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Practical Aspects of Cultural Heritage

Anja B. Nelle

Mapping museality in world heritage towns: a tool to analyse conflicts between the presentation and utilisation of heritage Abstract It is accepted that when objects are put in a museum, they lose their original use as utility objects in order to represent ‘the past’. Towns that are declared part of our world heritage are also supposed to represent part of our history. The way their urban space is used, with a strong focus on the visual consumption of an ‘historic image’, has many parallels to a visit to a museum. The presentation of heritage in historic towns is designed to promote an ‘historic image’ and communicate it to visitors. The quality of the urban spaces for everyday use by inhabitants is altered in this process. In this article, the functions a world heritage town has to fulfil are defined and related to the phenomena of musealisation. A method of mapping museality is presented. It is designed to visualise potential conflicts between presentation and utilisation of heritage.



It is accepted that when objects are put in a museum, they lose their original use as utility objects in order to represent ‘the past’. Towns that are nominated by UNESCO are also supposed to represent part of our history. The way their urban space is used, with a strong focus on the visual consumption of an ‘historic image’, has many parallels to a visit to a museum. The main difference between an object that is put in a museum and a town centre that is declared a conservation area is that the town centre should continue to be used by the inhabitants. It should not lose its utility function for the population. The utility function of urban space is its use for everyday social interaction. “Visiting an historic town is not about going to a museum or a journey into the past to see how people used to live; it is a pleasurable experience of leisure and cultural activity in a place where people still live” writes Aylin Orbasli, when considering ‘being a museum’ as a negative characteristic for a heritage town. Many guide books or travel agents hold a different view. They promote their trips as ‘journeys into the past’ and ‘being a museum’ is understood as something of special value. The different views are partly due to a lack of definition of musealisation. 

Orbasli (2000): 185.


Anja B. Nelle: Mapping museality in world heritage towns

The starting point of this essay is the definition of functions that need to be met by a world heritage town. The focus is the use of world heritage towns as museums. ‘Usage’ describes a relationship between the used object and the using subject. In a heritage zone buildings and public spaces are used in manifold ways and by different user-groups. ‘Usage’ implies that functions are fulfilled. The functional demands of inhabitants differ from those of visitors. The presence of tourists, who use public space as if they were visiting a museum, adds a new function to public spaces. The exteriors of buildings become exhibition objects. After defining the functions of world heritage towns, the phenomenon of musealisation/museality and its relation to the defined functions will be explained and summarised visually. The summary forms the theoretical basis for the documentation and analysis of museality using a method of mapping, which is presented at the end of this article. My approach to addressing the potential conflicts between presentation and utilisation of heritage in world heritage towns is to document the characteristics of museality using a method of mapping. The maps serve as a tool to analyse the state of museality and to develop planning and management strategies to deal with it.


What are the functions of a world heritage town?

As a starting point for the definition of functions of world heritage towns I have investigated value criteria for monuments. To declare something a monument is an act undertaken according to contemporary value systems and aims. According to Alois Riegl (1858–1905), an urban ensemble is an ‘unintentional monument’ because it was not planned as a monument but declared to be one. For the context of my research I have defined three functions: remembrance, utility and meaning. The function of remembrance is based on the historic dimension that became a criterion for listed buildings in the 19 th century. According to Zettel, the longing for memory is rooted in historicism. During this time the historic conscience was discovered. Without an historic conscience the wish to remember would never have developed. Only those who have a conscience of their history are able to value remembrance. The museum has a ‘memory value’. The science of history with its aim to commemorate is the basis of conservation activities. In an historic town,



Alois Riegl (1858–1905) published his theory in 1903 under the title “Der moderne Denkmalkultus” (The Modern Cult of Monuments). He introduced a value system for listed buildings differentiating between memory-value/commemorative-value (Erinnerungswert) and presentday-value (Gegenwartswert).

Compare Riegl (1903/1988): 49. Compare Zettel (2001): 208.

