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Built Heritage—The First English Journal on Built Heritage in China Founded in Tongji University

Written by ZHU Donghai, Translated by PEI Jieting

On the evening of April 7 2017, the academic journal Built Heritage was launched at the Siping Road Campus of Tongji University. It is the first English journal in China devoted to the research, conservation and regeneration of historic built artifact and environment. More than 50 scholars and experts in heritage conservation field from China and abroad gathered at Tongji House to witness and celebrate this significant moment.


The co-editor-in-chief, Zhou Jian, professor of Tongji University and Secretary-General of WHITRAP moderated the ceremony. Mr. Li Zhenyu, Dean of Collage of Architecture and Urban Planning of Tongji University, and Editor-in-chief, Professor Chang Qing, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, made welcome speeches to all of the guests attending the event. Professor Chang Qing pointed out in his speech that Built Heritage aims to set up an influential platform for academic exchange among the international community, to facilitate dialogues of researchers around the globe, and to explore the path for the continuity and revitalization of built heritage.

Two academic consultants of the editorial board, Ruan Yisan, professor at Tongji University and a member of Committee of China’s Famous Historic and Cultural Cities, and James Warfield, Emeritus Professor of School of Architecture at University of Illonois at Urbana-Champaign, unveiled the first issue of the journal. Zhou Jingyu, the Vice President of Arcplus Group PLC, made a speech of congratulation on behalf of the co-organizers.


In the next session, Placido Gonzalez Martinez, the executive editor and Associate Professor at Tongji University, made a report to the editorial board on the publication progress and the outlook in the future. In his report, he introduced the makeup of the editorial board, including 24 academic consultants and 50 members, as well as the future cooperation plans with the world-renown publisher Taylor & Francis. Through data analysis of other academic journals from the same field, he also presented the opportunities and challenges to be encountered, and put forward five steps for future development. Paolo Ceccarelli, UNESCO Chair in Urban and Regional Planning for Sustainable Local Development and Emeritus Professor at University of Ferrara, proposed the top “post-western/non-western” world conservation theories and practices for the third and special issue of the journal. He also stressed that the perception towards what is so-called “west” today has undergone dramatic changes, thus need to be complimented with more diversified and open theories and approaches.


In the end, the two academic consultants delivered fascinating talks. Professor James Warfield reviewed his personal friendship with Tongji University, and expressed his appreciation and admiration towards the development and achievement in heritage conservation made by the University and China. Professor Ruan Yisan vividly talked about his personal experience as a fighter for the conservation of built heritage.


Following scholars and experts from home and abroad attended this ceremony:

Special Consultant of Director-general of UNESCO Mounir Bouchenaki,

Site Unit Project Manager of ICCROM Gamini Wijesuriya,

Executive Member of ICOMOS and President of ICOMOS Japan,

Professor at University of Tokyo Yukio Nishimura,

Honorary General Conservator of heritage and former General Inspector of Culture and Communication Ministry of France Alain Marinos,

Professor at the Ecole de Chaillot and Inspector –general of Historic Monuments,

Ministère de la Culture Benjamin Muton,

Head of Historic Preservation Programme,

Associate Professor at University of Pennsylvania Randall Mason,

Fedral Expert of Monument Preservation,

Former Leading Director of the Office of Momument Preservation of the Canton of Zurich,

Switzerland Christian Renfer, Academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering,

Vice President of Architectural Society of China,

Professor at Southeast University Wang Jianguo,

Director of Dunhuang Research Academy Wang Xudong,

Vice President of ICOMOS China and President of Committee of Architectural History,

Architectural Society of China Lyu Zhou, Vice President of ICOMOS China,

Chief Planner of China Architecture Design and Research Group Chen Tongbin.

Built Heritage is an international journal administrated by the Ministry of Education of China, sponsored by Tongji University, and published by Tongji University Press with the support of Tongji Architectural Design (Group) Co., Ltd., Shanghai Tongji Urban Planning and Design Institute and Arcplus Group PLC. The journal aims to record the latest developments of built heritage conservation theory and practice, to introduce research outcomes in China, to foster academic exchange between Chinese and international scholars, and to enhance the awareness for the conservation of the built environment in China. The members of editorial board are Chinese and international scholars and experts actively engaged in the field.Covering a wide range of topics, the journal encompasses the conservation of architecture, urbanism and landscape architecture in urban and rural environments from a multidisciplinary approach. Specific topics of interest include, but are not limited to: heritage research, history and theory, conservation projects and heritage management.

