More than just history, heritage conservation aims at preserving the characteristic elements of a cultural resource to retain its heritage value and extend its life. Traditional conservation practices focus on tangible commodities and follow simple guidelines of minimal intervention and appropriate reversible methods. In recent years, however, the definition of heritage and subsequently conservation has changed as our understanding of what constitutes a community has changed. 

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Moving beyond the realm of the tangible, cultural heritage is now considered to be just as significant as built heritage. Conservation not only helps in safeguarding a cultural resource but also in revitalizing local economies, and in bringing about a sense of identity, pride and belonging to the community.

As we evolve our built environments, heritage conservation becomes crucial in maintaining a common identity that is reflected in different forms of expression. Here are 15 such thesis topics for you.

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Heritage Conservation_©Architectural Digest

1. Contemporary Architecture over Historic Environments

Common conservation practices aim to replicate and preserve the architectural elements of the historic structure being restored. Newer additions in these built environments are designed to assimilate seamlessly with the original structure and maintain a common visual narrative for the entire site. However, some projects have chosen to challenge these methods and create contemporary elements over historic environments. 

This co-existence can be studied to shed light on architectural philosophy’s progression over the years and create a comprehensive timeline for the site. 

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Royal Ontario Museum, Canada_©Royal Ontario Museum

2. Making of Architectural Heritage

While many historic sites are managed and maintained, many are integrated into the lives of the community they inhabit. This integration not only prohibits intervention but also warps its cultural significance at times. Significant structures thus are sidelined and lost to time and function. Architectural heritage may be a product of time and culture but it also relies on its image for consideration. 

Mapping such lost heritage raises the question of what constitutes architectural heritage. Is it governed by our perception or the amount of significance we allot to it?

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Kolkata (Making of Architectural Heritage)_©Gareth Copley/Getty Images

3. Heritage Legislation

Heritage sites are often governed by a strict set of conservation laws to regulate construction methods on or around the site. The laws allow for a standardised approach to conservation practices in a region. However, different governing bodies may have different approaches to conservation. 

A comparative study of conservation laws and legislation in different countries can be done to understand how different approaches are reflected in the process of identification, analysis, and intervention. The laws can also be scrutinised and analysed by studying sites with differing contexts.

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Elephanta Caves_©Flickr

4. Economic Valuation of Heritage

Though heritage conservation adds a social value to the community, an economic point of view is also required. The economic feasibility of a conservation project plays a significant role in the maintenance of architectural heritage. The value of a cultural heritage asset can be determined by the benefits that can be derived from its use. 

The contributors can be both tangible like tourism, business, and training, or intangible like social regeneration, quality of life, sense of belonging. Qualitative analysis can be conducted to identify and understand all the factors involved. 

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Le Grand Place, Bons, Belgium_©Golf Par Excellence

5. Balancing Tourism and Conservation at Heritage Sites

Tourism is a key driver of growth for many communities and has proved itself instrumental in the economic development of a region. However, unmonitored tourism growth can have a negative impact on the destination. Human involvement has caused the deterioration of many sites forcing the authorities to close off sites to preserve the asset. 

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It is thus prudent to analyse how tourism development can be enhanced to maintain the quality of environment and culture of the site while offering the highest level of visitor satisfaction through careful planning and execution. 

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Angkor Wat_©Shutterstock

6. Conservation of Sacred Sites

Religion and faith have played crucial roles in shaping the world we live in today. Sacred sites and places of worship are important social and political symbols in most communities. Thus intervention in such areas requires a unique sensitivity and understanding of these spaces. 

These sites can range from open fields to cluster structures and may perform different functions. These physical manifestations of faith and spirit can be studied and interpreted to create solutions for conservation practices of these locations.

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The Great Mosque of Mecca_©Ali Haider/EPA/Keystone

7. Cultural Heritage in Postwar Recovery

In the aftermath of the death and destruction caused by war, the immediate human needs of shelter, food, and health have top priority. A concern for cultural heritage during such a time may appear inconsequential. Though, an argument can be made that the role of culture may be crucial in the early recovery phase. 

Documentation of the evident role that cultural heritage plays in postwar situations can be done for better preparation to confront such situations of conflict.  

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Damaged Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria_©Reuters

8. Social Heritage Conservation

While heritage conservation is usually linked to physical buildings, sites, and objects, cultural heritage involves many intangible components as well. It includes traditions or inherited forms of expressions, like performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, and craft skills. These components have a major impact on our built environment and must be studied for better public spaces tailored to celebrate these traditions. 

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Lotus Lantern Festival, Seoul_©Visit Seoul

9. Public Engagement in Heritage Conservation

Although conservation plays an important role in enhancing the cultural heritage of a community, public engagement in conservation practices is a much recent change. Local ownership and leadership of heritage conservation projects is an important aspect of contemporary heritage practices. 

