ICOMOS Seminar on 20th Heritage

in cooperation with UNESCO (WHC) and ICCROM

18-19 June 1995, Helsinki, Finland


Aim of the Seminar

Considering the breath of current understanding of cultural heritage, and that it is conceived to include all periods of time until the present as well as all types of heritage. Considering further the quality and quantity of cultural properties of the recent past, and the potential or real threats facing this heritage, particular attention is required for the safeguarding and care also of the twentieth-century heritage.

The ICOMOS Seminar on 20th-century Heritage had three specific objectives:

    1. to recognize the state of the art seen in the international context;

    2. to explore the ways and means to develop methodologies for a critical process for the analysis and assessment of the significance of the twentieth-century heritage in its various forms and in relation to the social, political, economic and cultural context;

    3. to draw conclusions concerning the methodology for the definition and identification of properties of outstanding universal significance in view of their potential inclusion to the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

Previous action

Several organizations, and especially the Council of Europe and DOCOMOMO have already initiated action in this regard. Such action includes the Council of Europe Recommendation on the Protection of the Twentieth-century Architectural heritage of 9 September 1991, as well as the work for the identification and characterisation of such heritage by DOCOMOMO, an organization created in 1988.

In recent years, several meetings have been organized to discuss the definition, inventory and conservation of the recent heritage; these include in particular:

    -1985, ICOMOS expert meeting in Paris;
    -Council of Europe: seminar in Vienna 1989 and in Barcelona 1990;
    -Meetings of DOCOMOMO (Eindhoven 1990, Dessau 1992, Barcelona 1994);
    -1994, the meeting on Art Deco of France and Canada in Ottawa;
    -1995, the conference on "Preserving the Recent Past" in Chicago.

Interest of Recent Heritage for International Cultural Cooperation

The heritage of the 20th century, including architecture, town planning and cultural landscapes, has been based on the cross-fertilization of ideas, influences and ways of life at an international level. In many cases, such movements have experienced an integration into the cultural and social context of each country. Such integration has enriched the heritage, and made it reflect the cultural diversity of each area.

General Recommendations

The meeting came to the following conclusions:

    1. It is noted that the 20th-century heritage should not be defined only with reference to its architectural forms, but taking into account the broad ecological, social, anthropological, economic and cultural framework which forms the whole. There is a need to stress the importance of memory over considerations of materials.

    2. The established principles of conservation are a valid basis for the safeguarding and care of the recent heritage.

    3. While some of the heritage of the 20th century has particular characteristics that differentiate it from earlier constructions, it results substantially from the continuity of heritage. Its identification and inventory need to be updated on a regular basis. Attention is required to all types and even modest examples of such heritage, and in particular to urban and rural ensembles, housing schemes and industrial heritage.

    4. Systematic documentation of the 20th-century heritage in all its dimensions and in relation to its context is necessary. Such documentation should take into account the potential offered by new recording methods.

    5. Due attention should be paid to the full spectrum of the heritage of the entire century, including buildings and ensembles built in new technologies as well as those using traditional building materials and structural forms.

    6. It was recognized that the life cycles of man-made environments are mainly based on economic and functional considerations, and require critical choices to guide the process of selection of cultural properties that merit protection.

    7. Considering the international character of much of the twentieth-century heritage, networking and joint efforts are of particular importance. Such action should be taken both in relation to identification and inventory, as well as to education and training in collaboration with existing initiatives.

    8. Research programmes on specific problems concerning techniques and materials in restoration work with due respect to their aesthetic qualities should be encouraged. The publication of results from achieved experiences and preparation of corresponding specialized bibliographies are priority actions.. Attention should be given to the economic positive consequences of restoration and regular maintenance with respect to employment policy and sustainable development.

    9. In order to promote communication and raise public awareness, the media should be used to stress the importance of the 20th-century heritage especially to the young people. The international community should also draw attention to the qualities and values of specific cultural properties.

    10. The Council of Europe Recommendation, R (91) 13, gives some general guidelines for actions in this field. (Appendix 1 )

    11. A follow-up of the seminar is necessary. It should include the distribution of the working documents and keeping regular contacts between participants. If a future meeting is organized on this subject, it should be open to other disciplines and decision makers, and should take place in another part of the world.

Recommendations concerning the World Heritage Convention

Following the recommendations of the experts meeting of the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS in June 1994 on the Global Strategy "to move away from a purely architectural view of cultural heritage towards one which was more anthropological, multifunctional and universal", the Helsinki Seminar emphasized the merging of the various expressions of the 20th-century heritage. These embody both the changes and innovations of the century as well as traditional forms and expressions.

It was agreed:

    -that there be an on-going process of consultations between ICOMOS, DOCOMOMO and the World Heritage Centre in order to define the twentieth-century heritage and develop a methodology for its identification;

    -and that it would be advisable only in exceptional cases to propose for inclusion to the World Heritage List properties which are less than 25 years old in order to allow sufficient time for historical perspective and scientific analysis.


The ICOMOS Seminar on the 20th-century Heritage in Helsinki was organized by Finnish National Committee of ICOMOS, and it was hosted by the Museum of Finnish Architecture in Helsinki 18-19 June 1995. The seminar counted on the collaboration of UNESCO/World Heritage Centre and of ICCROM. It gathered some twenty five experts from thirteen countries including representatives of international organizations. (List of participants in appendix 2)

The participants of the Helsinki seminar congratulate the organizers for the excellent organization of the works and the cordial reception offered during the seminar.


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