Built heritage is a prevailing concept in the international cultural heritage field, which encompasses three types of building activities, namely; architectural, urban and landscape heritage. It includes assets already listed for preservation, as well as the potential heritage that still awaits evaluation and recognition. According to its spatial range, another expression that applies for built heritage is ’historic environment’, referring to urban and rural areas of specific historic significance. This spans over built heritage ensembles and specific landscape elements that stage historic cultural neighbourhoods in the city and traditional settlements in the countryside. In addition, an extended concept of ‘historic environment’ also encompasses those places that despite the loss of their physical fabric still exert a deep historical influence in their environments.

From the perspective of value rationality, built heritage bears witness to the national and local historic character, acting as a carrier of nostalgia and collective memory. Therefore, built heritage upholds the profound meaning of identity. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘the farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see’, thus built heritage appears as a set of time and space coordinates, helping people trace their way back to the past. At the end of his recent work World Order, Henry Alfred Kissinger also reminds: ‘History offers no respite to countries that set aside their commitments or sense of identity in favor of a seemingly less arduous course’: The importance of identity, that applies to countries, societies and individuals, also relates to the attitude towards cultural heritage and its values. It goes without saying that this association also conveys ‘soft power’ implications.

From the perspective of instrumental rationality, built heritage cannot be duplicated, requiring instead regeneration and revitalisation. As a resource for sustainable development, built heritage can improve the social prestige and cultural quality of urban and rural areas, also enjoying the potential to become a highly profitable touristic asset. However, we should be vigilant about its overdevelopment, for it may not only compromise its conservation, but also spoil its original flavour. In his book The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (1998), American historian and geographer David Lowenthal ironized with examples of the trends towards heritage identification based on mere economic motivations. He severely criticised malpractices of the deliberate invention of history with the presumed purpose of enhancing a variety of ‘heritage values’. These phenomena have been widely spread in China, and deserve serious consideration and correction through the means of heritage management and education.

It must be made clear that ‘conservation’ differs from ‘preservation’. Heritage ‘preservation’ means to maintain the original site outlook and location, even its intact condition. Heritage ‘conservation’ has much broader connotations, which include ‘safeguard’, ‘restoration’, ‘renovation’, ‘addition’, ‘reconstruction’ and ‘regeneration’, among other related strategies. In general, ‘conservation’ is a kind of systematic project, ranging from information collection and processing, state assessment and evaluation; to structural reinforcement and façade restoration. It concludes with regeneration or revitalisation design, which requires the interdisciplinary integration of culture, law, technology and management, among other majors. Therefore, should we regard the built heritage as an ageing ill body, the conservation project would be the medical process of diagnosis and treatment.

The UNESCO ‘Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity’ (2001) emphasises the fact that creation derives from heritage, stressing that both concepts are mutually indispensable and deserve comparable protection. And it should also be reminded that for the discipline of architecture, ‘conservation’ is the premise and not the purpose. ‘Inheritance’ does not only mean a physical transmission, but to make built heritage become a bridge between the past and today, allowing its essence inspire contemporary creation. As an ancient academic discipline, architecture can be compared to a two-sided coin; one side of which is ‘heritage’, involving conservation and inheritance, while the other side is ‘creation’, focusing on transformation and innovation. Therefore, the process of ‘inheriting’ creates a nexus between heritage and creation, unequivocally oriented towards the future. The relationship between the two ‘sides’ can thus be epitomised by four words: ‘conservation’, ‘inheritance,’ transformation’, and ‘innovation’.

However, due to the accelerated process of globalisation and modernisation that characterises the 21st century, built heritage conservation becomes an ever challenging task and mission. This is especially the case for China, as the country is currently undergoing a crucial period of transition and development. In this historic context, Tongji University has gathered the scholarly elite in China and overseas to launch China’s first English journal in this field: Built Heritage. As a platform for general international academic exchange, its significant mission includes introducing the important information regarding the research and conservation of Chinese built heritage to the world, and at the same time, to bring the most cutting-edge specialised advancements to China. Summarising, the goal of this journal is to explore a Chinese way to maintain and regenerate built heritage, keeping the essence of the past, integrating it into future development and crystallising the consensus over heritage values for humanity.

(Source: WHITRAP  newsletter).

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