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Giorgio Grassi - piano di recupero del centro storico di teora
Is the Built Heritage about History or Architecture ?

L u c a    O r t e l l i

As everybody knows, the notion of built heritage is constantly changing, in accordance with the preoccupations and expectations of the society. Today, this notion is considerably larger than in the past. The Riegl's triptych defining the reasons of conservation does not correspond to the wider field of what we consider a heritage. The specific values indicated by the Austrian art historian are still operative but they do not cover the whole of the built objects possibly considered to be part of our heritage. In fact, Alteswert (antiquity value), Denkmalswert (monumental value) and

Kunsthistorisches Wert (artistic and historic value) do not consider the so-called "diffuse" or "silent" Built Heritage.

From this perspective, the problem is double. From a theoretical point of view, we have to define new criteria concerning the definition of heritage, and from a practical point of view we need new and adequate tools to operate.

As pointed out by André Corboz defining "reanimation" as a possible way of dealing with diffuse built heritage, "the categories elaborated on the base of exceptional buildings (and exclusively for them) are non-operative" facing current architecture and "criteria based on stylistic features are inapplicable."

So, my answer to the question asked by Mazzocchioo is that heritage is about history as well as about architecture, especially when the notion of architecture embraces urban values. In many cases entire portions of urban fabric are in quest for the recognition of their value as built heritage - and often such expectations are characterized by bottom-up dynamics. This phenomenon emphasizes the fact that the contemporary larger notion of heritage is primarily a society affair and not only a question for specialists. The main task, for architects, will be the definition of design principles applicable when dealing with this new kind of heritage. Implicitly, every distinction between architectural design and rehabilitation, reparation, refurbishment or reanimation has no sense.

Luca Ortelli is a professor of architecture and theory at the EPFL. He had graduated the Politecnico di Milano, then becoming assistant teahcer at ETH of Zurich and proffessor at the University of Geneva. He is the author of “Ragnar Ostberg: Municipio di Stoccolma” at Electa publishing house, 1990. He has also been editor at the architecture magazine Lotus International and co-di­rector of the architectural guides Stella Polare in Milan. He is the author of various articles published in national and international magazines; he has also been a jury member for numerous competitions. He has won the competition for building the Cantonal Archives in Bellinzona, completed in 1999.

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