The International Public Amber Bridge Fund and its Latvian partner Amber Bridge Baltic funds participate and sponsor the 4th Cultural Heritage Forum of the Baltic region to be held in the Latvian capital on September 8-11. The event is supported by UNESCO World Heritage Center and the French Foundation for Support of UNESCO World Heritage Convention.
Amber Bridge Fund President Yuri Sizov said the topic of the Latvian meeting of experts is “cultural heritage as a contemporary challenge,” which suggests a wide discussion of contradicting processes in modern town-building and architectural principles. He said the forum aims at identifying risks that can result in an irretrievable loss of cultural heritage valuables. Besides, scholars and experts will engage in designing a strategy that would multiply the social and economic value of the habitat in all countries of the Baltic region.
The discussion at the forum will focus on such vital problems, as assessment of the impact of historic buildings on the habitat, cultural heritage as public wealth and its role in local and regional development, legally qualified restoration of cultural heritage and protection of authenticity, and modern city development in historic surroundings.
Experts from Germany, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Estonia will share experience and knowledge at the forum to expand the comprehension of concrete problems and design new approaches to inter-regional cooperation.
Russia will be represented at the forum by three experts – Alexander A. Skokan, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Architecture and Construction Science, Academician of the International Academy of Architecture, and laureate of the Russian State Prize for architecture. The Russian Culture Fund will be represented by Leonid M. Arinstein, adviser to the Culture Fund president, PhD and Professor of the Moscow State University, and Irina Yu. Yuryeva, an author of Culture Fund projects.
Alexander Skokan said before departure to the Latvian capital the topic of the forum is vital and causes acute debate in many European states. The presence of historic elements, originals rather than immitations in the urban environment triggers fundamental human demand for self-identification. According to Russian philosopher Fedotov, Russia has three faces, three facades, and three points of cultural unification with the rest of the world – Kiev to Byzantine and Constantinople to the Mediterranean culture, Moscow that represents Russia facing the East, and Petersburg that promotes relations with west European culture through the Baltic region. It is likely thanks to the third point that we have been invited to the forum in Riga.
On the other hand, there is the complicated and contradicting history of Russian cultural development which determines specific attitude of the public to cultural heritage. Research exposed that “authenticity of an object does not mean much for many people who are mostly attracted by historic aspects in architecture.” Russian history is characterized by numerous and major cultural shocks when the value of preceding cultural achievements was either rejected or seriously criticized. The latest cultural revolution took place 20 years ago when the values and achievements of the state were rejected.
Survival and preservation of historic quarters became vital because of the latest construction boom and overwhelming commercial approaches to city development. Despite improved legislation and operations of bureaucratic agencies in charge of preservation of monuments, as well as active and prominent public movement for their protection, the number of disappearing historic objects is increasing and the surrounding cultural layer is depleting. Definitely, there is a contradiction of principle between the necessity of development and urban modernization and the wish to preserve historic habitat. In Russia the contradicting situation often results in a growing number of pseudo-historic objects, which are imitations with zero historic but high commercial value, as such reconstruction method allows to increase the space of the building and equip it with modern technical systems, etc. Non-scientific and improper restoration with new expansions is also on the rise. It began in the ‘90s when the Christ the Savior Cathedral exploded in the ‘30s was rebuilt. It was erected from armed concrete, metal and other modern construction materials with an underground parking, a conference hall, and other premises on the foundation of uncompleted Palace of Soviets. The cathedral resembles the prototype to a major extent, but it is an absolutely new cultural facility. It was a pure political action posed for a deed of repentance.
However it was blessed by the Russian Orthodox Church, enjoyed public support and has been since then considered as a positive restoration example of lost valuables. Moreover, city authorities even wanted to declare the newly built cathedral a historic monument. The Russian attitude to the surrounding authenticity is rooted in history which abounds in frequent fires that destroyed numerous wooden cities that were quickly rebuilt due to wooden architecture technology. The quote of the Moscow city head about restoration after the 1812 fire is well known: “The fire in Moscow helped beautify it.” The restoration speed and the very process are considered to be the biggest value rather than the material result.
Practically any work of a modern architect in a historic city means interaction with cultural, historic, and social context. Cultural heritage elements are present both tangibly (buildings, quarters, etc.) and intangibly (local legends, traditions, history, sights, strange changes and anomalies which are often defined as genius locus).
An architect shall be capable of comprehending the information and finding a reasonable compromise between building layout and metaphysical factors by offering an architecture that fits into the given place. However the idea is in contradiction with the intention of modern architecture to be universal and international which, on the one hand, is conditioned by universal technologies and the same materials used in construction everywhere which determines architectural designs. On the other hand, it all stays in a single, universal and professional space where any architectural idea, favor or fashion immediately develops into a common value. In a word, there are many grounds for unification of architectural designs. When we look at an architectural work in a modern architectural magazine we can rather name the author than the place of the project. That means a loss of regional authenticity and Alexander Skokan plans to counter rather than promote the process.
Forum participant Professor Leonid Arinstein also outlined his scientific view of the discord and disproportion in Russian cultural heritage. On the eve of the Riga meeting he briefly described the main problems encountered by those whose profession makes them protect historic truth memory in public life.
He said the first half of the XX century in Russia was an epoch of wars, revolutions, militant spiritual and cultural intolerance accompanied by mass destruction of cultural heritage. He recalled that dozens of thousands of churches, mansions, and architectural monuments were demolished. The Bolsheviks did not limit themselves by the destruction of architectural heritage, in the 1920-30s they worked to delete from public memory historic names of cities, settlements, and streets. In the 1990s historic names were restored practically everywhere.
Therefore, it is an important task today in preserving and restoring Russian cultural heritage not only to revive and rebuild ruined monuments, but also to change public conscience so that it targets creation rather than destruction. Fortunately, it has been achieved to a major extent. An important role was played by the education system and the emergence of public organizations: Pan-Russian Society for the Protection of Historic and Cultural Monuments, the Russian Culture Fund, etc. The scholar said the organizations helped restore such Moscow monuments, as Pokrov Cathedral, Strastnoi monastery, the Red Gate, the Arch of Triumph, the Sukharev Tower, Chinatown wall, Resurrection Gate, etc.
Arinstein also recalled the history of the unique Memel iconostasis of the Russian army of the times of Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (middle of the 18th century), its restitution to Russia from Germany, restoration and installation in the metropolitan cathedral of Kaliningrad.
Speaking about modern challenges to cultural heritage in European countries the professor noted they mostly originate from private owners and major monopolies whose interests often contradict cultural and esthetic norms and threaten destruction to certain monuments and historic-architectural complexes and landscapes. In this respect national and world public has to play a major role and influence the situation regardless of state boundaries and form public opinion to promote preservation of cultural heritage.