Pandemic is showing us how different our new normal will be and how many changes are about to happen.

Post pandemic time will be full of uncertainty and we will be focused on the global economic crisis as well as climate change and how to keep mother nature alive as it turned when the cities emptied.  Another quite important topic will be our values as a society and from here the protection of our cultural heritage will also have to be in the loop as a new generator of development in its new role within a new society.

Honorable Mention | RTF Essay Writing Competition April 2020

Category: Do We Need To Redefine Our Heritage?
Participant: Zulda Arroyo
Profession: Architect
University: Universidad Ricardo Palma, Lima Peru

Before the pandemic, heritage was perceived through two different locus of enunciation, the global touristic vision of the iconic buildings around the world and the local interest heritage buildings each one seen from different scenarios, the official one and the social one.

From the approach of the Italian Architect, Engineer as well as Art and Historian Critic Camillo Boito about a heritage building I would like to rescue the idea of conceptualizing a heritage building as a “document” that registers the passage of time in terms of design concept, inspiration, the building message to the society and the new generations to come, the architectural language, construction systems and the new additions or changes that got through the time that shows the different responses that the building was capable to fit in. In this context, the main characteristics of the building to be considered as part of a cultural heritage are the following:

  • Spiritual: As Architect Louis Kahn called it a “quality”, this allows people to connect with the building through experiencing it.
  • Identity: Builds the sense of belonging to a specific cultural context and it is usually the main link to empower a society.

From here then, what should be the time limit to judge or history an architectural object to be a heritage building?

Some Historians could consider that in order to avoid being a participant, or testimonial of an architectural fact, 30 years could be a safe distance to judge objectively. However as the American Anthropologist Clifford Geertz says “Let him who writes free of his time’s imaginings cast the first stone” , then there is no golden rule to set a specific time to study an architectural fact to be proposed as a member of a cultural heritage of a country since everything that human beings produce is already part of what present and future society should preserve. The history is important to interpret the message that the building sends within a specific context.

In this scenario how would be the new approach to heritage? What is the heritage for?

The new normal to heritage should go through having a profound knowledge of it and accessibility to everyone since heritage in some cases used to be seen as part of an elite. We should establish some strategies:

  • Integration: All social groups, industrial, rural, etcetera must be represented by the heritage buildings.
  • Experience: People identify with and protect what they know through the experience of living the spaces.
  • Innovation: Through technology and sustainability creating knowledge and awareness of all the members of the heritage architecture we have using digitalisation of each building. As well as what kind of construction systems were developed in the past and how it can contribute to the new sustainable construction methods.
  • Creativity: New ideas to transform the heritage buildings as well as their surroundings as development factors.
  • Sharing: Universal values as education and solidarity. A very important factor would be a new heritage management that would increase the access of all social groups to heritage through Patronage and micro sponsorship.

The preservation of our history is the preservation of our identity.  Therefore, it is the preservation of our spirit and core values as a society and what we want to leave our new generations for them to build their roots.

The awareness about what heritage really means in these times will create new rules and tools to protect it before we lose it. The definition of heritage should evolve as we evolve as a society after the pandemic life lesson we get. I would like to illustrate this with two important cases:

The first case showed how unacceptable was to see an influential Art Nouveau building like Maison du Peuple by Belgian Architect Victor Horta to be demolished as a result of Brussels urban redevelopment fifty-five years ago, and in spite of an international protest movement. Which voice would be the one to hear in the future? Who should be allowed to make this kind of decisions? The way I perceive this case has two points of view:

  • Erasing a material memory: The stunning building was the heart of the Belgian workers class, therefore a landmark that represented a strong sign of empowerment, the hidden purpose was the destruction of the identity of a social group.
  • Fear or prejudice: The fear to “the other” or a prejudice against the opposition to cultural traditions in terms of how human beings interact, who is or isn’t part of the center? How the hierarchies work? Which identity should be highlighted and which one should be destroyed, hidden or ignored and why?

The second case I would like to talk about is the building called “Hall of Nations” by Indian Architect Raj Rewal located in New Dehli that was demolished approximately three years ago despite a global architecture and historian community reaction. A building that represents a historical fact of identity for a nation should have a heritage value limited to its age in order to be recognized and protected? We really need to look at two aspects:

  • The early creation of historical landmarks that mark a before and after in a country’s history must be preserved: The independence of India from Britain’s colonial rule was enough reason to create this building to commemorate its 25th Anniversary and mark the new age of Indians. The design was a 3D reinterpretation of the Jali (a traditional Indian element used as latticed screen/window with different geometrical patterns) and it showed a concrete space frame structural system designed specially for the building so it was an important modern building that embodies the spirit of a nation trying to rebuild itself as an authentic society.
  • The heritage definition has to be very clear to avoid legal tricks that look for getting rid of the heritage buildings. In this context what can be done against the impunity of arbitrary acts when it comes to defending a cultural value? Why do people have to go out and protest against something that is absolutely legitimate? Why do commercial interests or political differences take precedence over cultural values with culture being a fact of empowerment and development for a society to progress and be successful? Sadly, I discover then that we are not yet an evolved society and that of course it does not know the value of respect.

It is worth noting that heritage is the one we inherit from ancestors but it might also be the one that we create and can inherit ahead for the new generations to come. Since the endless creativity of architecture production is able to express messages that could even change the traditional perspective about heritage and empower different groups of human beings to achieve a real transformation of a society.


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