Interior of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, Germany. Image: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0
It’s Week 2 and here I am on my laptop tracking down information on the Faro Convention. On YouTube I came across a useful video posted by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, in which Michaëla Hanssen explains the agreement to ‘the layperson’.
According to Michaëla, one of the questions Faro focuses on is: Why do we need to preserve cultural heritage?
Yes, well why?
How about because many of our old buildings are so incredibly beautiful! That’s the first answer that springs to my mind. There’s nothing I like more than enjoying the beauty of art nouveau façades, medieval streets and baroque squares. The faceless blocks that tend to dominate our towns and cityscapes nowadays irritate me. To say nothing of the lack of fountains in urban development plans (I’m a big fan of fountains: they look lovely, sound good and also help with water storage). But at the same time I think it’s important to protect heritage from the period of post-war reconstruction, architecture I wouldn’t exactly class as ‘beautiful’. So the heritage issue is a bit more complicated than I first thought.
Beauty turns out to be a sensitive subject in the heritage sector. I’m a student at VU Amsterdam, and in one of my tutorials we were discussing the Frauenkirche in Dresden. This church was bombed in a World War Two bombardment and completely rebuilt after the war. I mentioned how delighted I was that they had done this, as it’s such a beautiful church. But my comment fell on stony ground. My lecturer insisted that beauty was not a reason for rebuilding and certainly not for giving a building listed status. ‘Afer all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ I could see her point. I think chandeliers and lace are beautiful, yet many of my contemporaries would dismiss them as kitsch. But I also think heritage professionals needn’t take such a hard line when it comes to the subjectivity of beauty. Certainly not in the context of the Faro Convention. I’m sure many people would agree with me that, whether it’s down to design, nostalgia or age itself, old buildings tend to be much more beautiful than new ones. In fact, that’s the main reason why so many people are interested in heritage in the first place.
So, dear heritage professional, don’t forget about your fan base!
Frans Schouten had a similar message for his readers. In September 2020, he wrote an interesting article on nostalgia for the magazine Heemschut.
Ah, nostalgia! Another subjective notion that the heritage professional would rather avoid. But Schouten cites a study by the Netherlands Institute for Public Opinion in which 70 percent of heritage lovers expressed a nostalgic attitude towards the past. Which leads Schouten to conclude, ‘It looks like nostalgia is something we’ll have to learn to live with.’ The heritage professional will also have to live with the heritage lover’s subjective answer to the question: Why do you think heritage should be protected? No two people will have exactly the same answer.
My boyfriend Jasper likes the atmosphere that heritage creates. My neighbour, a medical student, says she ‘doesn’t really know’, while the owner of the café on the corner replied, ‘You need to look after what is scarce.’