UNESCO and 'Architecture with a Smile.' (Art Nouveau Architecture)

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NINETEEN COUNTRIES (*1) are today cooperating in a Unesco project to study and protect the architectural heritage of Art Nouveau and Jugendstil--described at a recent meeting of specialists as "architecture with a smile".

The notion of cultural dialogue, today a central feature of Unesco's programme, was already foreshadowed in the Art Nouveau movement. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Hungarian town of Keckskemet, where the seeds of the Unesco project were sown at a meeting of specialists held in 1985. Kecskemet has a number of magnificent buildings dating from the turn of the century, including a town hall designed by the Hungarian architect Odon Lechner (1845-1914). Though uniquely Hungarian, these buildings are also the product of a closely knit network of international influences and exchanges, and bear witness to a powerful movement whose dynamics spread not only through the countries of Europe but also to other continents.

The Art Nouveau project soon generated great interest. The German National Commission for Unesco in Bonn, which acted as co-ordinator, drew up an initial plan which won wide approval at Unesco's General Conference in 1985. The following year, a group of European specialists met at Heiligkreuztal in the Federal Republic of Germany and defined Art Nouveau architecture for the purposes of the project--a difficult task in view of the great diversity of creators and processes involved. They adopted a definition which was broad enough to include not only the work of leading figures who set out to use a combination of artistic skills in order to create "all-inclusive works of art" but also the contributions of less well-known architects and builders many of whom played an important role, whether in shaping urban districts or in helping the transmission of Art Nouveau internationally.

The next stage was to assemble and evaluate information about Art Nouveau buildings as a basis for possible preservation work. A fund of information about international exchanges, building techniques and especially the experimental use of new materials at the turn of the century has gradually been created. As far as the spread of Art Nouveau is concerned, it would be impossible to emphasize too strongly the influence exercised by popular illustrated periodicals such as the German magazine Jugend, which made extensive use of photographs to document new trends in architecture and the arts. …