Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Modern Movement

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Modern Movement

Article excerpt

20th-century art and architecture are still without their rightful place in the heritage listings

The heritage of the period since the industrial revolution, especially that of the twentieth century, is still barely represented on the World Heritage List. It is hard for the recent heritage to compete on equal terms with prestigious works from the more distant past, and it is also particularly difficult to make a well-considered choice from such a vast field.

In addition, the use of experimental building techniques and materials such as iron, reinforced concrete, steel-framed windows and various kinds of cladding gives rise to new conservation problems that have yet to be solved. Some recent buildings and neighbourhoods have not been critically evaluated. They may be in bad condition or have been radically altered; in some cases they are associated with the destruction of monuments and sites of previous ages.

On the eve of the new millennium, it is high time to regard twentieth century architecture as part of our heritage and to protect it. Fortunately, interest in this new category is growing, as shown by a number of recent nominations for the World Heritage List.

* A thematic approach

As of today the List contains properties in 108 states. To achieve a well balanced selection it would be a good idea to introduce a certain thematic approach, especially within the vast field of twentieth-century heritage. Three international specialist organizations are currently working towards this goal. An International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) working group is studying Art Nouveau buildings dating from around 1900, which often incorporate decorative ironwork, curved lines and floral patterns (e.g. the Casa Mila and the "Guell Palace" designed by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Spain). The International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH) is studying the industrial heritage (e.g. Ironbridge, in the United Kingdom). And DOCOMOMO is working on the functionalist heritage of the Modern movement.(*)

* Functionalist architecture

As well as the Bauhaus sites in Weimar and Dessau (Germany), which were included in 1996, two other modernist sites already feature on the World Heritage List: the serene Woodlands cemetery in Stockholm (Sweden) designed by Erik Gunnar Asplund (19181940), and the capital of Brazil, Brasilia, which was inaugurated in 1960. More nominations, however, can be expected, including that of the Schroderhuis in Utrecht (Netherlands), a fine example of De Stijl architecture built in 1924 by Gerrit Rietveld. …

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