"The restoration has boosted the patrimonial values of Casa Batlló"

Amílcar Vargas is an expert in Cultural Heritage and Museums and collaborates with Casa Batlló to preserve and communicate the values of this building included by UNESCO in the World Heritage list. In this interview, he talks about the challenges and obligations of managing a property that is a heritage of humanity and about the latest restoration carried out in the House.

Casa Batlló has been a World Heritage Site since 2005, why?
It is World Heritage because it has outstanding universal value and meets the criteria of authenticity and integrity required by UNESCO in the 1972 World Heritage Convention. In brief, the work of Antoni Gaudí, which included Casa Batlló in 2005, meets three criteria of universal value. Firstly, it represents an exceptional and outstanding creative contribution to the development of architecture and building technology during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition, it shows an important exchange of values associated with the cultural and artistic currents of his time. Finally, his work represents a series of exceptional examples of different types of buildings: residences, houses, temples, palaces, etc.

What is meant by “outstanding universal value”?
“Outstanding Universal Value” means cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations. As such, the permanent protection of this heritage site is of the highest importance to the international community as a whole. This definition is laid out in UNESCO guidelines and is the starting point for defining the criteria for determining these values, both cultural and natural. The idea is for countries to help each other to preserve these sites of Outstanding Universal Value that represent our common heritage as Humanity.

What does it mean to be a World Heritage Site?
It implies a commitment to preserve the Outstanding Universal Value of the work, communicating it to the general public and transmitting it to new generations. It is an opportunity to contribute to the protection of our common heritage and an honour for those who have under their responsibility the great challenge of preserving its integrity, authenticity, and values. All this is done in accordance with the highest conservation standards set by UNESCO and its advisory bodies, the Ministry of Culture and Sport and the Generalitat de Catalunya.

Which organizations take care of the Heritage of a country?
Those directly responsible for taking care of World Heritage are the States where the sites in question is located. Specifically, we refer to the states that signed the World Heritage Convention and have undertaken to implement it in their territories. The Convention is the international agreement with the largest consensus among all United Nations international treaties, with a total of 193 States. This agreement establishes a commitment to collaborate among countries to preserve this common heritage. In each country, the States commit themselves to develop norms and programs to protect the heritage from the legal and technical spheres aligned with the norms of UNESCO and in the spirit of international collaboration that is proposed in the Convention.

What are the main ways in which Casa Batlló works to preserve this heritage?
Casa Batlló works in four main areas. The first is in heritage visibility, which regards the desire to communicate its outstanding universal value internally and externally. The second is in heritage responsibility, which seeks to fulfill in an exemplary manner certain commitments before the different institutions. This implies, for instance, having a comprehensive management plan, reporting periodically to UNESCO, and having sustainable tourism management. Thirdly, I would highlight the global expansion, from which we would seek to take advantage of opportunities for international cooperation with other museums and heritage sites. Finally, there is the area of restoration and research, which focuses on documenting compliance with conservation standards and promoting scientific research at Casa Batlló.

What were the most significant actions over the past year?
We have experienced an exemplary restoration that has positioned us as a world reference point and we have shared it with hundreds of heritage specialists from various disciplines. Without a doubt, restoration has boosted Casa Batlló’s heritage values. We have also participated in outstanding events at world level such as the General Assembly of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the meeting of Iberian World Heritage managers and the Conference of the Network of UNESCO Chairs. Finally, I would like to highlight our participation in the UNESCO World Heritage Volunteers programme in 2019. We were the first site in Spain to be accepted in this programme in all its history.

What heritage values has restoration fostered?
It has mainly contributed to ratifying authenticity and its outstanding universal value. We have restored to Casa Batlló a greater authenticity, which was previously justified through scientific studies and historical recovery via a unique multidisciplinary work programme. In addition, in restoring the house, we have made new discoveries that provide valuable documentation and research material. On the other hand, there is a very outstanding social value. We have given visibility to the restoration to the local public, offering 100,000 tickets at € 1 as well as guided tours that explain the work done, the history of the house and its architecture. Other initiatives of global scope have been the streaming of these works and the development of different contents to explain them.

What are the challenges for the future?
Our main challenge is the development and implementation of the Management Plan 2020 – 2025, which is our blueprint for action in the field of heritage in the coming years. This plan will incorporate the new applicable UNESCO regulations, highlighting the sustainable development goals. On the other hand, we will immediately continue to recover and restore original decorative elements; an exciting journey back to the origins that never ends. The final challenge to be confronted is the development of educational programmes to make the valuables more appealing to younger generations.

Should heritage also be sustainable?
Of course. In this sense, the signatories to the World Heritage Convention approved in 2015 that States should include the perspective of sustainable development in World Heritage sites and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda defined by the United Nations, of which UNESCO is a member. By 2024, World Heritage sites in Europe will have to inform UNESCO of the initiatives carried out, and there are still few properties at world level that are working in this direction.

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