Collective Memories

Interesting and worthwhile!  Better than biblical archaeological chimeras. But should the Kibbutz be commemorated via UNESCO as tangible heritage in need of physical conservation or intangible heritage in urgent need of social safeguarding?

Farming the kibbutz land. Photo Credit: Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem

from Haaretz December 23, 2010

Israel to push UNESCO to declare the kibbutz a world heritage site

The project is being advanced as the year-long centennial celebrations of the Kibbutz Movement come to a close.

By Noam Dvir

The Israel National Commission for UNESCO is set to promote the kibbutz and its heritage as a World Heritage Site, Haaretz has learned.

The initiative, which will focus on the unique social, cultural and architectural aspects of the kibbutz, is being promoted by a group of Israeli scholars led by architects Yuval Yaski, Shmuel Groag and Galia Bar-Or, of the architecture department of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. Yaski and Bar-Or, who is also the director of the Kibbutz Ein Harod Art Museum, recently curated the exhibition “Kibbutz – Architecture Without Precedent” at the International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale.

The project is being advanced as the year-long centennial celebrations of the Kibbutz Movement come to a close.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, inscribes sites as World Heritage if it deems them uniquely important to human culture. The inscription has special significance in terms of image for the country in which the site is located, as well as economic importance; the chosen site may also be granted special funding by the World Heritage Fund.

The inscription process involves two stages. Each of the member countries in the United Nations can prepare a list of tentative sites for inscription, and during the annual meeting of UNESCO they may be put to a vote. The current initiative seeks to include the beginnings of the kibbutz or a group of kibbutzim on Israel’s tentative list and to then promote inscription through international institutions.

Only one kibbutz, Israel’s first – Degania – is now included in the group. However, Yaski said they will not be inscribing only one kibbutz, such as Degania or Ein Harod, “because each of them represents a different phase in the development of the kibbutz. We think we may need to promote a group of kibbutzim, each of which expresses the physical and historical importance, or a group of kibbutzim in a particular geographic region, like the Jezreel Valley or the Menashe plateau,” Yaski said.

Either way, Yaski said they will not be seeking recognition of all 274 kibbutzim.

He added that inscription is important particularly in light of the significant changes made to the kibbutzim in recent years, including the abandonment of public buildings.

“I believe the move will increase the importance of the kibbutz, both among decision makers as well as among members of the movement,” Yaski said…

For the full article, click here.

Why Even Bother With the Empty Slogans?

Anyone who knows the whole story about the quixotic and ultimately unsuccessful resettlement plan of the Egyptian government for the residents of Gourna (Qurna) on Luxor’s West Bank would have to laugh at the following story if it weren’t so infuriating


Hassan Fathy's Plans for New Gourna (with fanciful ancient motifs), c. 1945

Certainly Hassan Fathy’s design for New Gourna was a creative modernist-orientalist design.  But its historical significance does not lie in its creativity alone.  It lies in the authoritarian social aims of demographic engineering that did not work out the way they were expected to.

Have we gotten to the stage where old buildings (however artificial and socially corrosive)–have become heritage just for being officially commemorated in a strange parallel to our celebrity culture’s tendency to make people into celebrities just for being well-known?

The references in the following article to “helping the community” are utterly empty rhetoric.  What indication is there that the second New Gourna Project will be any more successful than the first?  Would, could, should are all conditional promises, not integral parts of the plan.  There is no need to suspect that there is anything behind the slogans but bait for positive PR by credulous journalists and cover for the lucrative contracts for consultants and construction firms that this project will undoubtedly spawn.


New Gourna today. Photo: Chant Avedissian, Aga Khan Trust


Why is an utter social failure like New Gourna more worthy of preserving than the fabric of 19th-century Luxor?  Egypt is in the process of ruthlessly exploiting and stripmining its material heritage.  No opportunity for a press conference is declined.  But this doesn’t even have the advantage of a lost pharaoh or buried treasure.  It is a willful misrepresentation of a grim social reality.

Isn’t the Heritage Establishment itself the only thing being lavishly funded and celebrated and commemorated here?

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Via Nigel Herrington

From Al-Aharam 14 October 2010

Architecture for the poor

Nevine El-Aref reports on a UNESCO scheme to conserve and revive architect Hassan Fathy’s New Gourna village on the west bank at Luxor

Although the heat makes work in Luxor over the summer difficult, a committee of international architects gathered early last week on Luxor’s west bank in order to inspect Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy’s New Gourna village, launching a comprehensive scheme to help preserve this village consisting of mud-brick domiciles for the poor.

Constructed between 1946 and 1952 by pioneering architect Fathy, New Gourna aimed to provide housing for the population of the village of Old Gourna. Villagers from the latter had lived for generations above ancient Egyptian tombs, and they were moved in order to prevent damage to the tombs and to provide a model for low-cost and sustainable housing.


However, since then time has taken its toll on the village, and some people from Old Gourna always refused to be relocated to the new setting. As a result, parts of New Gourna were sparsely populated, and the village as a whole has been subject to a lack of maintenance and environmental problems, leading to the loss of some dwellings.

