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Francis Golding explains the role
of one of the worlds most important
conservation bodies.


THE WORK OF
ICOMOS UK
The International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) describes itself as a nongovernmental body of people professionally concerned with conservation, with separate committees in about 60 countries. It sets the standards in conservation philosophy and techniques throughout the world, keeping them up to date through its 14 specialist and scientific committees. Since the Venice Charter of 1964, its formal statements have enshrined universal conservation principles.
The reference to the Venice Charter is important, because ICOMOS came into existence, fathered by UNESCO, as a result of the Venice Conference and subsequent work promulgating the Charter.
The purposes envisaged were to bring together professionals in the field of architectural conservation to provide an international forum for the exchange of information; to further the highest standards of practice in the conservation of historic monuments and sites and to communicate the principles of the Venice Charter to all those involved in the field.
To begin with, ICOMOS was Europe-centred and concentrated on monuments, but over the years both its concerns and its international forum have broadened greatly. Its activities now involve archaeology, architecture, ensembles and groups of buildings, towns, cultural landscapes, vernacular and industrial monuments, earth structures, the impact of cultural tourism, recording and photogrammetry. Membership is now world-wide, and the triennial General Assembly was recently held in Sri Lanka, where several Asian countries including China announced that they were to set up national committees.
Conservation Officers will be familiar with the sort of disparity existing between aspirations and resources found in ICOMOS. To carry out this enormously broad range of activities there is a tiny headquarters office in Paris (with a staff
of about six) supported by officers and an executive committee who are voluntary, the series of technical committees already referred to, and national committees, some of which have tiny staffs of their own.
In the UK we have about 300 members and a staff of three part-timers. With our nonelected officers and committee members we are active in a number of areas. We try to do only things which have a genuinely international aspect and which are not being done by anyone else, and to some extent our agenda is set by the concerns of ICOMOS internationally.
Hence we have committees dealing with:
world heritage education
research and recording wood
E cultural tourism
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gardens and landscapes.
In terms of activity we are busiest in world heritage matters. We have persuaded the Department of National Heritage that rather than nominate World Heritage Sites and then forget them we should be encouraged, with a small grant, to monitor them and report on issues affecting them. We are also charged with encouraging the preparation of agreed comprehensive management plans for each of the sites. The longer this fascinating exercise goes on, the more interesting questions are raised about the reasons we judge places to be of ‘universal significance’ as the World Heritage Convention requires, and about the extraordinarily fragmented responsibilities for most such sites in Britain.
This work is being watched carefully as a potential example for other countries and we are lucky to have Henry Cleere, the World Heritage Co-ordinator in Paris, as out point of contact and the Chairman of our World Heritage Committee.
In other areas too, we lead the world.
Our Research and Recording Committee, for example, is working on Guidelines for recording buildings and monuments which we hope will be adopted as ICOMOS doctrine at the next General Assembly. Training Guidelines, largely the work of Sir Bernard Feilden, were similarly adopted in Sri Lanka this year, where Sir Bernard was also awarded the Gazzola Prize, ICOMO’s greatest honour.
As well as dealing with matters of philosophy and principle, we get down to practicalities and our Wood Committee, in particular, has organized a series of conferences with international participation, dealing with practical aspects of repairing timber buildings and publishing the papers afterwards. Similarly, our educational work involves a programme of three month summer internships in the USA for young professionals, and a similar programme for Americans here (see Context 34, p14 and Context 35, p29). We are always eager to find bright candidates and interesting host organisations. This year we arranged for two young professionals from Intach to come here and record a hitherto unrecorded Jewish burial ground in Stepney.
In a brief article it is impossible to give a full account of our activities. Looking at them as a whole raises the question of just what a professional conservationist is and what he or she can be expected to know or do. It is interesting to see that the same questions are arising inside the ACO, with the prospect of an Institution forming itself at some point in the future.
Francis Go/ding


THE VENICE CHARTER
Following references in recent issues of Context to this Charter it is reproduced by kind permission of ICOMOS. As one of the defining statements of conservation philosophy it should be appreciated by all Conservation Officers.
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CONTEXT 41

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