THE INDUSTRIAL HERITAGE, A NEW HERITAGE
By Eusebi Casanelles, President of TICCIH
Calls to include the remains of industry as part of our cultural heritage are only relatively recent. They have nevertheless spread to almost all the countries that experienced industrialisation or that developed industrial activities. Until a few decades ago, an industrial workplace was just a more evolved version of an earlier one, and for most people they were simply the place where they worked; it was unthinkable that one day they might be seen as the cultural heritage of the country. But from the 1950s and 60s, there have been tremendous technical innovations that have caused a profound rupture in how we design and construct our buildings, machinery and tools and in the way in which we use them. At the same time, our attitudes and habits have undergone an acute social alteration. Within a few years, the productive world has become obsolete, and our society has been transformed. The world has entered a new era, and the remains of industrialisation are rapidly passing into history.
The importance of industrial heritage is based on two principal values. One is that of being witness to the world of work and the daily life of a period which transformed humanity. The other value is that of a document that helps us understand better how people lived and worked in this period. The information that it contains is what determines its value as a testimony, and the information that we can obtain establishes its value as a document.
The remains of industry and work are not a heritage to be contemplated, as you might not look at a work of art, nor does it have great age value in the traditional sense. The industrial heritage is composed of the sites of production, but also of the houses of the people who worked there, of the systems of transport they used, the remains of social life and so on. But if individual elements have a value, they’re real importance is only becomes clear when they are viewed in the entirety of the landscape in which they stand, and we can examine the relationship between the various elements. Consideration of the landscape is fundamental to understanding the industrial heritage.
The quantity of industrial remains that can be found in different areas obliges us to make a selection of the most important ones, and if we want to conserve a significant amount, they have to be reused for new and relevant purposes. This change implies alterations, and a new debate about the authenticity of what is preserved. If we want future generations to understand what has gone before them, some interpretation of their meaning is also needed.
The movement for the preservation of the industrial heritage began in England in the 1960s, and today is present in every country that has some experience of industrialisation. Modern society advances at such a rate that twenty years can seem an eternity, and the change of century, which has placed us symbolically in a different millennium, has distanced us ever further from our recent past. For most citizens, the industrial world can seem as far off as that of any other historical period.
Now is the moment to encourage the definitive recognition of the industrial heritage and to make a deep reflection about all the concepts referred to above. We celebrate that ICOMOS has decided to dedicate this 18 April, 2006, to the industrial heritage, because it is a definitive step towards these objectives.
In London in 2000, ICOMOS and TICCIH signed an agreement thanks to which a partnership was started that has already borne fruit, as in the cases of the industrial landscapes inscribed as World Heritage, a partnership that I would like to acknowledge. It is the definite desire of both organisations to work even more closely together, and in the future I am sure that we will.