World Heritage (5) Berlin

A view of the Cathedral dome, included in the site's buffer zone

A view of the Cathedral dome, included in the site’s buffer zone

The Museuminsel (Island of the museums) is inscribed to the World Heritage list in 1999. The inscription is justified by the values of the set of museums, illustrating the evolution of the modern museums for more than a century, and by the role of the museum as a social phenomenon, coming from illustration and opened to the wider public after the French revolution; the Museuminsel is considered the most outstanding example of this concept given material form and a symbolic central urban setting.

The five museums which compose the protected site are conceived by the site Management Plan, directed by the British architect David Chipperfield, as a unit, but looking to maintain the architectural independence of each one. The forecast is for a increase in the number of visitors, from 1,5 million visitors to 3 million mid-term.

The Plan defines an archeological promenade linking the collections of the Bode, Pergamon, Neues and Altes Museums at 0 level. A sequence of halls and courtyards will turn the archeological promenade into an interdisciplinary axis around the monumental architecture of the ancient world. Preexisting colonnades are rebuilt, and there is a new building with a contemporary language, the James Simon- Galerie.

The work on an island (even with ramifications on the neighboring shores), without major use changes, reduces conflicts, but I imagine that the James Simon- Galerie has received its share of criticism. In 2011 I visited the area, and the works were on progress.


Site and buffer zone


Aerial view from the west. On the upper right part you can see the project to rebuild the Royal Palace (out of the protected site)


James Simon Galerie

South of the site was the Democratic Republic parliament, razed after reunification. There are now plans to rebuild the old Royal Palace, a relevant change in the name of a historic memory that few living people still have (the Palace was razed in 1950). The blue building is a temporary exhibition compound for the project

South of the site was the Democratic Republic parliament, razed after reunification. There are now plans to rebuild the old Royal Palace, a relevant change in the name of a historic memory that few living people still have (the Palace was razed in 1950). The blue building is a temporary exhibition compound for the project

World Heritage (4) Westminster

The site and its surroundings, according to the 2007 Site Management Plan proposal

The site and its surroundings, according to the 2007 Site Management Plan proposal


The Abbey and Palace of Westminster, together with the Saint Margaret’s church, were inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1987. The Universal Outstanding Values recognized to the site are the fact that the Abbey represents the evolution of the English gothic style, its influence on the XIXth century gothic renewal through the project for the Houses of Parliament, and the illustration of the specificities of a parliamentary monarchy for nine centuries.

The area is subject to several complex issues: on one site the safety ones. According to the State of Conservation Report prepared by UNESCO in 2012 some security measures deemed un esthetic have been recently replaced by street furniture of bomb-proof quality, and a diversion of traffic away from Parliament Square is being studied to turn it into a pedestrian area. There is also the location at the center of London, a city with a dynamic real estate market, so the chances for a conflict between heritage preservation and  new architecture are a real issue: the 2012 UNESCO document shows concern about the Elizabeth House project, by David Chipperfield. And in many world sites the London Eye, in such a nearby location, would raise debate.

World Heritage (3) Saint-Emilion

The Jurisdiction of Saint Emilion was inscribed to the list in 1999 based on its status as an outstanding example of an historic vineyard landscape that has survived intact and in activity to the present day. It is a cultural landscape, albeit not as much a built one as one which  has a specific cultivation pattern and agrarian frame, based on such things as the quality of the soil and the way it is used.

The village is charming, but I would not say it is architecturally much better than many others in a region in which there are really impressive villages (the Dordogne river valley is a wonderful landscape with good examples). It really excels as an introductory point to the Bordeaux wineries as a cultural feature, and it has become a tourism hotspot in that sense.

delim- st Emilion

World Heritage (2) Sintra


Royal Palace of Sintra

A cultural landscape is a site in which the interaction between humans and environment is visible, showing the creative genius, the social development and the spiritual vitality and imagination of mankind. There are 82 inscribed to the list of the World Heritage, with 4 transboundary sites (1 delisted)

The cultural landscape of Sintra is inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1995. During the XIXth century the city and its surroundings become the first center of the romantic architecture in Europe. Fernando II rebuilds a monastery to make a castle combining Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance elements, and creates a park blending local and exotic species. The combination of several fine dwellings along the mountain range creates a unique set of parks and gardens which had an impact on the development of landscape architecture in Europe

I personally prefer the Royal Palace, (XV-XVIth century) to the Pena Palace (XIXth century), which is the one motivating the inscription on the list, but each has its interesting elements. It is a nice trip from Lisbon.

