War, economic development and global climate change pose threats to extraordinary buildings and cities, according to the World Monuments Fund’s (WMF) 2008 watch list of the 100 most endangered sites.
Released on Wednesday at the fund’s Manhattan headquarters, the list ranges from familiar locales such as Machu Picchu and St. Petersburg to obscure ones such as the pinnacled mud-brick Wa Naa’s Palace in Ghana and Leh Old Town, a medieval Himalayan settlement in Ladakh, India.
WMF, which launched the biennial list in 1995, said 75% of the sites it has listed in the past are out of danger, though many still need considerable attention and investment.
“Sounding the alarm helps advocates to join forces to protect our world’s shared architectural heritage,” said Bonnie Burnham, WMF’s president. The fund has awarded about $47 million (Rs192.7 crore) in grants to watch list sites, which, in turn, has attracted an additional $124 million of governmental and non-governmental aid.
Armed conflict and its aftermath have damaged or destroyed ancient settlements in the Asian and Mesopotamian cradles of urban civilization. The watch list includes sites in West Asia, Afghanistan, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Cyprus and Sierra Leone. All of Iraq, which was on the 2006 list, appears on the new one. Fund grants are training Iraqi experts who will return when conditions improve.
The destruction of great works of art can stoke long-held grievances, explained Marilyn Perry, WMF’s chairman, or motivate aid. When Taliban warriors blew up the monumental seventh-century Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, “the world wept for these great artifacts it had never known about”, Perry said. By listing it, the fund hopes to spur additional international efforts to stabilize the site, which still possesses important wall paintings, and assist in conservation of statue fragments. WMF has also come to recognize the danger posed by global climate change. Melting permafrost and rising seas threaten to swamp Herschel Island, a historic Inuit whaling town in Canada. “It may not be salvageable,” Burnham said.
Frequent floods also afflict Sonargaon-Panam City, a medieval trading hub in Bangladesh, while encroaching desert may destroy the Chinguetti Mosque in Mauritania. In listing New Orleans, the fund worries that the billions spent to date have yet to assure the future of its extraordinary past.
Loved to death
The fund says that some critically-important places are being loved to death by insensitive development. Poorly-managed tourism threatens once-remote Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan city in Peru. A tower for Gazprom, Russia’s powerful oil company, will deface the onion-domed low-rise skyline of St. Petersburg.
The watch list includes examples of important modern architecture, because its significance often goes unrecognized until it’s too late. The 2008 list includes Florida Southern College, in Lakeland, Florida, an elegantly domed and arcaded campus complex designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The project was underfunded when it was built starting in the late 1930s, and substandard materials were used. The maintenance and appropriate adaptation of the structures for current needs has long vexed the college.
Insensitive new buildings threaten the sublime vista to the ocean from the Salk Center in La Jolla, California, a masterpiece by Louis I. Kahn.
Sometimes listing can have immediate impact. Squabbling government agencies have united behind a plan to conserve the Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Spain. New funders have also stepped in to augment a $125,000 grant by American Express.
“Sometimes it’s simply a matter of drawing attention,” said John Stubbs, the fund’s vice-president of field projects.