a Master Degree course in Architectural Conservation is being launched at the German Jordanian University (GJU) in Amman/Jordan. This addresses interested Jordanian students with Bachelor degrees in related subjects, and in particular students from Syria, or from Iraq, for example, who are living in one of the refugee camps in Jordan.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christian Raabe, Architect, since 1994 office partnership with Prof. Dr.-Ing. Martina Abri. In 2008 appointed as professor for Historic Building Conservation and Research at the RWTH Aachen University. Many restoration projects in Berlin and abroad.