21st June 2017 Embassy Media
It is to be recalled the Royal Institute of British Architects had on the night of December 6th 2016 awarded the President’s Medal for Research. The 2016 RIBA President’s Medal for Research was presented to Dr. Edward Denison, Eng. Medhanie Teklemariam and Eng. Dawit Abraha for their project ‘Asmara – Africa’s Modernist City: UNESCO World Heritage Nomination’. The research supported by the Asmara Heritage Project Team forms part of the State of Eritrea’s first ever application list Asmara as a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
As a continuation of this and to bring awareness to the campaign on the 21st June 2017 Dr. Edward Denison, winner of the President’s Medal for Research 2016, presented the research and endeavor behind Eritrea’s first ever application to UNESCO for inscription on the World Heritage List in Asmara – Africa’s Modernist City.
Dr. Kat Matindale, Head of Research of Innovation at RIBA gave an opening speech before introducing Dr. Edward Denison. The presentation was organized into five areas summarized on the extensive research based on over 2 decades of research and the application itself, which took 4 years.
Preface: Questioning the canon/challenging the narrative
Context: Eritrea (History, geography)
Planning: Urban planning
Architecture: Modernism in Africa
Heritage: UNESCO and all that
The presentation at RIBA is thus a continuation of the larger effort to create awareness before the UNESCO convene on 02nd to 12th of July 2017 for 41st session which will be held in Krakow Poland.
It is also to be recalled Ambassador of the state of Eritrea to France and permanent representative to UNESCO Mrs. Hanna Simon on 20th of June 2017 invited various ambassadors to an exhibition and also held a reception at the UNESCO head office in Paris France with Eng. Medhanie T.Maryam AHP (Asmara Heritage Project) coordinator giving a briefing. The exhibition ‘Asmara City of Dreams’ was also opened from 15th to the 19th of June 2017 at the Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Paris. The campaign underway was being held with a view of placing Asmara in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The scientific committee ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) has already approved and passed it on to UNESCO. This is credit to the people involved in the project with 85 thousand archives scanned at Asmara municipality, 4300 buildings mapped measured to the last inch producing nomination dossier of 1400 pages long which is costly and complex.
With Europe having 425 sites and Africa only having only 85 sites shows the profound cultural inequality, the application has used 3 out of the 6 selection criteria and is hoped that Asmara will hopefully redress the imbalance.
After the independence of Eritrea there was a time of boom and buildings were being constructed and Nakfa house was built, which raised a question on architecture and how the city would look? There was also a proposal by a German company to demolish old buildings in the center of Asmara and build 4 high-rise buildings, which would have affected the city considered to be a national monument. However a consultation was conducted with stakeholders, who had strong history with the buildings and a halt on building development in the city of Asmara was put in place in 2001. There is a strong motive to allow development, however the moratorium on building has helped in understanding the characteristics, and to protect the integrity and to this regard Eritrea has passed a law last year.
A conservation management plan, and legislation has also been put in place and to create this understanding a series of workshops was conducted with stakeholders from the commercial community, youth groups, women’s groups and the like. Wide public dissemination of the project has also been conducted to create the level of awareness to the project. With also the working assumption of Asmara being on the World Heritage List a buffer zone is also put in place to protect the Asmara city center so that development doesn’t affect it as in the event of development affecting the center of Asmara, it could lead to the World Heritage List stripped off Asmara.
For Eritrean’s though it’s not only about architecture and planning, but also about the role the city played during the liberation struggle, and there is strong evidence of assimilation to make it their own. Infused photos from the time of colonization on how Eritreans were devoid from their city and now the reclamation of the city by Eritreans clearly culminates the liberation struggle as the book ‘To Asmara’ fits with the whole picture.