On 13-16th May 2015, Krzysztof Chuchra (International Programme Project Manager) and Fiona Rankin (World Heritage Site Project Manager) from EWH attended the REDIAPRO partnership meeting in Vilnius hosted by our colleagues at the Fine Crafts Association Vilnius - Agne Zilinskaite and Indre Rutkauskaite. The EWH team was joined by Paul McAuley from the City of Edinburgh Council’s Museum Collections Centre.
Our visit to Vilnius started with a meeting with Gediminas Rutkauskas, the director of EWH’s sister organisation, the Vilnius Old Town Renewal Agency’s (OTRA) at its office in the heart of the city. Gediminas presented the role the organisation in the context of wider city management. OTRA implements the Vilnius Old Town Revitalisation programmes. The programmes involve the physical renewal of buildings and public spaces, conservation and restoration of historic buildings and their elements, building community awareness raising and support, promoting traditional crafts, developing international co-operation and the wide scope of activities of their Information Centre.
The latter was introduced following the UNESCO World Heritage Centre’s recommendation to set up an awareness raising and education agenda in 2000. Its function is to deliver training programmes to the wider public, schools, stakeholders and investors on the values that make the Old Town culturally and architecturally distinctive, explaining how it should be approached from the perspective of urban conservation and development. This very aspect is visible in the townscape, as new architecture is contextual, uses appropriate building materials and presents an evolution of a form rather than a revolution. The Information Centre also organises exhibitions and promotes the city through international conferences.
The Edinburgh-Vilnius connection through heritage-led revitalisation already has a long history. In the mid 1990s, shortly after Lithuania regained its independence and the inscription of Vilnius on the World Heritage list, a group of international professionals supported the development of the Edinburgh Old Town Revitalisation Strategy in Vilnius. Amongst them were representatives of the Old Town Renewal Trust – one of EWH’s predecessors. Since then Vilnius has developed solid foundations for heritage-led urban revitalisation using public-private partnerships.
The model has gradually developed, attracting private investment into dilapidated buildings and public spaces of the Old Town. It is quite easy to draw similarities with Edinburgh, from the 1970s onwards. OTRA’s grant system is quite similar to EWH’s Conservation Funding Programme along with EWH’s priorities of Routes, Risks, and Regeneration areas.
It provides homeowners with grant assistance for the repairs of roofs, facades, courtyards and balconies up to a level of 50% of eligible costs for street-facing exterior building repairs and up to 40% for the cost of repairs to courtyards and landscaping. Read more about the regeneration of Vilnius here.
Thanks to a consistent approach to urban revitalisation, intelligent international partnerships, and well balanced national and foreign investments Vilnius has been growing as a European tourist destination and a World Heritage Site. Immediately evident features are the clean streets and well organised public realm, which is an outcome of the city’s unemployment strategy, providing long-term unemployed citizens with city maintenance related occupations. Well-designed public spaces are used for events and festivals such as the annual street music festival in May.
As with many cities in Europe, Vilnius is proud of its World Heritage status and this is manifested in the use of the emblem on lamp posts in the area of the World Heritage Site, alongside the city’s crest of St. Christopher carrying the infant Christ.
Like many post-communist cities directly affected by the last World War and its indirect consequences, Vilnius is trying to reintegrate massive blocks of flats, constructed to accommodate the working class moving from rural areas to rapidly growing urban centres.
Architecture, which gave answers to the challenges 70 years ago today causes the new ones: an urgent need for complex revitalisation, poor technical condition, low aesthetic value, social conflicts due to overpopulation. On the other hand, Vilnius is proud of its fine examples of postwar modernism – such as the Concert and Sports Hall, Salomeja Neris Middle School, the National Gallery of Art or postmodern Centre for Cultural Heritage.
