Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Conservation and Protection of 20th Century Immovable Cultural Heritage in Bulgaria

                                   by Ljubinka Stoilova, M.Arch., Ph.D.
Chief Expert Emerita, Immovable Heritage Protection Department,
Sofia History Museum, lju_sto@yahoo.com

On April 10, 2009, in accordance with the current EU legislation, a new modern Law of the Cultural Heritage came into force in Bulgaria. It identifies in detail the types and scope of cultural heritage, as well as the national system of institutions responsible for cultural heritage conservation. The conservation and protection of different types of cultural heritage, concerning also the twentieth-century immovable properties of separate sites/buildings, groups of buildings, ensembles and complexes of buildings, cultural itineraries and landscapes, is defined as a system of measures for ensuring their security and consistency in the interest of society. It forms a comprehensive process of research, identification, documentation, conservation-restoration and socialization of cultural heritage and should include the training of experts in the relevant fields.
The law does not define an appropriate time distance which would allow the listing of immovable properties as monuments of culture and their legal protection. This problem is particularly valid for the post-WW II heritage. Such was the case with the modern Yavorov housing estate in Sofia constructed until 1959, which was included in the DOCOMOMO international register (already in 1999), however, the proposal for its listing in the national register of monuments of culture in 2004-2005 failed due to the then requirement for historical distance of 50 years (though the law did not mention exact number of years).
Such is nowadays the case with the former New Otani Hotel in Sofia by the Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa [http://sofiazanas.blogspot.bg/2016/05/new-otani-hotel-by-architect-kisho.html]. This only building in Bulgaria by a world wide known architect is rejected of listing in the national register of monuments of culture due to lack of sufficient historical distance. The complex was designed in the distant 1974 and built until 1979. Several years sago it was bought by a local businessman who renamed it to his wife Marinela and started drastic changes with uprooting the frontal symbolic grove of morello-trees and replacing the original interior furnishing. In attempt to rescue the unique complex the city chief architect initiated a procedure of listing it in the national register of monuments of culture but it was rejected by the present Minister of Culture due to lack of the historical distance (only 42 years). In fact this obstacle is in favour of the present owner's ambition to add another 10 storey high body to the existing structure regardless the decisive disagreement of experts and of the Chamber of architects in Bulgaria.
The protection of the entire twentieth-century cultural heritage in Bulgaria has undergone several stages of loss of modern cultural valuables. WW II and the post-war period resulted in the destruction of huge fragments of the historical centers of bigger cities already in 1950s. The socialist realism doctrine considered artistic achievements from the recent past, notably the style of Art Nouveau/Secession, Art Deco and the inter-war Modern Movement, decadent. Due to that underestimation, a number of unique local examples never entered the registers in the 1960s and 1970s. Part of that heritage was destroyed during the massive reconstructions of vast city areas in the 1980s. Another loss was manifested in the forgotten knowledge of traditional construction materials and methods due to the long-lasting period of insufficient education and the lack of development of traditional building crafts. Following the political changes in the 1990s, the criteria for assessment and registration changed gradually, however, many exemplary sites no longer met the requirements for cultural heritage evaluation which prevented them from being  listed. The small remaining part of preserved cultural valuables became a target for new investment initiatives which measured the corporate profit potential, taking into account mostly rational indicators, such as number of floors, price of a square meter built area and use of technological innovations.
Key issue of the cultural heritage conservation is the preservation of a site, as a complex or an ensemble in its entirety and aesthetic integrity. Another important aspect is authenticity (of structure, constructive materials and technologies, details of proportions, scale, materials, colours and atmosphere). The dynamic lifestyle, adaptations of properties for new functions, bad quality of renovations and conservation with extraneous construction materials and technologies excused with the lack of finances result in deterioration of specific stylistic features and initial design. More recent local trends in conservation practices include the destruction of listed monuments of culture followed by an overall imitative rebuilding as well as the so-called “integrative reconstructions” which incorporate original fragments into entirely newly planned and constructed parts. The majority of such illegal activities are due to low level of control, lack of public involvement and sensibility regarding the disappearing cultural valuables and loss of the city’s memory. In some cases, national registers contain items are totally redesigned or no longer exist.
The listing and protecting of cultural heritage of the twentieth century is more complicated in comparison with that of previous epochs due to the big diversity of functions and new aesthetic trends, technology and materials as well as due to the large number of designers. The everyday use and the rapid change of the physical environment are also serious obstacles for the protection of its exterior and interior authenticity. With the upgrade of living standards and requirements for sustainable energy effectiveness, owners face additional maintenance challenges. Problems deepen further with the recent changes of the Law for Cultural Heritage which empowered local and regional administrations to manage monitoring and conservation of immovable monuments of culture of local value with their available staff regardless possible lack of expertise.  
Ways of improving the twentieth century cultural heritage conservation include courses for experts’ qualification at local higher educational institutions or through cooperation with foreign organizations. For instance, the ATRIUM project (Architecture of Totalitarian Regimes in Urban Managements), elaborated by 18 SEE partners from 11 countries and conducted by the Municipality of Forli, Italy focused precisely on the history, heritage and memory of different totalitarian regimes [http://www.atrium-see.eu/]. Detailed case studies of buildings, urban landscapes, parks, memorial monuments and ensembles vary in historical context from the 1920s and 1930s in Fascist Italy to the 1950s-1960s and 1970s-1980s in Eastern European communist societies. The final outcome is an international cultural route [http://www.atrium-see.eu/upload/atrium-towards-route-brosura-a5-14.pdf] exploring the traumatic twentieth-century cultural relics in European cities. This route has been recognised by the European Institute of Cultural Routes in Luxemburg with perspective for further business and educational development.
The ISC20C Madrid Document and the proceedings of The Colloquium to Advance Practice in the Conservation of Modern Heritage of 2011 have established comprehensive requirements for selection of immovable monuments of culture. Based on my own experience with modern architecture heritage assessment, I consider that the DOCOMOMO International scientific committee on registers (ISC/R) has developed a coherent fiche (2003) with full building classification and abbreviated codes for documentation, a full register fiche, a fiche-minimum also containing guidelines for registration. The derived criteria fit the entire diversity of twentieth-century urban and architectural heritage. 
These documents [http://www.docomomo.com/com/momo_register_guidelines.htm] are created with the goal of providing uniformity in recording and assessment of all types of twentieth-century heritage as well as supporting the ambitions of ISC20C “Madrid Document” (2011) to modernise the methods of registration and protection.

Based on my practical experience as an expert in protection of twentieth-century architecture in Bulgaria, I am convinced in the urgent necessity to update the local registers of immovable heritage. This process would require the involvement of interdisciplinary teams of experts and students conducted on a regional basis and through centralized state control. The preventive care in terms of maintenance and control by the state and municipal institutions is of primary importance. Decisive efforts are needed to overcome the neglect which leads to loss of cultural valuables and furthermore deteriorates the societal hierarchy of moral and cultural values. Last but not least, in order to provide flexible innovative approaches and appropriate maintenance solutions it would be necessary to reform the technical high school education, as principles and methods of conservation and restoration of twentieth-century heritage. In this regard, preliminary programs and obligatory territorial distribution of technicians should cover the desperate necessity of repair and renovation all over the country and would prevent from emigration of specialists.

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