ISS – (VI) REFLECTIONS ON SAFETY IN HERITAGE

After the various discussions of each day have come to a close, we would like to highlight here some of the initial reflections that motivated the celebration of this International Scientific Symposium on Safety in Heritage, which were not only reaffirmed by some of the different speakers, but which once again show the relevance and need to organize a conference on these topics.  Likewise, we would like to discuss some of the conclusions reached in this area, which will be considered in the following entry, with the presentation of the Declaration of the Circle.

 

The numerous experts summoned to the symposium have spent three days analysing and debating the risks and threats related to safety in heritage, pertinent questions for the contribution of sensible and appropriate solutions, coherent with the problems experienced nowadays.  These issues were addressed by Ramón Mayo, president of KALAM, who reflected on the reasons that led him to promote an event specifically on Safety Heritage.

Tourism is now reaching levels that were unimaginable only 40 years ago.  Hundreds of millions of people come from other countries, attracted by the climate, the history and the wealth of our Natural and Cultural Heritage. We all know the economic importance of this sector. For Spain, it represents no less than 12% of its GDP.  The so-called “Cultural Tourism” is increasingly important in absolute numbers, because it can revitalize the territory, establishing and improving the quality of life of inhabitants and, consequently, making the sustainability of our Heritage possible.

However, mass tourism can have an unwanted impact on the natural environment and can cause havoc in the field of safety, an issue where it is important to take action.  Equally, it is possible to think that the heritage assets were not conceived with the 21st century tourists in mind, always holding their mobile phones and performing dangerous acts to get their selfies.

For this reason, through the experience in the daily environment and news in the press on various incidents related to safety in heritage that have occurred over decades of working on cultural assets, and coinciding with the 30th anniversary celebration of KALAM, it was considered the appropriate time to organize an International Scientific Symposium to discuss the ideas and reflections in order to propose measures to make the constructed heritage safer.

Among other proposals, we must consider the limitation of the paths through certain monuments.  It mustn’t be necessary to allow access to all corners of the property, considering safety as a theme in the work carried out in historic buildings, integrating this question in a coherent manner, respectful to the monument.

The agreement, at a minimum, should include recommendations for international organizations in the field of Cultural Heritage to provide managers and those responsible for the historic buildings the convenience of reviewing the elements of the building that involve danger, or, at least, to take advantage of the auxiliary means used in the development of rehabilitation work to review or install necessary elements, such as lightning rods or lifelines that will allow technicians and operators to access the dangerous location in the future with greater safety. It is surprising that in most of the public tenders we work on, which always prescribe the placement of scaffolding on the facades and roofs together with the relevant rehabilitation work, do not include by default something so economical, such as these safety elements, which can be vital.

Monuments today have a very different use than they were designed for, and the pressure of tourism (sometimes truly invasive) without adequate regulatory adaptation in terms of accessibility, lighting, signage, etc., requires more attention and an updated level of safety.  We could say that in these last 20 years, a great effort has been made to place value on our Cultural Heritage, from the great monuments to the modest testimonies of our vernacular architecture, from the Industrial Heritage to the most emblematic archaeological sites. We have taken care to make them accessible, but now we must take care to also make them safer.

As in the field of Occupational Risk Prevention, which in Spain normally accounts for between 1 and 3% of the intervention budget to cover the technical needs in this area, it would be convenient to establish a consensus among the different organizations, public and private institutions, companies, professionals and other agents in world heritage management, to achieve a commitment to allocate 2% for such work, in an adjustable or gradual percentage, depending on the entity involved, or the commitment to invest that figure in the development of studies to prepare for the final work. Similar proposals could be aimed at improving regulations.

For this reason, the conference was also established to present a report on the state of safety conditions in Spanish Cultural Heritage, specifically commissioned from the organization to the LoCUS research group of the School of Architecture of the Polytechnic University of Madrid for the event. This report sheds light on the state of the monuments and archaeological sites in a representative sample through the analysis of Cultural Assets in the total of 17 autonomous communities and the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, presenting several interesting conclusions worth noting.

The study included a stratified sample of 402 respondents on a base of more than 13,000 registered Cultural Assets (BICs), both initiated and declared. This information has been prepared through a questionnaire submitted to the relevant institutions and those responsible for the assets, which, in turn, have been informed of the results derived from the analysis carried out.  It should be noted that, according to the report, out of the total number of respondents contacted, almost 15% have declined to answer the questionnaire.