The city is also trying to find solutions to restore and maintain its suburban wooden architecture. Our hosts organised an excursion of “The Wooden Architecture of Vilnius Historic Suburbs” guided by architect Giedrė Filipavičienė, who explained the interesting urban phenomenon: while the historic centre of Vilnius – Old Town – is inscribed on the World Heritage List, the survival of the wooden architecture of the historic suburbs of Vilnius remains problematic.
For the Vilnius historic suburbs – Užupis, Žvėrynas, Antakalnis, Šnipiškės, Markučiai – each grew independently residential areas separate from the medieval configuration of the town’s centre. The wooden architecture has survived there unevenly. Old wooden buildings still dominate in large areas of Žvėrynas, Šnipiškės and Markučiai. In Užupis and Antakalnis, groups of wooden buildings or individual ones are interwoven with brick buildings surrounded by a new urban environment.
During the REDIAPRO progress meeting each of the partners gave a presentation about selected master craftsmen from each participating country. These have been carefully chosen and invited to be give interviewed about their work to be involved in the in the production of short films illustrating their practice through the perspective of workshop or on-site activities. These films aim to provide support for the sector through informed promotion. Altogether, by the end of September we are planning to produce around 25 videos of 15-20 minutes length, to be later uploaded on the project’s Youtube or Vimeo channel. Find more about the project’s products here.
The progress meeting was attended accompanied by heritage specialist Artūras Sakalauskas of the Department of the Cultural Heritage under the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture who explained the framework of Lithuanian’s system of monument protection. Finally, Paul McAuley delivered an excellent presentation on the brief history of Scottish traditional architectural crafts with examples of projects carried out in partnership with EWH such as the Twelve Monuments Restoration Programme funded through the Conservation Funding Programme, by private donations from individuals and trusts as well as financial support from the City of Edinburgh Council.
Paul McAuley: “This visit was an interesting look at a different type of vernacular architecture to our own. It is based on the use of indigenous timber, a plentiful managed resource in Central Europe. Different tree species have specific uses, some are used for structures, others for cladding and some for tools and farming implements.
As evidence of the old rural economy, we saw a demonstration at the folk museum of roofing shingles being made, and saw here the regional variations of house styles. A different technology was also evident in the widespread use of stucco work for the grander architecture in the city centre where everything seemed to be well maintained. Overall the city seems to be very aware of the need to maintain the historic fabric as a fundamental part of its heritage tourism strategy.”
Our visit to Vilnius also had a practical dimension as the programme involved an intersting visit to the Amber – Museum Gallery where we learned about the richness of traditional amber processing, which has historically been an important part of trade in Baltic countries. We also had a chance to visit the “Guild of Crafts” with its traditional woodwork workshop where traditional materials, such as oak, techniques and tools are still in operation; as well as master craftsman Mindaugas Rutkauskas pottery workshop to see pots being thrown.
Later, we all participated in a workshop at the 'Old Craft Workshop' to learn how to plait a simple version of the woolen braids that were traditionally worn as part of the national costume. The “Old Craft Workshop” hosts workshops for adults and children in a variety of traditional Lithuanian skills such as knitting, weaving, plaiting, doll-making, paper marbling and book binding, ensuring that these traditions are not lost for future generations.
We also visited Rumšiškės, the Open Air Museum of Lithuania, which was opened in 1974. This complex is unique and is one of the largest ethnographic centres in Europe (140 buildings and over 88,000 mobile exhibits, 195 ha) forming an integral part of the Kaunas Reservoir Regional Park.Guided by architect, Rasa Bertasiute, 'the wooden architecture of Lithuania' we quickly become mesmerized by the tranquility of this place.Rumšiškės creates an impression of each village being frozen in time, well conserved and maintained surrounded a natural ecosystem. Each house, barn, granary or stable is an exhibition in itself, presenting the original arts and crafts of XVIII-XIX century rural life in this part of Europe.
Again, many thanks to Agne and Indre for organising a great learning programme, which was a great experience for us, contributing to CPD and an integral part of the REDIAPRO project.