ICOMOS Seminar on 20th Heritage

10-13 June 1996, Mexico City, Mexico


1.Objectives of the seminar

1.1 Representatives of 14 nations and of different disciplines responded to the invitation of the Metropolitan Autonomous University (MAU) and of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) to contribute to intellectual development and to an exchange of experiences. Herewith, it sought to pay deserving attention to heritage constructed in the 20th century as well as to specific and singular problems regarding its preservation.

1.2 The purpose of this Seminar was to explore and deepen the perspectives and the contribution of America to the enrichment of the ongoing work posited during the Helsinki Seminar in June of 1995. This contribution focuses on rescuing and identifying the particularities of America -The United States, Canada, The Caribbean and Latin America- as well as on the exchange of ideas and influences.

1.3 Attention focused on 20th century heritage considered as the material base of social life, itself related to intangible heritage.

1.4 The interventions by the participants echoed a wider gamut derived from the multiple situations and examples of each country, as can be deduced from the diverse papers presented during this Seminar.

2. Conclusions

2.1 Identification

2.1.1 The considerations on constructed 20th century heritage point to a dynamic concept of Heritage, which must refer to the present and future of social life within the framework of sustainable development. This concept must place the works within the framework of the general expectations of the community, with special attention given to the environment, economic activities, and cultural life.

2.1.2 A priority deserving issue should be the development of the specific affirmation concerning the American continent as a space of reference for 2Oth century heritage, whose wealth and diversity was amply pointed out during this Seminar. Hence, for example, American muralism is a particular regional expression which integrates plastic arts into modern architecture and shows the exceptional creativity of 20th century culture in America.

2.1.3 The historical analysis must continue and deepen in order to elaborate the meaning, contribution, periodization and development contexts of architecture and urbanism during this century entwined with the history and the political and cultural events of America.

2.1.4 Constructed heritage must be considered conjointly with memory and the collective imaginaries, and related to the use of spaces and social phenomena such as uncontrolled urban growth, transportation problems, social discrimination and the remaining expressions of the contemporary world.

2.1.5 It is necessary to identify the important works which are recognized due to their quality and significance, as well as sectors or parts of cities, cultural, urban or rural landscapes, which are testimonies of ways of life, of historical typologies, of social uses and of modalities of action. Likewise, it is convenient to find nuances within the valuation scale, with the purpose of defining heritage conservation and intervention levels.

2.1.6 Within the general registration procedures, specific references must aim at defining styles, periods and typologies as well as cultural properties, with special emphasis placed on features and collective uses. We recommend thematic studies leading to the identification and valuation of works according to parameters of style, typology, period and region.

2.1.7 Permanent and systematic inventories must be developed, accessible to interested persons and institutions, to be maintained and organized through time with the support of contemporary methods and tools.

2.1.8 It is indispensable that heritage be approached from a regional perspective, whose parameters constitute the only valid indicators of analysis and valuation. Upon observing the different cases in America, it will be possible to grasp their contributions, local as well as those resulting from feedback toward other cultures, establishing thus their true relevance.

2.2 Protection

2.2.1 Appropriate protection of recent heritage is as necessary as is the imminent risk which heritage runs throughout America given the accelerated processes of permanent transformation, the pressures on the land and the precarious public acceptance of modem works.

2.2.2 Given the scarcity of resources, selection must refer to diverse types of cultural goods, to the regions, to the qualities characteristic of the works and, above all, to their significance to the community.

2.2.3 The selection process must start at the local level and proceed successively to the regional, national and international spheres. The fust step, the local level, is considered of great importance.

2.2.4 To achieve this protection, the existing legal norms in each locality must be revised in order to complement them and to adopt the necessary laws within the legal framework of each country.

2.3 Preservation and technical problems.

2.3.1 Preservation must occur in a dynamic sense in order to respect the values indicated in each work and. to make possible its enjoyment and use in the future. These interventions must be controlled by technical instances which make possible the respect and development of the works.

2.3.2 New techniques must be taken into account, along with the accelerated proliferation of new materials or the disappearance of others, with the purpose of discerning possibilities of change and modalities of intervention. To be pointed out are both, the positive examples which enrich the intervened objects and the negative ones which destroy or deform important values. In this task, collaboration with other technical disciplines is opportune and fundamental, always from the vantage point of preserving authenticity.