Likewise, this questionnaire is understood as a starting template that can serve as the basis for similar studies at the international level, both in the countries represented by the speakers and invited to the symposium and those that have not been able to attend. In this manner, we want to encourage further work in this area that allows the identification of the fundamental issues in regard to cultural heritage in terms of safety and risk prevention and to materialize the specific needs of the assets through the data contributed by similar studies.  As a result, as a shared working tool, we will send this template to all the UN countries that have adopted heritage conventions around UNESCO and which have issues or needs related to safety in regard to cultural heritage, both for the assets and the people themselves.

Among the issues raised by the survey, we should note some interesting aspects, such as the self-assessment of the state of conservation of the property by its responsible parties, the type of risk involved in the preservation or the most frequent problems that lead to said risks.

First in terms of the number of registered assets, Andalusia represents 20.1% of the total sample, logically due to both the expansive size of the territory and for the wealth of heritage included in its historical-cultural remains. Many would say that the second position could be occupied by the communities of Catalonia or Castilla y León, but nevertheless, the study states that the second position in terms of the number of registered cultural assets, is the Balearic Islands, with 17.6% of the sample (although most are related to archaeological sites).

Although the study focuses on cultural assets in the Spanish territory (as well as the analysis of legislation and national plans and programs), it also devotes space to a comparative analysis of the recommendations for the international field, in terms of actions plans in countries such as France, Switzerland, Turkey, Canada or the Latin American area. Likewise, the study pays special attention to press articles on safety in cultural heritage, quantitatively analysing the news according to the specific aspect of the issue we are concerned with, with the highest percentage corresponding to those focused on restoration, vandalism, or robbery and looting.

On the other hand, certain results stand out from the interviews with the heads of the BICs, such as that only 22% of the assets open to the public for visiting have the safety measures required to guarantee full accessibility, or that 64% of the total sample have never been rehabilitated or restored, according to data extracted from this study.

In the same manner, by virtue of the will that led to the celebration of the Symposium, the “Declaration of the Circle” has been drafted with the supervision of the Scientific Committee, with the contributions of suggestions by the speakers, as well as the assistants who have been considered appropriate.  This document is intended to establish a series of criteria related to safety in cultural heritage, which will serve as the basis for the management and intervention of cultural assets, as well as for their necessary adaptation and regulatory development. Its final content, which was read at the closing ceremony of the symposium, is the result of a joint, living and comprehensive writing, built through the consensus of a diverse group of international experts, giving it a plural dimension. These shared experiences and knowledge have guided all of the activities carried out under this event.

In short, the conference has tried to address issues centred on those buildings and cultural assets erected in another time, and their safe conservation, according to the possible rules of each place, permitting tourists to visit risk-free, who come to enjoy the architecture and landscapes of our cultural heritage, as well as for the users, workers and passers-by who inhabit our public and private spaces.  The conservation of cultural property must ensure that no passers-by is at risk or danger due to the integrity or state of preservation of the monument.  In this sense, the organization of the symposium is very satisfied by the extraordinary response that the event has had, both in the participation of renowned professionals at the international level, as well as the good reception of the attending public, and the extraordinary quality of the content presented and the debates raised.

Overall, during this Symposium, and even during its coordination through the registration of inscriptions and the motivations that brought us more than 350 registered parties, is a subject of great interest for the specialized public in attendance, mostly active professionals in the field of conservation in the public and private sector.  Even starting with the study, which shows that there are aspects to improve in ensuring security in a manner compatible with the conservation of our valuable heritage, through debates and exhibitions that take place during the course, we could see a lot of good practices and references that are already being made in our country and in the international arena.  We discusses cases such as the Mezquita Cathedral in Cordoba, the Alhambra of Granada, various sites in Morocco, Iran, Italy, Portugal, Chile, Peru, and the United States, among others… an international vision that allowed us to share experiences around thematic lines and objectives.

The reading and approval of the Declaration of the Circle was a golden touch for this conference and contributes to the shared will that seeks to continue improving the safety of this valuable legacy for the enjoyment of all today and tomorrow. For different reasons, the unequal development of regulations, social awareness about heritage, etc, but not only this, but the shared knowledge, an important path to follow to improve overall safety in our heritage. As has been said on several occasions, prevention, training, awareness, and common sense are some of the key issues to address, and we hope we can continue treating them on future occasions, so that the lessons learned during this conference is reflected in the actions put into practice from this time forward.

Throughout the symposium, attendees felt that they enjoyed the knowledge shared with colleagues and other specialists, all of them activists in favour of cultural heritage, learning from each other, and turning the event in a celebrated seminar on Safety in Heritage and the values involved for us, also, as citizens.

Review of the event



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