Heritage and Identity

A half-day symposium sharing and showcasing the work of the teaching and research staff at the University of Westminster School of Architecture and Cities.

Everyone has history, but do some have more heritage than others?

If heritage is the process by which social histories are elevated into the narratives that form collective identities, communal, cultural, national, then heritage is about power, authorised and validated by certain social, institutional and state actors.

With the rising influence of populist politics in Europe and the U.S, identity has become central to heated debates - who are we, and who is not us? Within this, heritage plays a central role as the institutionalisation and validation of the past, but whose past? Heritage, thus, is a hot topic, the subject of government agendas and cultural projects. It remains, nonetheless, a fluid and contested term; what is heritage, who makes it, how is it made, who is it for?

This symposium brings together diverse research currently being undertaken at the University exploring the intersections between heritage, identity, politics and the built environment.

Talks range from the concepts of authenticity in the Balkans, invisible heritages in Palestine, the cultural meaning of the English landscape, the fluid meaning of architectural icons, the histories of brutalist buildings as told by construction workers, modern faith architecture, and the process of bringing under-represented histories into the authorised heritage discourse.

Liza Fior (MUF architects)
On the practice's work in East London and Sweden

Each panel will consist of 15-20min presentations and a 20-30min panel discussion

12.30 Registration
12.50 Welcome

Panel 1 - Land, territory, belonging

John Bold
Heritage, Reconstruction and Authenticity in the Balkans

Following the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo in the 1990s, and the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, the issue of reconstruction has called into question traditional notions of heritage and authenticity and their bearing on questions of identity. This paper will offer a brief synopsis of some of the issues.

Nasser Golzari & Yara Sharif
Re-reading Heritage - Contested and invisible Heritage in Palestine and the Persian Gulf 

Nasser Golzari and Yara Sharif explore the subject of contested and invisible heritage and identity through series of built -live and speculative& research  projects by  NGArchitects  & DS22 in Palestine and the Persian Gulf. 

Ben Stringer
Whose (rural) heritage?

“Do we want the countryside just to be a national park and import our food from elsewhere or do we want it to be full of thriving communities that can be a productive part of the economy?” asked Minette Batters, president of the UK’s National Farmers’ Union recently. This paper will examine the cultural logic of Britain’s increasingly ‘postproductivist’ countryside where food is grown overseas but branded with names that evoke the English rural idyll. This also raises the question of how racial, ethnic and cultural identities intersect and are positioned within the rural, how do Black and Other identities negotiate their space of belonging in the countryside?

2.30 - 3.45pm
Panel 2 - Dismantling the built fabric

Harry Charrington
On the Border; the impalpable restoration of the Viipuri Library 1944–2011

The Viipuri Library (1928–1935) is no longer in Viipuri, and the people it was built for left the city in 1944 following the Soviet occupation and renaming of the city. When the building’s architect, Alvar Aalto, was asked to comment on its possible restoration in the 1950s, he stated it had been completely destroyed. Nevertheless, the Soviet authorities in charge of the library, now in Vyborg, undertook a restoration. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and Vyborg became part of Russia, an International Committee for the Restoration of the Viipuri Library was formed in Helsinki, and many of the world’s leading architects, previously not renowned for any interest in conservation, signed up to the cause of restoring ‘a modern icon’. In 2014, following an earlier, decisive, meeting between the Finnish and Russian Presidents, Tarja Halonen and Vladimir Putin, the project was completed, winning the World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize. This lecture attempts to discern what was being restored.
Harry Charrington was a Trustee of British Chapter of the International Committee for the Restoration of the Viipuri Library

Kate Jordan
'Architectural Heritage and Religious Communities in Modern Britain'

The buildings commissioned by and for religious communities in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, are among the most pioneering examples of modern faith architecture in Britain. These important sites, often designed by leading architects, have been identified by Historic England as a heritage risk: unrecorded and under-listed they continue to be overlooked, facing redevelopment and demolition. This presentation will look at a selection of these sites and consider the threats that currently face.

Ro Spankie
‘The First House: Drawing out the Story the Censors’ Room’

Psychoanalysts make a distinction between actual space and the memory of a space; one’s house and the psychic construct of home. The latter, constructed from experiences of childhood home(s), is instrumental to functions of anchoring, identity and refueling and can be referred to as the ‘first house’.  Although a childhood home may still exist, it is, at the same time, unreachable because a gap exists between the physical space and the space in one’s memory. Not only do buildings evolve over time through change in use and wear and tear, but so too does the inhabitant. This paper will explore the gap between physical space and the ‘first house,’ through the story of the Censors’ Room at Denys Lasdun’s Royal College of Physicians.

3.45-4.15 Break

4.15pm - 5.30pm
Panel 3 - Heritage methodologies and disruptions

Christine Wall
‘Hidden narratives in construction histories’

While the complexity of contemporary architectural production has hugely increased, in many ways knowledge of the social world of building is still greater for the early modern period than for twentieth century architecture. The identities of those who worked on what are now recognised as masterpieces of Brutalism, for example, remain outside conventional architectural discourse, their voices silenced in favour of architectural accounts. The construction workforce has always been diverse, and in the post-war period migrant workers from Ireland, new arrivals from the Caribbean, Africa, and the Indian sub-continent, alleviated continuous shortages of building labour. This paper argues that by including the hidden contribution of these workers to the built environment we have the potential to widen the definition of architectural heritage and extend a sense of ownership and participation in Britain's modern architecture.

Sarah Milne
‘Writing heritage in the digital age’

Seeking to capitalise on the potential of the digital to inform fine-grained architectural histories of place, the Survey of London’s Histories of Whitechapel project has been an experiment in participatory practices to collect histories of the built environment. Moving towards a more democratic approach to the production and dissemination of architectural narratives, does a digital methodology of co-production change the role and meaning of such histories of place, especially in contested territories like Whitechapel?

Shahed Saleem
‘Disrupting Heritage: situating the British mosque’

Recent migrant and post-migrant communities have a growing and established presence in Britain, but a relatively limited history of material culture i.e. buildings, artefacts, archives, as compared to ‘indigenous’ communities. Does the appraisal and inclusion of the architecture of minority communities into the national heritage discourse offer possibilities for reappraising concepts of nationhood and belonging. Considering Stuart Hall’s proposition that until a person sees themselves reflected in a national story they cannot truly belong to that nation, this paper asks how cultures with a paucity of conventional heritage artefacts, such as architecture, can be included in the narration of that nation’s story.

Liza Fior (MUF architects)
On the practice's work in East London and Sweden


June 29, 2018

12:00 - 20:00

Admission: FREE

More Info: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/heritage-and-identity-tickets-46386694853?aff=eac2

Tickets/Booking: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/heritage-and-identity-tickets-46386694853?aff=eac2

Image: Shahed Saleem


University of Westminster School of Architecture and Cities

35 Marylebone Road London NW1 5LS

020 7911 5000

Room M416 4th Floor