2.3.3 The authenticity to be maintained must be tantamount to its significance in terms of the community; and it refers to its social use and its context, as well as to its materiality.

2.3.4 Whereas many cultural properties of previous centuries had survived changes of use and context, the works of 20th century heritage are frequently threatened by the failure or obsolescence of their original use or by changes in planning regulations. This economic and planning related consideration must be considered a problem to give way to a pluridisciplinary approach.

2.4 Research and Formation.

2.4.1 To further and coordinate research referring to historical processes, to the identification of values and elements, to the technical problems and to the dialogue of input and communication among the countries of the region and with the entire world.

2.4.2 To increase the publication of reports and the development of considerations in that sense as a way of spreading and discussing these theses, and therefore, their complementation and enrichment pertaining to Conservation, Restoration, and Preservation.

2.4.3 To support the training of instructors and technicians to spread and develop the theoretical and historiographic achievments as well as the technical knowlwedge and procedures for the handling of 20th century heritage.

2.5 Raising Social Awareness

2.5.1 The necessity of raising social or public awareness must start by understanding what heritage represents to the community. This refers to the need for identification and selection, as weIl as for public presentation, emphasizing the original and creative contribution of America.

2.5.2 To also integrate public and representative .institutions in charge of urban planning at the various levels, with the purpose of achieving effective preservation policies.

2.5.3 To raise public awareness requires adequate publications and the organizing of collective sensitivization and information campaigns. In this regard, the importance of the mass media and the need for a permanent relationship with them must be underscored.

3. International cooperation

3.1 20th century heritage characterizes itself by its international coverage with exchanges and influences among different regions. Therefore, it is fundamental to find an agreement, at least at regional levels, pertaining to both the terminology used to classify architectural styles or tendencies, as well as to the time period given to their undisputable relationship to history, and therefore, to culture.

3.2 It was agreed upon tocarry out efforts to try to celebrate Heritage Day under the topic, 20th Century Heritage in the year 2000.

4. Recommendations

4.1 The members of the Seminar propose:

  • The establishment of an information network.

  • The organized compilation of bibliography (thematic, regional, and temporal areas). Different levels of normativity in the protection of 20th century heritage.

4.2 A listing of world heritage.
With the purpose of enhancing the general perspective of American cultural heritage, it was proposed that in the short term heritage works and sites be considered, which could be recorded on the world heritage list. This type of registration of goods would allow the attainment of a greater representativity and legitimacy for all 20th century American heritage.

4.3 The participants to this Seminar had the privilege of making a guided visit to Ciudad Universitaria, the central campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, considered an excellent example of the topic which brought us together here. This mid-20th century work (1954) of great interest is also a global project which transcends by far the specific value of each particular edifice. The participants of this Seminar recommend that all competent institutions start the procedures to request its registry on the world heritage list. This work is a good example of active participation in the international movement with influences from and toward other countries. But simultaneously, a strong Mexican and Precolumbian determination was perceived, as it can be observed in many of the buildings and landscaped spaces of Ciudad Universitaria. Specifically, muralism and its relationship to naturallandscape are examples of this. It is urgent to work toward some type of declaration to protect Ciudad Universitaria. Equally obvious are the architectural values and those of cultural memory on the one hand, and the attacks it is constantly subjected to, on the other.

5. Gratitude and appreciation

The Seminar of Experts on the Conservation of 20th Century Heritage has been organized by the Metropolitan Autonomous University of Mexico (MAU) and ICOMOS International. It was held from the 10th to the 13th of June, 1996 at the Xochimilco Campus of the MAU in Mexico City. The Seminar counted with the collaboration of UNESCO's World Heritage Center, and the Documenation and Conservation of Modern Movement Heritage (DOCOMOMO). The participation of the Latin American Representatives was possible thanks to the generous support given by the Government of Canada. The Seminar participants congratulate the MAU for the excellent organization and appreciate the cordial hospitality and kindness shown toward the participants.

Mexico City, June 14th, 1996


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