CIVILIZATION-MAKING AND ITS DISCONTENTS: The Venice Charter and Heritage Policies in Contemporary China | ROBERT SHEPHERD
Any examination of the impact of the 1964 International Charter for the Conservation and Preservation of Monuments and Sites (more commonly known as the Venice Charter) on cultural heritage preservation over the past five decades must begin with a key caveat: this accord was strictly aimed at the preservation of archaeological sites and monuments. This ‘‘dead stones’’ approach to preservation is certainly open to critique.1 But it is important to remember that the Venice Charter has been supplemented by more than forty additional international and regional conventions and accords on the nebulous topic of heritage. In the process, the meaning and scope of this concept has steadily expanded far beyond monumental and historical built space and archaeological sites to include parks, gardens, and urban industrial zones; natural landscapes such as mountains, rivers, and forests; human-impacted natural spaces that range from terraced rice fields in Bali and Nepal to the Trinity nuclear test site in New Mexico; and most recently, intangible cultural practices. Thus, in surveying the bewildering state of heritage today (is anything not potentially heritage?), both the significance of the Venice Charter and critiques aimed at this should be considered in the context of the time in which the charter was written.
First, given that it was drafted and approved at the Second International Congress of Architects and Technicians of Historic Monuments, the Venice Charter emphasizes both the conservation and restoration of monuments and sites. It is thus largely a technical document. Being so, the charter describes a set of principles for material conservation that it implies are universal—not surprising given the time in which it was written, which was arguably the height of the postwar Modernist movement in built space. Second, this was a profoundly progressive document, particularly in its insistence on the primacy of in situ principles (Articles 1 and 7),2 acceptance that preserved monuments should have a ‘‘socially useful purpose’’ (Article 5),3 and recognition that at monuments and sites with multiple temporal layers of built space, an original or first layer should not automatically be privileged (Article 11).4
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