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.


  1. Rene Luis Mata18.5.10

    One of the things that people tend to overlook is the very poor conservation measures and restoration that Acusar's people employ in the transfer of the heritage houses. What we see here are architects applying contemporary means and solutions to "restore". This is a case in point for us who have insisted that restoration is a DISTINCT field in architecture that requires special training and exposure, a fact that most contemporary architects continue to deny or ignore. The use of traditional methods of construction to restore and conserve these old houses has not been thoroughly applied, and what we see here are untrained contractors working on a tight budget and a financial deadline.

    Also, they rely often on conjecture to restore and reconstruct what never existed in the first place and do not use scientific methods of research to conserve them at the very least. Even a National Trust of any country employs such scientific methods, and one can "collect" as many old houses as he may wish, only to fail to conserve them in the long run. They would also be useless if they did not succeed in telling a story of their unique significance and value and remain "Hollywood" sets. The power of interpretation is then lost to crass commercialism.

  2. Leon Mayo18.5.10

    The maintenance of heritage houses in the country is really a labor of love for the proponent. There is a lot of expense to it and little gain in sight. As if this is not hard enough, most heritage houses are co-owned by siblings and even together with cousins. Any decision for restoration will normally have to be a consensus. This means that everyone should have a mutual appreciation of the value of heritage which is unlikely. More so, it assumes that everyone will invest money (proportionate to ownership) in the restoration.

    Thus when it comes to a question of 'do we repair and shell out money' or 'do we sell and get payment', which one do you think will owners favor considering today's tight economy? The preservation of heritage assets is a noble thought. The market force is however also a reality and sooner or later lofty heritage conservation idea is going to clash with the prospects of a real estate sale and even worse, with the sale of recycled hardwood material (when the house is dismembered).

    Realistically, the conservation of heritage structures as a whole is best done by local government. (an effective and sustained private sector effort can also work but this would be unusual). But usually, local government is not rich enough to provide incentives / mitigating measures (for the conservation of heritage houses) nor are they normally willing to disrupt established governance and political systems with new ordinances that are not likely to bring anything to the city - or so they initially think.

    Once the local government is enlightened that heritage resources are tourism features that can can improve their investment climate, that's the time that they will take the issue to task seriously. The link between heritage resources and city prosperity has to be explicitly depicted to the local officials and the community. This is what the private sector can do through IEC (information, education and communication) campaigns, planning initiatives, project examples and fund raising. There are cases of special local projects today (Makati, Iloilo, Silay, Subic, etc.) that looks to this link today for the competitiveness and improvement of their cities.

    The loss of heritage resources is not unique to us. Other countries lose some too even when they have their act together. The idea is to preserve the best and not to lose too much. The creativity, zeal and initiative of the private sector heritage advocates and the leadership of institutions like the HCS will be key.

  3. Richard TuasonSanchez Bautista18.5.10

    Transferring a structure looses the context of the place and the structure proper. Specially in the case of the Bagac project. if you have seen it, it is a nayong bahay Filipino with out the right context of setting, plus the way things were reconstructed is beyond the original, there are numerous modifications done to it.

    In my opinion, I would rather see the structure rot in its setting. There are also cases when a knight in shining armour comes to save it, though rare but it also happens. The fettish for getting a structure and transferring it to another setting is context lost. unless the same family transfered it and they lived there, that is another story. the continuity is still there in its own rights.

    True that it is not easy to maintain an old house, similar as well with new structures. But again, for me, it is just best to see it in its original setting no matter how it rots, than transferred elsewhere without the right context.


Related Posts with Thumbnails