Eveline Harvey

Eveline Harvey is nzherald.co.nz's travel editor.

NZ buildings on endangered cultural sites list

The Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings in Christchurch have been named on the World Monuments Fund's watch list of cultural heritage sites in need of preservation. Photo / Christchurch Star
The Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings in Christchurch have been named on the World Monuments Fund's watch list of cultural heritage sites in need of preservation. Photo / Christchurch Star

A cluster of Gothic Revival buildings in central Christchurch has been included on the World Monuments Fund's biennial watch list of cultural heritage sites in need of preservation.

The Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings in Durham Street, which were designed by Benjamin Mountfort and built in the 1800s, were badly damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes.

It is the first time a New Zealand site has been included on the list, which aims to identify sites that have been impacted by growing tourism, a lack of resources, neglect or natural disasters.

Other nations to have sites included for the first time include Burkina Faso, the Cayman Islands, The Netherlands, Tunisia and Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

The World Monuments Fund's website says it is an independent organisation "dedicated to saving the world's most treasured places".

There are 67 sites from 41 different countries on its 2012 watch list.

Dr Ian Lochhead, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Canterbury, said the inclusion of the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings on the list was "a clear message" to both the Christchurch City Council - which owns the complex - and to the Government that "the eyes of the international community are on Christchurch and New Zealand in terms of how we deal with that particular building".

"I think it's also fair to say that there is international interest in how we respond to the Christchurch earthquakes as far as cultural heritage generally is concerned and I'd have to say that we're not doing very well at the moment," he added.

Dr Lochhead said he was concerned no weight had been placed on the "public interest dimension" of architectural heritage in Canterbury in the wake of the earthquakes.

"The Provincial Council Buildings are one of New Zealand's most significant heritage buildings and my view is that every effort should be made to reconstruct the stone council chamber."

He acknowledged that undertaking could take some time but said there were possibilities to turn the rebuilding process into an educational and tourist experience, citing the rebuilding of the Globe Theatre in London as one example of an architectural site which operated as tourist attraction long before any performance was held on its stage.

"[The rebuilding of] a building like the Provincial Council Buildings will have exactly that kind of interest, it will demonstrate a whole range of craft skills that are not commonplace anymore."

Dr Lochhead said the most important thing was to make a commitment to the complex and "get it on the agenda of what's going to happen in Christchurch".

"It's been sitting there now for an entire winter, it's had two significant snow falls on it, there's been very little work apart from some removal of stone that has fallen into the adjacent streets, so there's a lot of potential to get on and do that initial phase of work."

In a statement, the World Monuments Fund (WMF) noted that sites affected by natural disasters were always included on its watch lists and this one was no exception.

In addition to the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings, a number of Japanese sites were mentioned.

The March earthquake and tsunami there had resulted in "severe damage to large swaths of the eastern side of the country," the fund said, adding that "centuries of intangible cultural heritage and history, including religious rituals, festivals and traditional craftsmanship" were threatened.

Elsewhere, the palace and garden of China's Nanyue Kingdom, ancient Nasca lines and geoglyphs in Peru, England's Coventry Cathedral and the floating fishing villages along Vietnam's Ha Long Bay were among sites singled out for preservation.

"The 67 sites vividly illustrate the ever-more pressing need to create a balance between heritage concerns and the social, economic, and environmental interests of communities around the world," the fund said.

"In addition to promoting community cohesion and pride, heritage preservation can have an especially positive impact on local populations in times of economic distress, for example through employment and the development of well-managed tourism."

WMF president Bonnie Burnham said the 2012 watch list "is a call to action on behalf of endangered cultural heritage sites across the globe".

"And while these sites are historic, they are also very much of the present - integral parts of the lives of the people who come into contact with them every day."

Nanyue Kingdom, which was uncovered in 1996 and dates from the second century BC is "one of the most important archaeological discoveries in modern China", and is located beneath the bustling metropolis of Guangzhou.

It "needs a sustainable plan for visitor access, interpretation, and enjoyment by local residents, many of whom live immediately adjacent to the archaeological zone", the fund said.

The Nasca lines and geoglyphs in the desert of southern Peru, drawn between 500BC and 500AD, "represent one of the most important - and enigmatic - archaeological remains in a country that is rich in ancient sites", the group said.

Already named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994, the lines and geoglyphs have become an important tourist destination and this has "necessitated the development of a master plan to ensure long-term preservation and stewardship".

England's Coventry Cathedral, rebuilt after it was bombed in World War II, needs additional rehabilitation because "exposure to the elements has eroded the ruins over time", the organisation said.

Vietnam's floating villages "have long been recognised as a site of spectacular natural as well as cultural significance", the WMF said, but added "they struggle to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to the pressures of increasing tourism".

Other sites on the list include the Cour Royale at Tiebele, Burkina Faso; the First Cemetery of Athens, Greece; Haydarpasa Railway Station, in Istanbul, Turkey; the Manufacturers Trust Company Building in New York; the historic Moor-influenced town of Trujillo in Spain; Balaji Ghat worship sites along the Ganges in Varanasi, India; the Tell Umm el-Amr (Saint Hilarion) Monastery on the Gaza Strip; and the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina.

American Express has pledged US$5 million (NZ$6.5m) to support preservation efforts over the next five years, the WMF said.

- with AAP

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