Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Transferring old houses violates international conservation principles

It seems transferring old houses is becoming a fad nowadays. I'd like to stress, especially to those who claim they are preserving an old house by moving it, that transferring heritage violates internationally-accepted conservation principles.

The Philippines is a signatory to the International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites or the Venice Charter. Article 6 of the Venice Charter says, "The conservation of a monument implies preserving a setting which is not out of scale. Wherever the traditional setting exists, it must be kept. No new construction, demolition or modification which would alter the relations of mass and color must be allowed."

Article 7 of the same document states, "A monument is inseparable from the history to which it bears witness and from the setting in which it occurs. The moving of all or part of a monument cannot be allowed except where the safeguarding of that monument demands it or where it is justified by national or international interest of paramount importance."

It is best to preserve heritage in situ. Each structure is part of the historical fabric of the community where it is located. Uprooting it from where it stands deprives the local community of its heritage. Transferring it to another place renders it out of context and distorts its story.

If transferring it is the only means of saving it, then so be it. But such transfer must be done with certain prerequisites including the proper architectural documentation of the house, and the supervision of a qualified restoration architect.

But for people with the collector mentality who treat old houses like collector's items (which they are not), that is a different story. We are against the poaching of old houses by collectors and antique dealers who force, bait or tempt with monetary compensation house owners to sell their ancestral homes.

The best example of such a violation was the transfer of the Enriquez Mansion to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan because the said mansion was not in danger of being demolished in the first place! At the same time, after the house was transferred, they built a ten-floor building in its place, thus destroying even more the historical fabric of Hidalgo Street in Quiapo, Manila. Now is that what you call love for heritage? That's why to date, I have never stepped foot in the Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar until they realize that shopping for heritage houses does not help in the preservation of heritage.

With Republic Act No. 10066 - National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 which took effect on May 6, 2010, all structures fifty years and older are presumed to be Important Cultural Properties unless otherwise declared by the NCCA. That includes old houses built before 1960. So therefore, demolishing or transferring an old house now requires the permission of the NCCA. As part of the process, the owner must prove that the heritage house in question is not archaeologically, architecturally, culturally or historically significant before approval is made for the demolition or transfer.
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