Debate facilitated by the ICOMOS ISC on Interpretation and Presentation (ICIP)

BACKGROUND

Reconstruction in the heritage domain can be defined as the act or process of representing the missing form, features, detailing, and sometimes even materials of a non-surviving site, monument, landscape, building, structure, or object (or portion thereof) at a specific period of time and typically in its historic location.
It is important to note that reconstructions today can be digital as well as physical, something that was not envisioned at the time of the Venice Charter in 1964. Although physical reconstructions can be more 'invasive' and damaging to the surviving original fabric of archaeological or historical sites , both physical and digital reconstructions raise serious questions of historical validity as both can produce powerfully persuasive images for educational and interpretive use.
Reconstructions differ from restorations in that they include new construction of various missing components of the cultural landscape, such as buildings, huts, towns or villages, earthworks, living areas, trails, and roads. Throughout the world, reconstructions have addressed a wide temporal range including sites (among dozens if not hundreds of others that could be mentioned) such as a Neolithic house at Çatalhöyük in Turkey, the prehistoric Great Kiva at the Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico, USA; the Iron Age gate of Beersheva in Israel; the Iron Age Castell Henllys site in Wales; the Xanten Roman Archaeological Park in Germany, as well as many historic period buildings (mostly wooden, but also wattle and daub) throughout Europe and North America.

The Venice Charter (1964), long the most authoritative source for international conservation theory, has been interpreted as strictly prohibiting reconstructions at archaeological sites—and presumably of destroyed architectural monuments as well.

Article 15 of the Charter makes it clear that:
All reconstruction work should however be ruled out 'a priori.' Only anastylosis, that is to say, the reassembling of existing but dismembered parts can be permitted. The material used for integration should always be recognizable and its use should be the least that will ensure the conservation of a monument and the reinstatement of its form.

Even with regard to "restoration"—defined by the Venice Charter (Art. 9) as the specialized operation, whose "aim is to preserve and reveal the aesthetic and historic value of the monument and is based on respect for original material and authentic documents"—accuracy is paramount. The Charter insists that even restoration (which entails no reconstruction) "must stop at the point where conjecture begins." But where precisely does one draw the line between conjecture and certainty when dealing with the inevitably creative interpretation of missing or damaged historical material?

A notable exception to this insistence on the conservation of only surviving "original fabric" was made by the ICOMOS Krakow Charter of 2000 (which expanded upon the conclusions of the earlier Dresden Declaration on Reconstruction of 1982). Article 4 of the Krakow Charter stated that:

The reconstruction of entire parts 'in the style of the building' should be avoided. Reconstruction of very small parts having architectural significance can be acceptable as an exception on condition that it is based on precise and indisputable documentation.

However, it went on to acknowledge that:

Reconstruction of an entire building, destroyed by armed conflict or natural disaster, is only acceptable if there are exceptional social or cultural motives that are related to the identity of the entire community.

Such in fact had been the case with the large scale reconstruction of the city of Ieper/Ypres in Belgium, which had been leveled in the intense bombardment of nearby trench warfare in World War I; of the historic city center of Warsaw destroyed in World War II; and of the symbolic Mostar Bridge, intentionally dynamited in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. In the years following the Krakow Charter, plans were discussed among UNESCO and ICOMOS heritage experts for the physical reconstruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the Kasubi tombs in Uganda, and the earthen structures of Timbuktu in Mali—all of which had been destroyed for political reasons and/or religious enmity.

A CALL FOR DEBATE

Despite the reformulation of the concept of Authenticity by the 1994 Nara Document and the Dresden and Krakow texts mentioned above, a formal professional hostility to reconstructions of all types—without distinction for their possible educational or cultural significance and in the assumption that they were often built primarily for commercial purposes—has remained. The following resolution (17GA 2011/39) passed by the XVIIth ICOMOS General Assembly in Paris in 2011 reads as follows:

Recalling the Venice Charter (1964), the Dresden Declaration on Reconstruction (1982), the Nara Document on Authenticity (1994), the Krakow Charter (2000), and other recommendations addressing the theory and practice of reconstructions;
Taking into consideration the significant growth on a global scale of reconstructions of monuments and ensembles, including World Heritage Sites;
Noting the increasing disregard of existing theoretical principles for the justification of reconstruction, and a new tendency towards significant commercialization of reconstruction activities;
Encourages ICOMOS, as a matter of urgency, to launch a debate on this new and growing phenomenon of reconstruction.

