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World Monuments Fund Releases 2014 Watch List

By David Sokol
October 9, 2013
Photo © Pavlos Rekas/World Monuments Fund
A large cruise ship emerges out of the Giudecca Canal in Venice, behind the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, 2009.

The World Monuments Fund (WMF) has released the 2014 World Monuments Watch, its biennial list of cultural heritage sites at risk of damage or loss. This year’s list includes 67 sites in 41 countries, shortlisted from 248 nominations. The type and scale of selections are equally expansive; they range from all of Syria to the gas lamps of Berlin.

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Despite such breadth, WMF president Bonnie Burnham, in introducing the 2014 class at a Tuesday press conference in Manhattan, said that the underlying causes of vulnerability are consistent. Catastrophe and conflict repeatedly propel significant places to recognition, for example, and Burnham cited escalating violence in Syria for its inclusion in the 2014 Watch. The country was chosen in its entirety because dislocation from fragile symbolic sites like Aleppo has also caused destruction and looting of historic assets farther afield.

Another blanket designation illustrates economics’ role in risk. The explosion of large-scale cruise-ship tourism in Venice—400 percent in the last five years alone—is having adverse effects on the Italian city’s lagoon, displacing water, shaking buildings, and causing pollution, among other problems. Industry success also is causing a demographic shift to the Venice suburbs, with correlating adverse environment impacts. Conversely, Burnham noted, the Parisian churches of St. Merri and Notre-Dame de Lorette were included in the 2014 Watch due to lack of economic resources.

The American sites incorporated into today’s announcement almost unanimously embody WMF’s interest in sustaining architecture of the recent past. Eero Saarinen’s St. Louis Arch, more formally known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, is suffering corrosion. Frank Sanchis, director of WMF’s U.S. programs, says he hopes that listing will lead to better understanding of damage in the upper reaches of the stainless steel–finished structure.

Mira Nakashima, daughter of the famous furniture maker George Nakashima, said that similar material research is needed to sustain her family’s house, studio, and workshop in New Hope, Pennsylvania. “So far the roof has held up, but it’s a hyperbolic paraboloid, and the plywood manufactured nowadays is apparently different,” she explained at the press event. “When we get to the stage when we have to restore the roof, we’re going to need some big help.”

The 2014 Watch’s only Modernist building located outside the U.S. is Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, designed by Carlos Raúl Villanueva. Stateside, the other sites of Modernist significance include the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, the Henry Klumb House in Puerto Rico, and Taliesin. A region of upper Manhattan and New Jersey also made the list: Proposed construction of a new, 143-foot-tall headquarters for electronics company LG is threatening the historic view shed surrounding the Cloisters museum, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted medieval European art, and the Hudson Palisades.

The World Monuments Watch is WMF’s signature advocacy program. “Watch listings are often a catalyst for discussion,” Burnham said, adding that designation can leverage financial sponsorship and technical support for a site. Since the program’s launch in 1996, 740 sites in 133 countries have been listed, and $300 million has been invested in preservation.

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