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Seven Things to Know about Heritage Conservation

There seven things to know about heritage conservation on our contemporary world today. This is a message for designers, architects, planners and managers of heritage buildings and places.
The decisions we make today will forever affect a heritage building or place. Therefore, we need to be conscious and judicious in the way we treat heritage fabric because what we decide now will affect every future decision to come. This places a heavy onus on the design of heritage buildings and forces the designer/ architect/ planner/ manager to be very circumspect in regard to each and every decision affecting a heritage building or place. Heritage buildings are all about their fabric. If you remove an element – it’s gone for ever. Nothing but a replica can be returned, and replicas are not heritage. Its not about what it looks like – its about what it actually is. I cannot replace my grandmother with a fake replica – it just won’t be the same person. This is how we need to think about heritage buildings.

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Are NSW’s conservation incentives sufficient?

For local government heritage items (listed buildings) in NSW, Australia, we have only two little incentives. They are Clause 5.10.10 and Clause 5.10.3 of the Local Environment Plan. There is a third incentive only operated by the Council of the City of Sydney and that is a transferrable development right under the HFS (Heritage Floor Space Scheme). I will explain later what this other one is all about. However, first, I would like to say that these incentives are insufficient, paltry, ungenerous and counter-productive in their limited scope. Incentives need to be generously applied so long as it can be determined that the outcome for the heritage building would be positively enhanced, better maintained and actually restored. Put simply, these are the only criteria that should prevail. Instead, councils and the courts and now design review panels are applying a limited approach to the incentive – always with the suspicion that the applicant (developer) is seeking some sort of unjustifiable reward/ opportunity/ free ride.

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Unlisted Heritage Items – Erring on the Side of Caution

Most countries, regions and states utilise heritage listing as a means of protecting heritage assets, but many of these lists are faulty, omissive, repetitive or incomplete. Quite often, as a cultural heritage advisor, I have come across buildings in conservation areas that are un-listed, yet they possess vary rare and distinctive fabric. Likewise, I come across many buildings that are neither listed nor in conservation areas that should be listed but are blatantly not. Who keeps tabs on this and who decides to list buildings in the first place?
In NSW, we have a complex system of cultural heritage listing. Most of the items are locally listed. Some are state-listed; a few are listed on the Commonwealth Heritage Register and even less on the National Heritage Register. In Australia, we have 18 World Heritage listings (UNESCO); three of which are buildings and places – the rest being of natural heritage significance.

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Tensions in Cultural Heritage Tourism

What is the relationship between cultural heritage tourism, the community and heritage places in any given locality? Which comes first, and which is more important than the other? In this article, I argue that above all, communities must be protected from an inundation of tourism so as not to alienate that community from its own heritage assets and secondly, I argue that the buildings themselves must be protected from loss of fabric and loss of meaning especially when tourist products are turned into corporate brands and locals are treated completely incidentally to the tourist experience.
Speno (2010) argues completely in favour of the tourists’ experience as the highest priority in the mix. She says that tourism, the world’s largest industry, is essential to a community’s economic vitality, sustainability, and profitability. The historic and cultural resources associated with people, events, or aspects of a community’s past give that community its sense of identity and help tell its story.

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Taxing tourism to pay for cultural built heritage

The World Bank (2010) writes that a good investment climate for tourism, underpinned by a sound tax regime, can play a central role in a government’s growth and development strategy. Yet in many countries, tax systems for the tourism sector are characterized by exemption schemes and instruments that generate little revenue and burden business. The three main issues facing policymakers dealing with tourism taxation are: fiscal incentives, sector-specific levies, and value-added tax (VAT). Such policy options are designed to encourage tourism investments while ensuring sustainable revenue collection. A good business environment for tourism is essential to support the industry’s central role in many countries’ development strategies. Investments in the sector, which has significant growth potential and can have important positive spillovers for the economy. Tourism is a complex industry of numerous subsectors. It is challenging to define exactly what constitutes a tourism product and how to tax it; tourism is not a single commodity, but rather a collection of many different goods and services provided by a wide range of suppliers.