Practical Aspects of Cultural Heritage

architecture and town planning fulfil the function of remembrance. The function is comparable to that of an archive or document that delivers knowledge of and insight into the past. As early as 1903 Riegl reasons authentic conservation scientifically. He is interested in the ‘historical value’, which is part of the category of ‘memory value’ in his value system for listed buildings.  The function of remembrance conserves the historic past to keep historic memory alive. In terms of protection of the built heritage it is associated with the authentic conservation of town fabric and building substance. The function of utility is the use that is housed within the buildings and the use of the (public) space between buildings. Riegl calls this ‘Gebrauchswert’, which is translated as ‘use-value’. He defines it as the material provision for the practical use of a listed building. In Riegl’s value system, ‘use-value’ is part of the category of ‘present-day-values’. The use as a museum is a utility function. Every town has a number of utility functions. As long as a town is in use it is part of the present. World heritage towns are places where people live. They must be used and they must remain used to prevent decay and abandonment. Heritage Towns have a utility function for inhabitants and for visitors. Different user-groups have differing demands and expectations of the utility function. The function of meaning is associated with aestheticism and interpretation of monuments. According to Riegl’s value system the ‘art-value’ as well as the ‘age-value’ are both related to the function of meaning. The ‘art-value’ is opposed to the scientific ‘historical-value’. It is not concerned with historic truths but with meaning. In the history of conservation Viollet-le-Duc is associated with the artistic, creative or interpretative handling of listed buildings. His approach was frequently attacked because interpretation tends to destroy authenticity. Tillmann Breuer regards it legitimate to employ art to improve the understanding of listed buildings. He points out that conservation activities rely on society’s support. Breuer argues that only what is understood will be protected. Lowenthal takes this argument further, distinguishing between history and heritage. “...heritage depends on feeling and faith, as opposed to history’s ascertained truths.” With the term ‘age-value’ (Alterswert) Riegl describes the appreciation of patina and signs of old age. Patina and signs of old age are appreciated by laypersons because of their meaning. They refer to the cycle of life that is determined by creation and death and they help to identify the monument. World heritage towns have gained meaning through the nomination. The communication of their meaning via interpretation and directing is part of the planning and marketing activities of the town.


Compare Choay (1997): 125. All translations for Riegl’s value system according to Arrehenius (2004). Compare Choay (1997): 126. Compare Zettel (2001): 217. Lowenthal (1997): 249.


Anja B. Nelle: Mapping museality in world heritage towns


What is museality in the urban context?

A group around Wolfgang Zacharias in the 1980s used the word musealisation to give an active touch to the rather static word museum. Zacharias explains that musealisation has expanded to contexts outside the museum.10 Michael Müller writes: “It is no coincidence that musealisation of urban space conjures up associations with museums”. In his definition of musealisation he focuses on public space: “musealisation is a current strategy for transforming urban spaces and exerts significant influence on social, cultural and aesthetic efforts directed towards visible reconstruction of the past.”11 However, the characteristics of the phenomenon of musealisation in towns and how they can be influenced has not yet been thoroughly researched. Eva Sturm defines three characteristics of musealisation with a focus on objects: ‘Defunctioning’ or ‘a change of functions’, ‘a change of context’ and ‘a new relation between the subject (viewer) and the object, whereby the viewer takes on a posture of admiration’.12 The adaptation of Sturm’s characteristics for the urban context leads to museality – a scenario that describes the town as a museum. In the urban context of world heritage towns we can distinguish between two aspects of museality: ‘The loss of presence of local everyday life’ and ‘the transformation of the town into a consumer product’. The loss of presence of local everyday life occurs if reuse has led to abandonment of local facilities and services that satisfy the everyday requirements of residents. The social interaction amongst the local population in this area is thus reduced. The establishment of tourism facilities (museums, souvenir shops, cafés) that are linked to the appropriation of public space by tourists leads to a reduction of social interaction amongst the local population. The combination of ‘conservation’ and ‘reuse for tourism facilities’ are the two actions that generate museality in the sense of ‘the loss of presence of local everyday life’. The actions result from the desire to fulfil the function of remembrance and the function of utility. The transformation of the town into a consumer product is a result of all three functions. In a world heritage town the ‘historic image’ or the ‘journey into the past’ are the products that are marketed for consumption. The historic image has an ‘old-age value’. This does not necessarily mean that a particular epoch is rebuilt. Historic continuity (substance of different epochs until the present) and signs of contemporary life (billboards, street furniture, advertising, dress) are designed to look historical to blend in with the ‘image’. Authenticity and the link to contemporary life are neglected for the sake of ‘directing’ an historic atmosphere that satisfies the function of meaning. Graham, Ashworth and Tunbridge state that “...heritage places are places of consumption and are arranged to encourage consumption...”13 Jones and Varley write about Puebla



Compare Zacharias (1990): 7; Zacharias uses the German word “Musealisierung”.


Müller (1999): 361, Müller uses the word “musealisation” in the same sense that other authors use “museumification”.


Compare Sturm (1990): 100 —101.


Graham, Ashworth, Tunbridge (2000): 20.