Such involvement may be pivotal in sites that have integrated built environments. Thus a layout can be created where the conservation methods are formulated by and for the community. 

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Community Engagement_©Brenda Lim

10. Urban Heritagization

A common theme in cities like New York, heritagization of neighbourhoods helps turn neglected and stigmatised historic areas into ‘aesthetic’ desirable places with a new value and higher rents. While this process aligns itself with conservation practices, the intention is to capitalise on heritage rather than preserving it for the community. Such practices also have racial and social implications that sideline minorities.  

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166 Orchard Street, New York City (1975 vs Now)_©nyc.thenandnow / Instagram

11. Ecological Heritage

From sacred forests to native agricultural methods, ecological heritage forms an important part of our history and our interaction with our natural environment. With climate change looming over the planet, preservation and revitalisation of our natural heritage may be a way to combat the capitalist development spread around the globe. Understanding the intersection of nature and culture may inform our future architectural practices.

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Lake Province, Republic of Chad_©Afrik21

12. Contemporary Derivatives of Historic Structures

The need to preserve architectural heritage is significant but it is also important to develop our built environment to maintain life activities. Hence, a revitalization method with the purpose of reinterpreting and reimagining historically significant elements in the present context to adjust historical buildings to modern requirements needs to be developed. 

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Forgotten Silo turned into Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art, Africa_©Iwaan Baan

13. Restoration Practices

After the infamous fire at Notre Dame, many designers presented their opinions on how the damage should be fixed. While some suggested traditional restoration methods, others designed modern facades with symbolic metal flames to whimsical pools. A conversation was created on how to confront such situations; whether to restore the buildings to their former self or to acknowledge the fading past and adding a contemporary layer.

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Notre Dame Chatedral Concept_Vincent Callebaut Architectures
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Notre Dame Cathedral Concept_Ulf Mejergren Architects

14. Sustainability and Conservation

There is a synergistic relationship between conservation and sustainability but due to a lack of initiative, both these efforts have not been fully integrated. In some instances, this has led to conflict between heritage conservation efforts and environmental regulations. A comprehensive understanding of both concepts is required to formulate a fully integrated module that addresses both issues.

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Heritage is a Driver & Enabler of Sustainability_©ICOMOS

15. Archiving for the Future

One contributor to heritage is time as it defines the period of influence. Many buildings that we use and interact with may be considered an integral part of cultural heritage in the future. Thus, an archive of potential buildings may be created for future reference. This will involve identification and mapping of areas of interest, creating a timeline, understanding the current significance of the community, and tentative preservation techniques. 

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Mapping Heritage_©Decoder

References

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Calder, M., n.d. Material Migrations: Finding a Landscape Architectural Tectonic Practice at the Former Maribyrnong Migrant Hostel. Post-Graduate. RMIT.

De Cesari, C. and Dimova, R., 2018. Heritage, gentrification, participation: remaking urban landscapes in the name of culture and historic preservation. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 25(9), pp.863-869.

Del, M., Sedghpour, B. and Tabrizi, S., 2020. The semantic conservation of architectural heritage: the missing values. Heritage Science, [online] 8(70). Available at: <https://heritagesciencejournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40494-020-00416-w> [Accessed 5 April 2021].

Heritage 21. n.d. What is Heritage Conservation?. [online] Available at: <https://www.heritage21.com.au/owners-of-heritage-buildings/what-is-heritage-conservation/#:~:text=Professional%20Associations,and%20extend%20its%20physical%20life.> [Accessed 24 May 2021].

ICCROM, 2005. Cultural Heritage in Postwar Recovery. Rome.

Ich.unesco.org. n.d. UNESCO – What is Intangible Cultural Heritage?. [online] Available at: <https://ich.unesco.org/en/what-is-intangible-heritage-00003> [Accessed 5 April 2021].

Rogers, S., n.d. A Study in Architectural Contrasts: 12 Modern-Meets-Historic Additions. [online] Web Urbanist. Available at: <https://weburbanist.com/2016/08/08/a-study-in-architectural-contrasts-12-modern-meets-historic-additions/> [Accessed 5 April 2021].

Sen, M., n.d. Beyond the title of ‘India’s First World Heritage City’. Post-Graduate. National University of Singapore.

Sohie, C., n.d. HERITAGE DIS-CONTINUED – Tracing cultural ecologies within a context of urban transition. Post-Graduate. University of Cape Town.

The National. 2021. Intellectual India: discovering the charms of Kolkata. [online] Available at: <https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/intellectual-india-discovering-the-charms-of-kolkata-1.48333> [Accessed 24 May 2021].

Author

Currently pursuing his Bachelor's in Architecture, Vaibhav Gurung is a writer, conservationist, and artist. He aims to bring the worlds of sustainability, indigenous culture, and design philosophies closer together through his work. A vivacious conversationalist, he takes pride in his aesthetical and empathetic abilities to guide his designs as well as his daily life.

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