The Heritage of the City – Europe’s Future
That was the title of the international Congress in Berlin on the 8th and 9th of December I attended on behalf of the URBACT LINKS Network. The German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development invited to the event representatives from all EU countries to share views and experiences about the opportunities offered by heritage preservation and management to an integrated and sustainable urban development. The complexity of the topic was reflected on the articulation of the conference in welcome speeches, key-note speeches and thematic workshops focused on four themes: (1) Potentials, (2) Home and Hotel, (3) Networks and (4) World Heritage.
It is not my intention to provide here any detailed report of such a wide ranging event. Presentations and key documents will be available in a few weeks on the conference’s website and on that basis a reflection will be done in the appropriate forums. For the moment I like to note some keywords, some details that may become an illustration of the event, pars pro toto.
The first keyword is Konjunkturpaket. This is the German term for the fiscal stimulus packages with which the federal government has responded to the international financial and economic crisis in 2008 and 2009: targeted relief for taxpayers and measures to protect employment in the German economy to build a bridge in the aftermath of the crisis. At federal level € 6.5 billion were invested in education, € 3.5 billion in municipal infrastructure. At regional (Land) level € 4 billion were invested for roads, building renovation and modernization of the IT, € 5 billion as green economy incentives and € 900 million for research in small and medium enterprises.
During the first day of the congress different speakers addressed the Konjunkturpaket as “the great opportunity given by the financial crisis to the building renovation and heritage conservation sector” whereby each single € invested by the public sector generated a total turnover between 5 and 10 €.
The second keyword is “mediator”. After the sessions the participants were guided in a tour to the most exemplary heritage conservation projects of Berlin: the Neues Museum , built from 1841 to 1859 according to Friedrich August Stüler’s design as the second museum on the island in the River Spree and recently refurbished by David Chipperfield Architects and interior design by Michele De Lucchi.
The tour was extremely interesting for several reasons and gave us the opportunity to see put in practice cutting edge contemporary architecture, heritage conservation and improvement of energy performance in the same building. The guided tour was particularly interesting as it provided the views and first hand feedback of the client and heritage conservationist on the performance of an architect that untill the awarding of the competition was very little known for his attitude towards historic buildings. Our guide was an officer of the Berlin Heritage Conservation (Denkmalpflege) and he had followed the project from the awarding to the opening.
In many occasion he emphasised the skills of David Chipperfield to provide a strong conceptual framework for the whole project, but then being open for discussion on the design of each single exhibition space that many times offered the opportunity to make a sensible exception to the rule.
Understanding the unique character of the building and its historical layers on one side, and listening to the arguments of museum’s director, heritage officers, technicians, politicians and all stakeholders of the project, he delivered a masterpiece of contemporary architecture and heritage conservation by playing the role of the “mediator” instead of that of the creative genius or the business service provider.