Delimitación Sintra

Property limits and buffer zone. The area is hughe, as it covers a mountain landscape extending towards the sea.


The city of Sintra form the Royal Palace. On top of the hill is a Moorish fort


The valleys and fine residences

World Heritage (1) Granada


The castle of the Alhambra

Alhambra and Generalife are inscribed to the World Heritage List in 1984, and in 1994 UNESCO integrates in the same site the Albaicin neighborhood. The former two are the castle and royal residence and the associated gardens, which were the royal residence of the emirs of the XIIIth and XIVth century. The Albaicín presents itself as a neighborhood representing the traditional Muslim architecture of the moment.

The criteria to inscribe the Alhambra and the Generalife are their uniqueness, their influence over the entire Spanish history, their architectural values representing the Nasrid style, and their association to the history of the Islam in the western world. The Albaicín appears as a complementary universal value area that preceded the two former in chronological terms, representing the popular neighborhoods. A relevant element for the site is a geological condition: the buildings are on an earth conglomerate with a high bearing capacity, on which the cuts can be almost vertical without falls, so large changes in level are possible on some areas.

The site is delineated widely, and has a more reduced buffer zone to the south.

Delim- Granada

The site and its buffer zone. The site is large as it has been defined taking into acount the landscape and functional relations of the gardens


The palace of Charles V

In 2012 3.313.360 persons visited the Alhambra and the Generalife.  With the Albaicin, they are a really interesting visit, and even raise the issue of the internal coherence of the sites with the example of the Charles V palace, a wonderful renaissance architecture in itself but a contrast as related to the Nasrid architecture. I must reckon that this contrast is not a problem to me…


The Lion’s court (when I took the photo some years ago the lions where being restored in a different location)


A part of the Albaicín from Alhambra

Biblio (32) Case studies on climate change and World Heritage


UNESCO manages the World Heritage List as a result of the 1972 Paris Convention. The list is based on the appraisal that the natural and cultural heritage are deteriorating, and set as a definition of the two concepts and the criteria that can certify that a site has universal exceptional values justifying its inscription on the list. Today (march 2013) there are 962 sites in 157 states.

The threats identified in 1972 by the Paris Convention have been increased in some cases by the climate change, which touches cities and regions, and subsequently the sites on them. The book to which this post is dedicated describes 26 sites grouped in five categories: glaciers, marine biodiversity, terrestrial biodiversity, archeological sites, and historical cities and settlements. For each category the essential problems are identified, and further elaborated for each case. The book is a good reading, not just due to its theme, but also due to the vision on truly exceptional sites, sometimes as mythical as the Kilimanjaro glaciers or Timbuktu. It is like a bucket list of things to see before death….

The chapter on cities mentions London, Venice, Cesky Krumlow and Prague, Timbuktu and the Sacred Valley in Lebanon. The description of each case is limited due to the extension of the book, but overall the main problems you can find in professional practice are present: how to integrate special measures for the sites on a wider urban area, who pays the costs, how to face incertitude… World Heritage is a very interesting issue, but also a really complex planning matter: you have outstanding element, but they have owners, dwellers, visitors, each with their own interests. The sites are even prone, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would put it, to “black swans”, i.e., unexpected events, as the discovery of archeological remains, man-made features, the mere evolution of the vision of the values of a site, or other, which can have what many would see as a disproportionate impact on sites on which the emotional (but also the mundane…) goes hand in hand with what many would see as redundant layers of red tape… and this also raises a problem, as until now the only way to ensure a legally binding protection regime is to establish a bureaucratic control.