Cracks have spread in the walls of some buildings, and concrete buildings commissioned by the local authorities are even being constructed just a few metres away from the magnificent mud-brick theatre designed and built by Fathy.


International efforts have been made to safeguard New Gourna, but few concrete measures have been taken. Since the village is a key reference for architects, engineers and specialists in earthen architecture worldwide, an international association was set up in 2008 in Geneva in order to try to safeguard Fathy’s architectural work.

However, little work took place until 2009, when the village was declared a protected heritage site by prime ministerial decree, and a committee from the Ministry of Culture, the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), the National Organisation for Urban Harmony and the Luxor governorate was formed to identify the perimeters of the village and the legal measures that could be taken to protect the site.

It was in this context that UNESCO set up a committee of experts in the field of sustainable and earthen architecture to help efforts to safeguard New Gourna. Last week, some two dozen international experts met in Luxor in order to make recommendations on a project aiming to safeguard New Gourna.


“We are here to begin a new adventure that fulfils the dream of a great man, Hassan Fathy, that his life did not see,” Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO assistant director-general for culture, told reporters at a press conference held to launch the $1 million rehabilitation project for New Gourna, which will last two years.

New Gourna Project Press Conference, Oct. 2, 2010

New Gourna Project Press Conference, Oct. 2, 2010

Bandarin said that Fathy had seen the future shape of architecture before others, a future that he had made concrete at New Gourna. “We are here to make this project a flagship for Luxor, Egypt and the world as a whole,” Bandarin said, explaining that the planned International Centre for Sustainable Architecture (ICSA) aimed to provide training and research facilities for Egyptian and international students in order to promote Fathy’s humanistic vision.

The project would have shorter and longer-term components, Bandarin said. The short-term component would last for a year and would include a geotechnical and infrastructural assessment of the site, its sewage system and road network, as well as documentation of the village’s history. A project master plan would be drawn up, and this would include a management map and details of the architectural task force.

The shorter-term activity would also seek urgently to consolidate the most-threatened buildings and restore the empty houses in order to set an example for later interventions.

“We are here to help the local community,” Bandarin added, explaining that buildings built in concrete in the village would be demolished under the plan and replaced by new ones similar to those in Fathy’s original design. The inhabitants of the demolished houses would be given new ones under the project, he said.

In the longer term, the project would include the construction of the proposed international centre in a central position in the village. The mosque would be restored, as would Fathy’s former residence. The centre would include a guesthouse for teachers, scholars and students, and the project as a whole would include an important environmental component and sewage-treatment scheme.

Overall, those living in New Gourna would benefit from the plan in the form of better housing conditions, and they would be able to capitalise on the national and international attention focussed on the village.

Local businesses could develop as a result of the new emphasis on mud-brick conservation, and villages could become entrepreneurs renting out rooms, running local eateries and shops and setting an example to surrounding communities of the social and economic gains to be made through the conservation and adaptive reuse of their own heritage.

For the full article, click here.

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Would, would, could, could, could…  but who will be there to report if the project funding just disappears into the same old pockets?

Another Good Underfunded Idea


City Reliquary Museum


Why not let regular people be curators at least once in a while?   

Process is always as important as product.  Fascination is often as good as erudition.   

Collections of bric-a-brac and popular culture can express personal pleasure in pattern from the world around us, not just illustrate human evolution or art history.    

This doesn’t mean that there should be no Louvre, no Metropolitan Museum.  I actually think that the existence of the Great Institutions and the Community Memory Centers will help each other to survive.   

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From the Village Voice Blogs:   

The City Reliquary Museum Tries to Save Itself

By Julia, Saturday, Mar. 6 2010 @ 10:54AM   

The City Reliquary Museum and Civic Organization in Williamsburg was never a profit machine. Founder Dave Herman told the Voice in 2006 “We’re not very good at PR. We all just do what we enjoy doing and hope people will find out.”   

Just now, Herman says that isn’t working out all that well. Due to rent, rising utility costs, and a few grants that failed to materialize, the non-profit storefront museum may be forced to close if they can’t raise $20,000 by the end of March. Even with the profits from February’s New York City Firefighter Date-Auction, they’re not there yet…   


Amanda B. Friedman’s Unicorn Collection


If the Historical Society is New York’s Attic, the City Reliquary is New York’s Dotty Aunt’s Tchotchke Shelf. Herman founded it in 2002 as a museum “for the people,” with a collection of his own random artifacts, and added geological samples, urban archaeology finds, and stuff donated by people in the neighborhood. The front window features local collections (this month, it’s Amanda B. Friedman’s Unicorns). The current exhibit – Company Journals of the Southside Firehouse – was curated by a firefighter from Hook and Ladder 104.   

They sponsor movie nights, an annual Brooklyn Bridge Birthday bike ride, and art installations by kids from a local elementary school.   

The gift shop sells dirt from all five boroughs and bottles of East River Water.   

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For more about the City Reliquary Museum, click here