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All over Europe, dissonant heritage of the 20th century is under discussion. The Partnership on Culture and Cultural Heritage in the Urban Agenda for the EU (UAEU) currently addresses this topic in the framework of a specific 'Action'. Since 2020, a working group of European experts has explored the value and potential of dissonant heritage in the context of integrated urban and regional development. The Action 'Integrated Approaches to Dissonant Heritage' is led by the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building (BMWSB) and is supported by this ExWoSt project.
Dissonant heritage is part of European history and cultural heritage. This can include places related to National-Socialist, fascist, nationalist or communist regimes and state systems, as well as places that reveal structural evidence of war, persecution, or colonisation. Much of Europe’s most striking post-war modern architecture and urban planning can also count as part of Europe’s dissonant architectural heritage.
'Dissonant' is not to be understood as a property inherent in any specific heritage site, but rather as a symptom that arises against a complex background of social, political and historical conditions. Such conditions may lead a society or social group to associate particular cultural or architectural heritage with negative or unpleasant memories. The site thus becomes politically and/or historically burdened; in other words, it becomes dissonant. Accordingly, dissonant heritage captures the controversies and conflicts in competing and sometimes ambiguous readings of the past.
In many places in Europe, dissonant heritage is badly neglected, inaccessible to the public and threatened with demolition and decay. Historic buildings and areas are often not under protection, and deemed unworthy of preservation to many of those involved, partly because of the unpleasant associations. There is often an urgent need for action to secure, preserve and develop these historic building structures in a way that is fit for the future.
Exploring the potential of dissonant heritage
Despite all the historical, practical and even emotional challenges, dissonant heritage sites have important functions, or have the potential to enable them:
Acknowledging the architectural heritage and historical significance of dissonant heritage across Europe, and activating its full potential, requires a sensitive, careful and integrated approach that involves a variety of multiple actors.
Action 10, 'Integrated approaches to dissonant heritage in Europe', is one of eleven Actions of the Partnership Culture and Cultural Heritage of the Urban Agenda for the EU (UAEU), which the BMWSB coordinates together with Italy. During their three-year term, the 14 thematic partnerships of the Urban Agenda are each developing recommendations for improving regulation, funding and knowledge of the subject in the EU (in accordance with the 2016 Pact of Amsterdam).
European Commission – Culture and Cultural Heritage
The aim of Action 10 is to increase awareness, throughout Europe, of the value and potential of dissonant heritage, especially the heritage dating from the 20th century and particularly sites located in smaller towns and remote regions. The Action furthermore intends to promote greater integration of the dissonant heritage into urban and regional development and thus to ensure its conservation and viable development. Another objective of the Action is to promote better use of the potential of the heritage for purposes such as education on history, democracy and the development of tourism. The Action is designed in accordance with the UAEU to test and develop new and innovative approaches to urban issues, as a basis for recommendations to the European Commission, the Member States and municipalities.
The implementation of the Action by members of the Partnership on Culture and Cultural Heritage and external assisting bodies under the oversight of Germany’s Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building (BMWSB) is supported by the Experimental Housing and Urban Development (ExWoSt) project 'Integrated Approaches to Dissonant Heritage in Europe'. The research project supports and accompanies the implementation of Action 10 and brings the findings into the context of German and European planning.
The research project aims in particular to:
In addition, a practice-oriented toolkit will be developed to support local groups and practitioners who deal with dissonant heritage.
Action 10 'Integrated Approaches to Dissonant Heritage in Europe' is being implemented by members of the Partnership on Culture and Cultural Heritage in the Urban Agenda for the EU and external assisting bodies. The Action is led and overseen by German Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building, and supported by the research project 'Integrated Approaches to Dissonant Heritage in Europe' within the German Federal Experimental Housing and Urban Development (ExWoSt) programme.
Since 2020, a group of experts and practitioners from the cultural heritage sector across Europe – the so-called Action Group – has provided active and intensive supported, including consultancy, for its implementation, together with a research consortium of urban experts commissioned by the BBSR.
Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development
Division RS 8 "Quality in Urban Design, Investment Projects"
Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building
Division S II 5 – Vibrant Communities, National Urban Development Projects