Session 7 of the IIC Congress “Architectural and Archaeological Sites” took us around the globe, examining conservation techniques and approaches to combat various issues. The importance of local communities and inter-disciplinary collaboration was made apparent using case studies of Nepalese temples, the Canadian Parliament, The World Trade Centre, Neo-Assyrian sculptures in Mosul and the great monolith Uluru.
The two papers that stood out to me, in particular, were Lisa Conte’s The Slurry Wall: Past, Present and Future, and Julian Bickersteth’s Returning Uluru. Presenting two iconic—yet astoundingly different—sites, they explored the cultural significance of built heritage and its profound connection to the natural world.
Lisa’s fascinating paper on the foundations of the World Trade Center connected the scientific approaches of conserving immovable heritage of enormous proportions, while respecting its value as a memorial site for the victims of 9/11. The Slurry Wall, constructed from reinforced concrete, was originally designed to hold back the Hudson River and now forms part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, 21 metres underground. Lisa highlighted the contemporary conservation issues, including “weeping”, where water penetrates the surface and runs down the wall, leading to corrosion of steel supports, salt migration, fungal growth and delamination of concrete and remedial shotcrete. Efforts have been made using steel-mesh underlying shotcrete to support exposed rebar and “weep holes” to release pressure and assist drainage. Consistent maintenance is key to the future of the wall, and complete resolution of its issues is unlikely. Most importantly, the team’s aim is to preserve the history of the wall, its significance as a memorial site for victims of 9/11 and as a powerful symbol of human resilience.
In November 2017, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Authority decided to permanently close the Uluru climb. Julian Bickersteth talked us through the requirements and process of removing the climb infrastructure, including the relocated cairn, chain and 134 posts embedded in the rock’s surface using epoxy resin. Prior to October 2019, Uluru, the incredible monolith at the heart of Anangu culture, was visited by 300,000 people annually, many of who climbed the rock despite the traditional owners’ wishes. The local Aboriginal people, the Anangu, believe ancestral beings created Uluru, and as their descendants they are responsible for its management and protection. Although a clean removal of the steel pipes was preferable, cutting the pipes at their base was more effective, followed by removal of the remaining epoxy and pipe below the rock’s surface. Meticulous vacuuming was undertaken to remove metal swarf and avoid corrosion staining. Finally, “sorry rocks” - those that had previously been taken by visitors and later returned to the office, often with apology notes - were cut to size and placed into the gaps to smooth the surface. In years to come, the line of posts and marks of climbers will naturally erode and Uluru will return to its untouched and spiritual state under the protection of the Anangu people.
At the heart of these discussions, particularly during the Q&A, was the role of conservation in re-establishing societies during disaster recovery. Martina Haselberger and Jessica Johnson agreed—from their respective work in post-earthquake recovery in Patan and on the Nimrud Rescue Project in Mosul—that the conservator’s role involves close working relationships with locals to identify their needs and priorities ahead of the conservator’s desire to “fix things” that hold value. Julian Bickersteth equally recognised the integral role of community involvement in returning Uluru to its traditional owners while “un-fixing” not only the climbing infrastructure, but also a culturally significant problem that should never have occurred. Similarly, James Bourdeau and David Edgar’s paper Conservation Design Assist accentuated the importance of an inter-disciplinary and conservation-integrated approach, to capitilise on each team member’s expertise.
The papers presented five very different approaches to conservation of architectural and archaeological sites. However, the common themes of multi-disciplinary collaboration, local community involvement, and the balance between built and natural structures, tied the papers together to provide an entertaining and informative discourse for IIC’s 28th Biennial Congress.
Annabelle Williams is a conservation student at the University of Melbourne