In a time when the construction of New Towns is on the agenda in UK; when climate change threatens historic cities and landscapes in Asia; when the cultural industries turn our art and architectural history into economic models of development; when entire cities are being built from scratch across rural China; and socio-economic change is destroying industrial communities leaving people in the West in search for answers from politicians like of Donald Trump, what can we mean by ‘heritage’?
Our built environment of buildings, towns, cities and infrastructures are always, at inception, visions of a future. They also become – very quickly – the markings of the past. Framed as architectural history, these markings tend to be what we think of when discussing heritage. However, heritage is more than this. It is equally a question of artistic and media representations of the present and the past; the social milieus we destroy or reinforce as economies fade or grow; the societies we construct through varying forms of city governance; the artistic and political legacies we use as points of rupture in building the future.
Our buildings, towns, cities and their artistic and media representations then, are all visions of an aesthetic present. They are the realisation through design of what we can and wish to build. They are social constructions defining the way people live, think, develop and desire. They are economic contrivances marking out the interests of capital. They are expressions of knowledge and skills which can inform innovation. They are phenomena mediated equally by the arts, medias and actual experience. They are inevitably political at every level.
This conference suggests we cannot think of heritage in reductive terms, neither as isolated objects or images nor as a purely historic phenomenon. The decisions we take about this ‘heritage’ today are not only based on the past, they will inform the future. In redefining heritage as a historic, artistic, design, media, social, political, and economic issue, this conference attempts to open up the concept to a reading that is interdisciplinary. In questioning these relationships over time, it seeks to understand the past in light of the present and identify creative ways of operating in a globalised future.