Evaluation, nomination and management of UNESCO-World Heritage Sites


Department and Institute of Urban Design and Regional Planning
Univ.- Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Kunibert Wachten
Dipl.-Ing. Michael Kloos


The dispute over the construction of the Waldschlösschen Bridge in Dresden with the subsequent derecognition of the World Heritage title, the “Dresden Elbe Valley”, filled the evening news for a while and made public a special conflict. However, this was and is not a single case. Again and again, conflicts arise between the claim of World Heritage sites and the dynamics of development in cities and regions. Is has become a special field of research of the Institute of Urban Design and Regional Planning during the last six years to pass an independent expert opinion in the often emotionally charged disputes and to give advice on the nomination and management of World Heritage sites.
In 1972, the UNESCO World Heritage convention was adopted. It pursues the goal to secure the cultural and natural heritage of mankind which is of outstanding universal value for future generations. The basic idea of the convention is that individual nations enter “their” cultural heritage into the World Heritage list, which then merges as it were into the common possession of the entire humanity.

The World Heritage convention is considered as the most successful program of UNESCO. Therefore, it has continuously gained in importance in all regions of the world during the past few years. Because of this steady increase in importance, the UNESCO World Heritage sites by now not only have an important symbolic, but also a growing economic importance. For example, they play an important role in international tourism as an important mainspring of economic development in many cities and regions.


UNESCO-World Heritage Sites


Because not only individual monuments, but increasingly also coherent historic urban and cultural landscapes are accepted in the UNESCO World Heritage list, the potential for conflicts increases with the ever-changing cities and regions and with their often very complex development tasks. Thus, reports almost inevitably filled the newspapers during recent years – the high-rise buildings on the east bank of the Rhine at Cologne, the Waldschlösschen Bridge in Dresden, the Rhine Bridge in the Rhine Gorge, the high-rise buildings at the new central train station in Vienna, the Metro Bridge over the Golden Horn in Istanbul, the Bridge over the Bay of Kotor. With all these conflicts, almost always center around two questions: To what extent is the quality of historic urban and landscape scenery constricted by new construction projects, thus, the visual integrity questioned? And how can this intervention be avoided, moderated or made acceptable? The management of UNESCO Urban and Cultural Landscapes is therefore a special challenge. Since, moreover, the acceptance on the World Heritage list not always happens in the knowledge that this step involves a little loss of sovereignty, such questions are often overlaid with misunderstandings between local and international levels of decision making which also has fueled the fire of emotions in the Dresden case.
Next to research, the fields of activity of the Institute of Urban Design and Regional Planning consists in consulting for World Heritage nomination processes and management of complex World Heritage sites. In addition, the independent evaluation of changes in urban and landscape scenery in the UNESCO World Heritage sites is of prominent importance. For these analyses, an intensive cooperation with the Department of CAAD in conjunction with v-cube has been established over the years.

  Copyright: © Magistrat Wien World Heritage Sites Historical inner city Vienna. Core- und buffer zone.  

Core of the evaluations, the so-called “Heritage Impact Assessments“, is to exactly visualize and to assess how planned changes appear in the real world. For this, several investigation steps are necessary. First, the natural and cultural historical conditions of the relevant World Heritage sites are analyzed. Then, the essential patterns of perception – both traditional and current – are determined. Subsequently, different relevant points of view and viewing corridors of the UNESCO World Heritage sites are examined and documented with digital camera or video recordings. By overlaying of this data with a digital computer model, which was generated with laser scan recordings, so-called scatter-plott, planned constructions can be visualized realistically and with millimeter precision. Through referencing these visualizations to earlier examination steps, it is possible to substantiate precisely, to which extend urban and landscape scenery is altered by the planned building activity. The analysis results are compared with the nomination criteria which determine the unique universal value of the respective World Heritage site and recommendations for the next steps are formulated on this basis
In addition to these evaluations, the Institute of Urban Design and Regional Planning has given advice on nomination requests for the World Heritage status in various regions of Europe for several years. Together with the Department of Structures and Structural Design, for example, a dossier was developed for the “Müngstener Bridge”, located in Solingen and Remscheid and a groundbreaking steel structure from the end of the 19th Century. Another World Heritage nomination process is currently supported for the “Viking Age Monuments and Sites” in Scandinavia. Here, nine different sites of the Viking culture, which are located in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Lithuania and Germany, are supposed to be brought together to a “transnational” World Herit age site. The management of complex urban and cultural scenery is a research and consulting object as well. Within the nomination procedure of the historic warehouse and office building area” in Hamburg for the World Heritage list, currently a management plan is being developed, which is supposed to guarantee that the quarter, which is about to change because of the building of the neighbouring HafenCity, can be developed further in accordance with the requirements for admission for the World Heritage list.


In order to integrate these extensive activities in an institutional facility, the Institute of Urban Design and Regional Planning will establish a “UNESCO-Chair”. This initiative, supported by UNESCO, serves to intensify the research activities and to build a common area of competence by establishing a network with other departments within the Faculty and beyond the faculty boundaries. The cooperation with the Department of Urban Engineering and Urban Traffic of the Faculty of Civil Engineering also shows first steps into this direction. The thematic focus of the „UNESCO-Chair“ will be the dispute with the conservation and sustainable development of complex World Heritage sites, in particular of connected cultural and urban landscapes.