Earthen architecture is one of the most original and powerful expressions of our ability to create a built environment with readily available resources. It includes a great variety of structures, ranging from mosques, palaces and granaries, to historic city centres, cultural landscapes and archaeological sites. Its cultural importance throughout the world is evident and has led to its consideration as a common heritage of humankind, therefore deserving protection and conservation by the international community.
In 2011, over 10% of the World Heritage properties incorporate earthen structures. The availability and economic quality of the material mean it bears great potential to contribute to poverty alleviation and sustainable development.
However, increasingly threatened by natural and human impacts (e.g. floods and earthquakes, industrialization, urbanization, modern building technologies, disappearance of traditional conservation practices, etc.) earthen structures deserve particular attention in terms of conservation and maintenance; about ¼ of the sites inscribed on the World Heritage List in Danger are earthen sites.
The World Heritage Programme on Earthen Architecture (WHEAP) aims for the improvement of the state of conservation and management of earthen architecture sites worldwide. Pilot projects on earthen architectural sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, or included in States Parties’ Tentative Lists, will help identify best practices and set examples for the development and dissemination of appropriate methods and techniques in conservation, management, and capacity building. Scientific research will further the endeavor to ameliorate know-how in the field. Expected results include a better understanding of the problems facing earthen architecture, the development of policies favoring its conservation, the definition of practical guidelines and the organization of training and awareness activities, particularly in local communities through workshops, exhibitions, conferences and technical publications to raise the recognition of earthen architecture, as well as the creation of an active global network for the exchange of information and experience.
At its 31st session (New Zealand, 2007), the World Heritage Committee approved the initiation of the integrated World Heritage Programme on Earthen Architecture (2007-2017) (decision 31 COM 21C, working document 31 COM 21C). Donors and States Parties were invited to provide financial support for the implementation of the activities, structured in four phases and progressively expanding over the globe. Accordingly, the preparatory phase concluded in 2008, is followed by three phases, each focusing on two regions or sub regions: Phase 2 (2009-2011) focuses on Africa and the Arab States, Phase 3 (2012-2014) on Latin-America and Central Asia, and Phase 4 (2015-2017) on Europe and Asia.Phase 1 (2007-2008) saw the following activities implemented
• A consultation meeting of renowned international experts in earthen architecture conservation was held in November 2007 at UNESCO Headquarters, and developed final substantial orientations for the operational framework and the programme strategy.
• The World Heritage Earthen Architecture Programme (WHEAP) was officially launched on the occasion of Terra 2008, the 10th International Conference on the Study and Conservation of Earthen Architecture (1-5 February 2008, Bamako, Mali), organized by theGetty Conservation Institute and the Ministry of Culture of Mali.
• Launching of the Inventory project of the earthen architecture sites (supported by the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement) (ongoing)
Phase 2 (2009-2011) included a series of activities in Africa and Arab States
• The four-years Conservation Project for Africa (2008-2012), achieved a range of activities at earthen World Heritage sites in Africa e.g.:study on the traditional earthen buildings for the sustainable conservation of the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela, in Ethiopia; development of a draft building regulations for the Old Towns of Djenné and Timbuktu, in Mali; Rehabilitation and Revitalization of the Youth House of Djenné, in Mali, including the publication of illustrated technical specifications; Regional site managers workshop and tourist guides meeting; Development of didactic material for the regional training institutions EPA (School of African Heritage, Porto Novo, Benin). and CHDA (Centre for Heritage Development in Africa, Kenya) (supported by the Italian Funds-in-Trust).
• UNESCO Consultation Meeting on the Implementation of the World Heritage Earthen Architecture Programme (WHEAP) in the Arab States - Strategies and Approaches (11 January 2010) (supported by the private joint initiative Shaikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammad Al-Kalifa Centre for Culture and Research/ARCAPITA Bank B.S.C from Bahrain).
• The Safeguarding Project of Hassan Fathy's New Gourna Village, in Egypt (financed through the Special account for the Safeguarding of the Cultural Heritage of Egypt).
Phase 3 (2012-2014)
Latin-America and Central Asia
• Launching of Phase 3 at Terra 2012, 11th International Conference on the Study and Conservation of Earthen Architecture Heritage (22-27 April 2012, Lima, Peru)
• Strategic planning with the UNESCO Category II Centre Lúcio Costa in Brazil for implementation of the programme in the region (2011)
• Workshop on Earthen Artisans in Latin America and the Caribbean in Tlaxcala, Mexico (2009, supported by the Spanish Funds-in-Trust).
• The 1st Mediterranean Conference on Earth Architecture, Mediterra 2009 under the aegis of UNESCO World Heritage Centre, ICCROM,ICOMOS-ISCEAH International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage and the Getty Conservation Institute, (13-16 March 2009).
• Restoration Project for Bam and its Cultural Landscape (supported the Italian Funds-in-Trust).
The WHEAP involves the technical support of the main international conservation institutions: the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and the earth conservation institute CRAterre-ENSAG as well as of the regional institutions School of African Heritage (EPA, Benin), Centre for Heritage development in Africa (CHDA, Kenya), and Centre for Conservation and Restoration of Atlas and Subatlas Architectural Heritage (CERKAS,Morocco).In 2009, Udine University (Italy) also became a programme partner. In the course of the activities, the programme seeks further cooperation and partnerships with other specialized institutions, as well as national and local governmental authorities.
The programme activities are made possible thanks to the financial support granted by the World Heritage Committee through the World Heritage Fund, the UNESCO Special account for the safeguarding of the Cultural Heritage of Egypt, the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement, the Italian Funds-in-Trust, the Spanish Funds-in-Trust, and the Shaikh Ebrahim Mohammad Al-Kalifa Centre for Culture and Research/ARCAPITA Bank B.S.C from Bahrain.
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