At the 2012 ADCOM Meeting in Beijing, the ISC on Interpretation and Presentation (ICIP) was tasked with the responsibility of carrying forward this debate, with assistance of any other interested ISCs or individual ICOMOS members. At the 2013 ADCOM meeting in San Jose, suggestions on the survey content were solicited from all NCs and ISCs. Subsequent to the meeting, it was decided that the analysis of the results of this survey would be conducted by ICIP in close collaboration with CIPA and THEOPHILOS.

It is crucial to the objective of beginning a debate within ICOMOS on the permissibility and frequency of reconstructions that all members of the ICOMOS community express their opinions.

N.B. It is important that all respondents who cite their knowledge of recent reconstructions specify in the answer box whether they are architectural, archaeological, or digital reconstructions.

With thanks for your participation,

ICOMOS ISC on Interpretation and Presentation (ICIP)

2014: the 20th anniversary of the Nara Document on Authenticity

Background and Purpose of this Survey

The Nara Document on Authenticity, adopted in 1994, was originally intended to open the world's eyes to the way Japan conceived of its heritage. The Nara Document made the West realize that Japanese concepts for heritage conservation are not merely exclusively Japanese, but in fact have universal applicability. The document has been instrumental in beginning to reshape how heritage is perceived in the West and elsewhere. The Nara Document should be understood beyond being a mere tool for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention, and be accepted as a major landmark document that has brought about a tectonic shift in the understanding of what heritage is, from varied cultural contexts. However, there is still no clear document explaining how the concepts contained in the Nara Document have altered our perception and how they may be applied to the rest of the world. From this viewpoint, it is of primary importance to reach a deeper understanding of the spirit and intent of the Nara Document.

As an attempt to do this, the Heritage Law team of Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan, has organized two expert meetings in close cooperation with Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs.

The first meeting was held at Himeji in 2012, as part of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, with the support of Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs as well as Himeji City. Five important issues from the Nara Document were identified and these were adopted as the Himeji Recommendation. (see http://whc.unesco.org/document/123338‎)

At the second meeting in August/September 2013 in Fukuoka City, sponsored by Kyushu University, these issues were further elaborated by the same experts. (see http://www.law.kyushu-u.ac.jp/programsinenglish/hsa2013conference/index-3.html)

We are currently preparing a document that would supplement the Nara Document and will be presented at the official celebration meeting to be organized in Nara City in October 2014 by the Japanese Government and Nara Prefecture.

The Heritage Law Team of Kyushu University believes that drafting an updated normative text will not be sufficient. International communities need concrete examples that clearly illustrate the concepts and ideas enshrined in the Nara Document, along with the new document to be prepared. Therefore, we are organizing a survey. With the support of Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs and Japan ICOMOS National Committee, the Heritage Law Team of Kyushu University and the experts who attended the previous meetings are calling for the submission of cases related to both the Nara Document and the new issues that have emerged during the last twenty years.

Information from the various cases obtained through this survey will be analyzed at the extended experts meeting, co-sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and Kyushu University, to be held on February 2014. The outcome of these case studies will be an important part of the official meeting in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Nara Document in Japan on October 2014. We plan to publish the new text, the outcome of case studies, and papers on specific issues related to authenticity, as a book in both English and Japanese at the very least, and hopefully in more languages.

Last but not least, the outcome of this final meeting, including the results of the case studies, will be presented at the ICOMOS 18th General Assembly in Florence in November 2014.

This survey is planned and will be conducted based on this background and future plan stated above. Your contributions are highly appreciated. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

To access the survey, click here.

Prof. Toshiyuki Kono
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Paris - 27 August 2013

The President and membership of ICOMOS, express their grave concerns over the deteriorating situation in Egypt, and condemn the looting at the Museum of Malawi in Minya and the destruction of historic religious architecture and monuments across the country.

Read more: ICOMOS Statement on safeguarding of Egyptian cultural heritage

Additional information