Practical Aspects of Cultural Heritage

(Mexico): “...features considered ‘out of place’ were being removed, particularly those obstructing a ‘colonial’ vision of the centre. ... Where materials had to be replaced, the new ones imitated earlier landscape elements...”14 If public spaces in an historic centre become a product that exists to satisfy the demands of cultural consumption, then museality is present in the centre. In my research area there is interdependence between museality and tourists as a consumer-group for the product ‘world heritage town’. Only where there is a demand (expected) will actions be taken to promote the product. The relationship between the named aspects of museality and the functions remembrance, utility, meaning are visualised in Figure 1. The diagram also illustrates which action leading to museality is associated with each function. Museality always results from a combination of actions15. MUSEALITY: 1




n: on tio c ac ase er

New tasks: conservation, research

action: restoration


characteristics: use: museum and tourism facilities, tourists dominate urban space

“loss of presence of local every-day life” MUSEALITY: 1




te ns


characteristics: “journey into the past”, no contemporary signs


action: reuse

n: al tio ition c a d ad





New tasks: use, inform: new user group: tourists

“transformation into consumer product” action: “directing” according to historic image



MEANING Figure 1:

HOW heritage towns become museums: scheme of functions of a World Heritage Town, actions related to functions and how they result in Museality

New tasks: interpretation, fix historic image, provide identity

The definition of characteristics of museality is the starting point for recording them scientifically. Moreover the system of interdependence shown in Figure 1 is the basis for regarding museality as a phenomenon that can be foreseen, measured and planned in world heritage towns. 14 15

Anja B. Nelle, 2005

Fig. 1 How heritage towns become museums

Jones and Varly (1999): 1553. In Figure 1 the combination of functions is indicated with ‘+’. The ‘+’ is chosen for graphical reasons and has no mathematical implications.


Anja B. Nelle: Mapping museality in world heritage towns


Mapping museality

To document the state of museality of an historic centre the following method of mapping can be employed. The method of mapping consists of four maps, which are overlaid to analyse spatial relations between factors that are connected to the musealisation of core areas in world heritage towns. Figure 2 illustrates the method.




characteristics: use: museum and tourism facilities, tourists dominate urban space


ground floor facilities (local / tourism)


MAP A + B analysis

spatial relation A and B?

level of social interaction (locals/ tourists)

“loss of presence of local every-day life”

MAP A + B + C + D analysis




characteristics: “journey into the past”, no contemporary signs

“transformation into consumer product”

patterns of Museality?


signs of contemporary life


MAP C + D analysis

spatial relation C and D?

signs of promoting an historic image

Figure 2: Documentation of Museality The scheme illustrates a method of mapping Museality

Anja B. Nelle, 2005

Fig. 2 Documentation of Museality

Map A documents facilities provided at ground floor level (distinguishing uses for the local population and for tourists).

Fig. 3 (right) Local shop: Rome, 2004

Fig. 4 (left) Tourist office: Quedlinburg, 2005


Practical Aspects of Cultural Heritage

Map B documents the level of social interaction by pedestrians in the urban space (distinguishing inhabitants and tourists)

Fig. 5 Local appropriation of urban spaces: Cadiz, 2004

Fig. 6 Touristic appropriation of urban spaces: Cusco, 2005

Map C documents ‘signs of contemporary life’ such as traffic, billboards, satellite dishes, window displays

Fig. 7 Contemporary-style shop-window: Cadiz, 2004

Fig. 8 Parking lot and fast food advertisement: Vigan, 2004

Map D documents ‘signs of promoting an historic image’ in the urban space (new public ‘heritage furniture’, carriages, commercial displays of costumes, music, dance)

Fig.9 “Take a photo with the Incas”: Cusco, 2005

Fig. 10 Horse-drawn carriages: Vigan, 2004

The maps are designed as a tool to analyse: ▪ the influence of ground floor facilities on urban social activities in their proximity ▪ the influence of promoting an ‘historic image’ on social activities within the urban space


Anja B. Nelle: Mapping museality in world heritage towns


Analysis of conflicts between the presentation and utilisation of heritage

Mapping museality is a method to identify areas of conflict between the presentation of an historic image of urban spaces and its everyday use by the local population. The analysis of the maps reveals patterns of museality. Sometimes just one street within an historic area is converted into a pedestrianised zone with souvenir shops and cafés, conserved and reconstructed facades and no contemporary signs. The street promotes a heritage image, transforming it into an ‘island of museality’. It can be a valid planning strategy to spatially restrict museality in this way. However, in planning and management processes it is important to consider that urban interaction between local inhabitants has effectively been wiped out on the sub-level of this street and it must be reviewed if it is a good idea to take further action to enlarge the musealised zone. The establishment of tourism facilities and more pedestrian areas as well as the design of the streetscape have to be considered carefully. It is important to examine which qualities must be provided in order that the local inhabitants continue to use the urban spaces and how these qualities can be achieved. Other planning strategies can be designed to restrict the degree of museality of a certain area by creating a symbiosis of heritage presentation and utilisation by the local population. The critical analysis of musealisation can thus be employed as a tool for planning and management decisions that contribute towards solving potential conflicts between the presentation and utilisation of heritage in historic towns.

