The Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning

Research Project: Integrated approaches to Dissonant Heritage in Europe

Project briefing

  • Status Completed
  • Project duration April 2021 – December 2022
  • Programme ExWoSt

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.

Buzludzha peak with the saucer-shaped memorial house in the background, in front a second monument, showing two torches Former Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party - Buzludzha, Kazanlak, Bulgaria Former Monument House of the Bulgarian Communist Party - Buzludzha, Kazanlak, Bulgaria

Background

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.

Historical Olympic Village of 1936, Wustermark, Germany

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Aerial view of recon-struction and new construction measures in the first development stage of the Olympic Village, with unrenovated GDR prefab buildings in the back-ground Historical Olympic Village of 1936, Wustermark, Germany Historical Olympic Village of 1936, Wustermark, Germany

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:

  • They can help make historic events tangible and understandable. By showing us how authoritarian systems used architecture symbolically for the exercise of power, they allow us to learn from the past, ultimately strengthening our democratic social systems (democratic and educational function).
  • On-site confrontation can also help groups affected by discrimination, stigmatisation or persecution process and remember what happened (memory function).
  • Such places can and should also be used for social dialogue and discussion, to build bridges and to reunite alienated or even hostile social groups or countries (socio-political function).
  • Dissonant heritage can also take on an economic function as a destination for (cultural) tourism, bringing people to new locations.
  • Within the framework of an interdisciplinary and cross-level integrated approach, heritage with urban spatial references can take on an important function in inventory-oriented urban and regional development.

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.

Objective

Central Animal Laboratories of the Freie Universität Berlin ("Mice bunker"), Germany

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Frontal view showing the brutalist-style concrete facade of the laboratory with protruding pipes Central Animal Laboratories of the Freie Universität Berlin ("Mice bunker"), Germany Central Animal Laboratories of the Freie Universität Berlin ("Mice bunker"), Germany

Urban Agenda for the EU (UAEU)

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.

Research project (ExWoSt)

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:

  • draw up approaches for the integrated and sustainable handling of Europe’s dissonant heritage of the 20th century in small towns and peripheral locations.
  • reveal the potential and opportunity for strengthening democracy, education, tourism and sustainable urban and regional development and,
  • increase the awareness of this potential among the public and especially the local actorsl.

In addition, a practice-oriented toolkit will be developed to support local groups and practitioners who deal with dissonant heritage.

Joint Action: Who is behind it?

Graphic explaining the correlation between Urban Agenda, Action Group and Research Project Institutional framework Institutional framework

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.

Group picture of the participants of the International Expert Workshop, the courtyard of the former prison La Model in Barcelona, Spain in the background Integrated Approaches to Dissonant Heritage in Europe Members of the Action Group at the International Expert Workshop in Barcelona, October 2021

Contractors were:

  • Urban Expert, Berlin
  • location³ Wissenstransfer, Berlin
  • sbca, Sally Below

Contact

  • Birgit Kann
    Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development
    Division RS 8 "Quality in Urban Design, Investment Projects"
    E-Mail: birgit.kann@bbr.bund.de

  • Jan Schultheiß
    Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building
    Division S II 5 – Vibrant Communities, National Urban Development Projects

    E-Mail: jan.schultheiss@bmwsb.bund.de

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