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Cultural Built Heritage in Contemporary Society

There is a multiplicity of questions related to heritage management in society today especially for heritage property consultants and cultural heritage advisors. Based on the concept of the ‘social construction of reality’, there has been a shift from a consideration of heritage as a fixed list to a socially open process. The recognition of heritage as ―that which expresses some indefinable but recognizable element which current societies value and wish to pass on to posterity, gives rise to the interaction of different actors (social sectors) based on different values which are conducted through different disciplinary fields (Shalaginova 2012). In the sociological disciplines, culture is seen as a set of values, beliefs and symbols of expression and in anthropology, it is seen as the way of life of a society. In this regard, the conception of heritage as a social process is based on the revaluation by each generation and a conservation methodology to suit the production of future heritage.

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The theory of cultural built heritage

How do we define cultural built heritage? What is culture and what is heritage? Where does the idea of conservation come from and how is it practically applied to current heritage management systems? Heritage studies is yet to have a debate about its theorisation at the global level. Many of the core ideas that shape the field are rooted in the contexts of Europe and the USA and geographically rolled out in normative ways. We need to embark on pluralising how heritage is studied and theoretically framed, in ways that better address the heterogeneous nature of heritage for both the West and the non-West. The themes of modernity, cities and international cultural policy provide evidence of why we need to better position the academic study of heritage in relation to the rapid geo-political and geo-cultural shifts now taking place (Winter, 2014). Tracing the historical roots, or origins of what we understand today as heritage and the associated field of conservation is fraught with problems.

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Contesting Change in Heritage Environments

As communities throughout the world have come to recognise the importance of their cultural heritage, a number of unexpected results has arisen which demand our close analysis. These include the emergence of new heritage categories, a growing convergence of intangible and tangible heritage and an increasing demand for traditional conservation specialists to share our decision-making authority with those individuals and groups that have strong links to a particular heritage site.

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Good Design & Heritage

The Office of the Victorian Government Architect in Australia provides strategic advice to the government about architecture and urban design. It supports government with advocacy and advisory initiatives, including design review, collaborative workshops, design quality teams, desktop reviews and input on briefs. One of its aims is to encourage awareness of the role of good design in protecting, enhancing and layering contemporary legacy in heritage places.

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Heritage and Globalisation

Lester and Reckhow (2012) – see reference below; write that the new economic reality of heightened international competition, constant technological change, and cross border migration flows—referred to in shorthand as “globalisation”—has upset traditional forms of governing capitalist economies.

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Character Enshrined as Heritage Overlays in LEPs

Christine Covington of Corrs, Chambers, Westgarth Lawyers writes (7 March 2018) about proposed new changes to the EP&A Act in NSW. She writes that the NSW Government has recently indicated that changes to the NSW planning process involving the assessment of local character are forthcoming, with the Department of Planning and Environment (Department) having released a new planning circular entitled ‘Stepping up planning and designing for better places: respecting and enhancing local character’ (Circular).

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The Purpose of Heritage Conservation Areas

Over the past forty years, concern with the conservation of the character of areas of architectural or historic interest has arisen in response to the ‘excesses’ of post-war development and the associated loss of much of importance in the towns and cities of the world. Following 19th century concern at the lack of protection for individual buildings and monuments the present concept of listed buildings and their protection was first introduced into the UK under the Civic Amenities Act, 1967, but has subsequently followed in many other countries in Europe, Asia, America and Africa since.

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New Approaches to Heritage Planning

Heritage can basically be anything and exist anywhere. It can also be personal and collective as well as local and global.

Fredholm (2017) writes that heritage planning can be anything but a simple and straight-forward activity. As heritage is inherently dissonant, poor planning and management can lead to conflict. A burgeoning public interest in the ways the past is presented and represented naturally includes certain modes of heritage governance which have in turn generated new challenges to traditional planning systems.

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Heritage is only relevant when it is relevant for the people

As highlighted by OWHC, Council of Europe and EUROCITIES advocates the involvement of communities as an important approach to the conservation, management and promotion of urban heritage. OWHC calls for the provision of oppor¬tunities of engagement and cooperation with and for local communities; having the understanding that urban heritage can act as enabler of sustain¬able development by providing direct and indirect benefits to the daily lives of the cities’ inhabitants.

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