Bibliography Arrehenius, Thordis (2004): The Cult of Age in Mass-Society: Alois Riegl’s Theory of conservation – In: Future Anterior 1 (1): 74–80. Choay, Françoise (1997): Das architektonische Erbe, eine Allegorie, Geschichte und Theorie der Baudenkmale. Braunschweig etc.; Vieweg (= Bauwelt Fundamente; 109). Conrads, Ulrich (ed.; 1988): Georg Dehio, Alois Riegl. Konservieren, nicht restaurieren. Streitschriften zur Denkmalpflege um 1900. Braunschweig etc.: Vieweg (= Bauwelt Fundamente; 80). Graham, Brian; Ashworth, Gregory J. ; Tunbridge, John E. (2000): A Geography of Heritage, Power, Culture and Economy. London: Arnold. Jones, Gareth; Varley, Ann (1999): The reconquest of the historic centre: urban conservation and gentrification in Puebla, Mexico. – In: Environment and Planning A 31: 1547–1566.


Practical Aspects of Cultural Heritage

Lowenthal, David (1996): The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History. London: Viking Penguin. Müller, Michael (1999): Musealisation, aestheticisation and reconstructing the past. – In: The Journal of Architecture 4: 361–369. Orbasli, Aylin (2000): Tourists in Historic Towns, Urban Conservation and Heritage Management. London: Spon. Riegl, Alois (1903): Der moderne Denkmalkultus. Sein Wesen und seine Entstehung. – In: Conrads, Ulrich (ed.): Georg Dehio, Alois Riegl. Konservieren, nicht restaurieren. Streitschriften zur Denkmalpflege um 1900. Braunschweig etc.: 43–87. Sturm, Eva (1990): Museifizierung und Realitätsverlust. – In: Zacharias, Wolfgang (ed.): Zeitphänomen Musealisierung. Essen: 99–113. Zacharias, Wolfgang (1990): Zeitphänomen Musealisierung. – In: Zacharias, Wolfgang (ed.): Zeitphänomen Musealisierung. Essen: 7–30. Zettel, Stefanie (2001): Positionen im Denkmalschutz und in der Denkmalpflege. – In: Trepl, Ludwig (ed.): Suburbaner Raum Berlin/Brandenburg. 1. Teil: Eine theoretische Annäherung an den suburbanen Kontext. München-Weihenstephan: 181–221.

Illustrations: Figure 1 and 2: Anja Nelle, 2005 Photos: Anja Nelle, Felix Lohmaier


Anja B. Nelle: Mapping museality in world heritage towns

Author Dipl.-Ing. Anja Nelle M.A. studied Furniture Design in London and High Wycombe and Architecture in Berlin. She worked as an interior designer and as an architect before joining the Brandenburg Technical University as an assistant professor at the Chair of Structures and Structure Systems in 2001. She teaches on the graduate and postgraduate courses of architecture and on the postgraduate course World Heritage Studies. The topics presented in this article are part of the research carried out for the author’s PhD dissertation. The subject of her research is the investigation of the phenomena of musealisation in World Heritage Towns on both a theoretical and a practical level. Her case studies focus on medium-sized towns with a Spanish colonial background (Philippines, Cuba, Mexico). Relevant recent publications: (forthcoming): Museumsnutzung und Musealität im Kontext von Welterbeortschaften/Museum-use and museality in the context of World Heritage Towns. In: Albert, Marie-Theres (ed.): Perspektiven des Welterbes (forthcoming): Ortschaft als Welterbe – Musealisierung als Folge? – In: Jahrbuch 2004/05 der Fakultät 2 der Brandenburgischen Technischen Universität: Forschungsberichte (2005): How does a World Heritage Town become a Museum? – In: patrimonio de la humanidad – patrimonio con humanidad. Publication of poster presentations at the 8th World Symposium of the Organisation of World Heritage Towns. Cuzco, Peru

Contact Brandenburg Technical University, Cottbus/Germany E-mail:


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