Restoration as a danger to heritage

Vietnam Heritage, September-October 2011 -- In our country many times a later dynasty has taken to revenge on an earlier one and abolished all traces of it. And we have to take into account the effects of various wars with their wholesale annihilation. Conservation architecture became a science only at the end of the 19th century.
Q: You are one of the elders of this new discipline. What do you think we can do to raise the quality of conservation?
Thirty or forty years ago we were still poor and our sites were in ruins. Now we are a little bit richer and our sites are in danger of being brutalised by the new bourgeoisie. Poverty is a danger because we know that sites may collapse because we don’t have the means to restore them. At present we have the capabilities to repair hundreds of communal houses in the villages. But our wealth becomes even more dangerous to our heritage sites if we work without any norms. Shortage of education and lack of knowledge are real dangers to heritage.
Q: Is part of the blame to be laid on topmost professors of the discipline like yourself? Why haven’t you and your colleagues trained an adequate number of cadres?
How could the training be done when there was generally no concern about the work? For several decades, no one besides me was sent abroad for training in conservation of historical sites. [Professor Kinh studied in the former Soviet Union.] Some of our architects were trained in foreign countries, but none in the discipline of conservation architecture. As for our schools of architecture, they are devoted to the fabrication of the new; and even this job is still not well done. Meanwhile, the conservation of the old is a luxury but its remuneration is miserable, so few are engaged in it.
Q: In your opinion what is the deep cause for actual destruction of sites that are pact of our heritage?
Firstly, many are ignorant about historical sites but still like to dally with them. Secondly, the wrong-headed notion that a restored site must be bigger and stronger than the original. There is a tremendous desire to replace 70 to 80 per cent of a wooden construction with other, stronger materials.
Besides, those who are engaged in designing restoration as well as those who are in building restoration are all bound by the criteria of the construction branch.  We may take an example: in other countries, in the restoration of a historical site, two-fifths or even half of the expenditure is used for research, that is, the archaeological work, study of the site and its history and related data, the establishment of dossiers and designs. But in Vietnam at the present time all this work is pushed under the conventional architectural heading of design and valued at 2.5 per cent of the total expenditure.

* Professor Kinh was born in 1941 in Hanoi and graduated from the Moscow Architectural University in 1967. His doctoral thesis was on Vietnamese architectural heritage conservation. He was in charge of relic conservation at the Ministry of Culture and Information (now the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism) from 1971 until this year.

A short while ago, I was asked if the Vietnamese fondness for eating snails were a consequence of the former French presence here.
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