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D4 Aspects of Authenticity in Architectural Heritage Conservation

Delhi, India: The tomb of Humayun and the surrounding garden after recent restoration works.
Delhi, India: The tomb of Humayun and the surrounding garden after recent restoration works. Source: Own work.

Introduction

Various charters addressing issues of architectural heritage conservation that were drafted after World War II established an "international conservation orthodoxy" (Menon 1994) which does not consider indigenous practices, thus ignoring cultural diversity. Valued as ´internationally` accepted principles, the Venice Charter has, with a general appeal to hand on ancient monuments “in the full richness of their authenticity”, since 1964 guided efforts in architectural conservation worldwide. In 1994 The Nara Document on Authenticity was drafted “in response to the expanding scope of cultural heritage concerns” and encouraged “respect for cultural and heritage diversity”.

However, no debate followed in order to define the different aspects of authenticity. Is authenticity valued in regard of the design and shape, the material, the technique and tradition of craftsmanship, or the use and function of a monument? Is a location or spirit of place awarded authenticity? – Authenticity is a relative notion.  

Patan, Nepal: Repair of Sulima Temple blind window.
Patan, Nepal: Repair of Sulima Temple blind window. Source: Own work.

Authenticity - Whose Values?

Few voices from Asia – for example Krishna Menon from India – have presented different aspects of authenticity: He argues that, in general, the West reflects the ‘linear’ concept of time. In this view, the authenticity of a building is fixed in the past and cannot ‘evolve’ over time. There is a clear distinction between time past and time present. The job of a conservator is to protect all traces of time past. Because all contemporary intervention compromises the ´original` authenticity of the building, the objective of conservation is only to attempt minimum intervention in order to conserve its existing status, even as a ruin. In western conservation practice, authenticity "is determined by the awareness of time´s irreversibility which emphasises the temporal qualities of objects" (Menon 1994).

In contrast to the "golden stain of time" (John Ruskin) and the practice in the West, indigenous craftsmen and foremen like the sompuras and sthapatis in India or the nahyos in Nepal view heritage as evolving over time. For generations they have traditionally been following authentic contemporary interventions while the authenticity inheres in the continuously evolving integrity of the historic building for its intended use. In this view, the quality of authenticity is transferred to the site on which the object exists.

The ultimate goal of an intervention in China traditionally is to regain an original state and to transcend mere maintenance and preservation.

Thus, one system consolidates the ruin as it exists, while others restore and rebuild it.  

Cologne, Germany: Recent replacement of the former "Domplombe" by the reconstruction of the tracery once lost in World War II.
Cologne, Germany: Recent replacement of the former "Domplombe" by the reconstruction of the tracery once lost in World War II. Source: Own work.

Aims and Perspectives

The project Aspects of Authenticity in Architectural Heritage Conservation intends to explore the dynamics of asymmetrical cultural flows:

On the one hand, the aim is to demonstrate the adaptation of allegedly ´global` constants in the concept of authenticity in conservation practice, e.g. the material aspects of authenticity while denying any continuity of tradition in the evolution of a building.

On the other hand, the project intends to trace in a transcultural approach the historical background of maintenance and renewal of architectural heritage and to document the present practice at actual and recent sites in four countries – India, Nepal, China and Germany.

The fieldwork includes interviews with politicians, administrators, academically trained professionals and overseers and craftsmen. Furthermore workshops and conferences with architects, architectural historians and conservationists will be arranged, in order to initiate a transcultural conversation about the different aspects of authenticity which has until now been lacking.

By bringing together scholars with different cultural backgrounds, the project aims to identify different cultural values that have their impact on the conservation of architectural heritage.     

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