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Arch. Donika Georgieva University of Architecture, Civil Engineering and Geodesy, Sofia, Bulgaria

The Manual is one of the key outputs of the ATRIUM project dealing with the specific architecture of the totalitarian regimes of the past 20th century – still an inconvenient topic taking into account the relatively short period after the collapse of these regimes. Hence the architecture in focus is usually loaded either with sentimental memories (nostalgia), or with negative emotions, but most often with both. The Manual is aiming at presenting the professional point of view towards this quite new part of the European heritage and at approaching a larger target group, including not only historians and heritage professionals but also experts in education, management, economics, tourism, etc. and the general public. The Manual is a logical result of the ATRIUM Transnational Survey (WP3) and a basis for the development of a digital catalogue (WP5) and the design of a thematic Cultural Route (WP6).

Part 1: Context, approaches, methods and criteria
The development of the actual guidelines is preceded by: historical description of the temporal context; specific features of the sites’ management, preservation, reuse, economic valorisation; review of the possibilities to include the theme within the Council of Europe Cultural Routes Programme. All the subjects are professionally approached. It is also important to emphasise that the Manual is focusing on the creation of a thematic cultural route as a contemporary tool for tourism activity in the framework of the concept for the “cultural routes” of the Council of Europe (and this is correctly stated in item 1.6). Nevertheless it has to be clear that this notion should not be confused with the understanding of a “cultural route” and “heritage route” as a specific and integral type of cultural heritage. The existence of different readings of the notion “cultural route” could find place in the proposed Glossary. Here, once again could be stressed that within the ATRIUM community the term is used as “cultural, educational heritage and tourism co-operation project” (Glossary).

Part 2: Meta-projects
The presented case studies cover a large scope of issues. A positive approach within the contexts of the Manual’s purposes is the inclusion not only of implied decisions (Best Practices) but also of problematic sites that still look for better future (Challenging Examples).

Part 3: Guidelines
The development of the guidelines follows the widely spread and internationally recognised methodological approach: identification – evaluation – preservation measures including renovation and reuse.

The guidelines for identification and interpretation are developed clearly in a five-section table template. A debatable question is whether the “identification” includes also the activities regarding the description of the site, its developmental characteristic and evaluation or not . The future practical usage of the Manual will better show if this issue is essential. But a possible confusion of the users could be the inclusion of a “first step evaluation” (sections IV and V of the table template) within the identification process and the introduction of other evaluation criteria within a separate evaluation template (item 3.2 of the Manual).

An idea to improve the proposed table template is to reformulate the required description in section II, item 5 as follows: 5. Existing heritage interpretation regarding the terms of European Parliament resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism in building or on site. Describe how/in what way the site presents the historical memory. This proposal corresponds to the general content of section II – i.e. existing state. Moreover, the current form of the formulation overlaps with the requirements for the information to be completed in section III, item 4. Taking into account the comments on Part 1, it is recommended firstly to respect the needs of the local community and secondly – the one of the tourists (section III, item 3).

The guidelines for preservation, renovation and re-use are based on heritage evaluation that is proposed to be systemised in a table. The evaluation system adopted under the ATRIUM project corresponds to the best international practices. The next proposed measure is the development of a conservation plan for the site. The Manual further recommends the elaboration of a feasibility study before taking any specific actions for renovation and reuse and summarises the seven main steps to be followed (using already developed within the Regeneration through Heritage project (UK) methodology). It is recommended that a clearer interrelation between the conservation plan and the feasibility study (studies) should be stated.

The management guidelines are systemised in several items. The first three introduce overall management issues. (1) One of the priorities of the ATRIUM project is the design of a thematic cultural route (WP6) to be included in the Council of Europe programme. The Manual gives the strategic directions for the future implementation of such tourist product based on strong partnership network. The specific characteristics of the management of the individual sites and urbanistic structures are considered. It is stressed that whatever the detailed sections of a management plan, the most important part is the elaboration of a vision. Special attention is drawn on the participation of the local communities in the management process illustration the possibilities with actual case studies. (2) The needed cultural tourism activities are considered in detail and a systematic approach towards the development of a new “heritage” network is proposed – for example a step-by-step creation of a guide. (3) The Manual stresses also on the potential of the digital systems as a tool for heritage valorisation. Without underestimating the new technologies’ indisputable qualities, it is essential to have in mind their negative impact. This topic is widely discussed and the main arguments cons are the threats for gradual alienation of the people from the actual places and the loss of the sense of genius loci.

The fourth item comprises the actual guidelines in four categories. The proposed categories are interrelated (i.e. the activities within them are connected) following a hierarchical structure – from the general towards the specific.

The last fifth item focuses on the monitoring and evaluation of the already developed cultural tourism route. As it is a project in the field of cultural tourism on a European level it is a living/working product and the application of criteria for the quality management and monitoring is essential for the sustainability of the cultural route in general.

The economic potentials of the architecture of the totalitarian regimes are also addressed.

The Manual is a very important and well-timed document having in mind:

  1. The problems different countries are facing nowadays to preserve (or not?) these sites in the rapid pace of urbanisation.
  2. The controversial attitude of our generation towards these sites most commonly burdened with political and/or negative mark.
  3. The risk of losing sites representing part of European history and memory.

The Manual is truly a necessary tool that needs to be widely disseminated. It is the first step towards joint European efforts for the recognition of the architecture of the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century as part of our common history. The forthcoming actual and (hopefully) active use of the document in the different countries in Europe would most adequately manifest its practical applicability and the potential issues for further improvement.


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