Deconsecrating a Doctrinal MonumentRaymond M. Lemaire (1921–1997) and the Revisions of the Venice Charter
Considering himself the ‘‘main author’’ of the Venice Charter, Raymond M. Lemaire was then one of the first (along with Piero Gazzola) to advocate for a revision of the document. As early as 1971, the two men—the first secretary general and president of ICOMOS, respectively—launched a debate, advocating for a better consideration of the social value of heritage. They also called for the development of specific principles for the preservation of historic cities, to be included in the Venice Charter. Lemaire’s experience in that field had convinced him that, contrary to the assertion of Article 14, ‘‘a literal application of principles valid for monuments, considered as such, is not always possible, nor desirable, for the ensembles.’’1 The adoption of the Amsterdam Declaration did not put an end to his efforts. Despite his unsuccessful attempt to get a revised version approved by the ICOMOS General Assembly in Moscow in 1978, Lemaire always remained critical towards the charter and the application of its principles in the field. In the 1980s, he emphasized its shortcomings in terms of cultural diversity, and in 1996 one of his last texts articulated the negative effect of Article 9, leading to the idea that ‘‘the mere essence of a conservation operation is a modernist intervention on the edifice or neighborhood.’’
Beyond its interest for preservation history, an understanding of Lemaire’s early critical position toward the Venice Charter should inspire current debates and help us overcome our reluctance to challenge the sacred principles of what we consider a doctrinal monument.
Venice Charter, Raymond M. Lemaire, R. Lemaire, conservation history, preservation history, preservation history
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In the 1960s, Raymond M. Lemaire established himself as a key figure of the international preservation world.2 Educated as an art historian in the 1940s, he soon learned of contemporary preservation problems thanks to his uncle, Canon Raymond Lemaire, author of La restauration des monuments anciens in the interwar period, and his father, architect for Belgium’s Ministry of Public Works.3 Introduced to Italian perspectives through an internship with Ambroggio Annoni in Milan in 1943 and his first meeting with Piero Gazzola in the Netherlands in 1947, Lemaire developed a close relationship with Italy that led him to play an important part in the Venice conference in 1964 and become the first secretary general of ICOMOS one year later.4
After Lemaire became professor emeritus in 1986, his personal archive was transferred to KULeuven, where he had been teaching since the 1940s. Documenting his international activities for ICOMOS, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe, as well as his many projects in the fields of conservation, architecture, and urbanism, this incredibly rich collection allowed us to not only formulate a hypothesis about Lemaire’s role in the writing of the Venice Charter, but also to give a critical look at this sacred doctrinal monument. Although he considered himself the “main author” of the document, Lemaire had indeed been one of the first to call for its revision, together with Piero Gazzola, only a few years after its almost unanimous adoption. Until the mid-1990s, he never stopped questioning [End Page 219] its principles, especially given the broadening body of international world heritage, and, more practically, his personal field experience, particularly during the 1960s renovation of Leuven’s Great Beguinage. After clarifying Lemaire’s role in the writing of the charter, this paper examines the nature of his critiques and proposals, as well as their relevance for the current debates in the field of heritage preservation.
R. M. Lemaire, “Main Author” of the Venice Charter?
Despite the recurrent mention of his name in relation to the drafting of the Venice Charter, Lemaire’s exact role has never before been clarified. Moreover, his repeated assertion that he was the “main author” of the document conflicts with the analysis of respected scholars largely ascribing authorship to Roberto Pane and Piero Gazzola, if not to the Belgian art historian Paul Philippot.5 Confronted with existing studies, Lemaire’s archive helps cast new light on this debate.
In a 1995 text entitled “About the Venice Charter,” Lemaire recalled how he was involved in the elaboration of the congress program, as he developed friendships with the organizers and regularly traveled to Italy for professional reasons. According to Lemaire, despite the fact that the adoption of a new charter had often been evoked, the idea had been abandoned due to the difficulty in drafting a proposal under such strict time constraints. He remembered how “three days before the opening of the Congress, Piero Gazzola asked [him] to urgently join him in Venice in order to help resolv[e] the last problems before the opening” and continued:
Arriving on the spot and getting to know the last version of the program, I found, to my amazement, a point concerning the adoption of an international charter of restoration. I asked about the existence of a preparatory text that could serve as a base for discussion. “There is none,” replie[d] my friend Piero. I have written together with Roberto Pane, a text providing a few lines of reflection. If I asked you to come, that is because I would like you to draft a proposal to be submitted to the assembly.” There wasn’t, on the site, any documentation, nor basis literature such as the “Conclusions of the Athens Congress, 1931” and even the Italian “Carta del restauro.” These documents were sent to me from Leuven, together with the notes of my course on “General theory of restoration.” I got down to work, joined, from their arrival, by Paul Philippot, at that moment assistant director of ICCROM, and Jean Sonnier, chief architect of historic monuments in France. Our project was examined and adopted by an ad hoc committee, composed of twenty-three colleagues belonging to twenty countries and four continents. The first draft, that I had elaborated, was discussed, corrected, amended, to emerge from the test not much different, in its content, from the initial redaction.6
In this paper, Lemaire clearly positioned himself as the key actor of the drafting, working on Gazzola’s request, with the help of Jean Sonnier and Paul Philippot, on the basis, among other sources, of the paper prepared by Gazzola and Pane, “Proposte per una carta [End Page 220] internationale del restauro,” a review of the 1931 Italian “Carta del Resauro,” written by Gustavo Giovannoni.7 The influence of the other signatories is presented as minor. The archive confirms this version of the facts for the limited period between the first draft and the definitive adoption of the document, allowing a quite precise reconstruction of the steps toward the final version.
The first draft, handwritten by Lemaire, consists of fourteen articles and has no preamble (Fig. 2).8 Except for Articles 7 and 8, which are missing and which deal with monument displacement and artistic or decoration elements, this very first version—as it is annotated by Lemaire himself—differs slightly from the one that was submitted to the assembly at the end of the congress, on May 29. Besides minor reformulations and changes in the articles’ order, there are four main differences between the two documents with regard to the content, including additional parts and doctrinal precisions. Among [End Page 221] the additions, the preamble, written by Paul Philippot, provides the document with an introduction framing its scope and context, while a new article addresses the question of monument displacement, probably echoing Gazzola’s recent experience with the Nubian temples in Egypt.9 As to doctrinal adjustment, a turnaround can be observed concerning the use of modern techniques. The first draft is still truthful to the principle developed in the Athens Charter in claiming that “the consolidation of a monument may be carried out calling on all modern techniques of conservation and construction,” even if it made clear that their “efficacy will have been guaranteed by experience.” However, the May 29 version submits the use of modern techniques with the condition that “traditional techniques prove to be inadequate.”10 Already present in the 1931 “Carta del restauro,” this restriction had indeed been validated by Gazzola and Pane in their review.11 A similarity to the Italian charter can be observed in the article regarding the monuments’ surroundings: while the first draft only drew attention to “new construction that alter[s] the relation of volumes and colors,” the second one echoes the inappropriate “isolation” pointed out by the “Carta,” also condemns the destruction of the context.12
In the months following the congress, Lemaire was in charge of refining the formulation of the draft; according to him, “the atmosphere of the congress, while being very sympathetic, wasn’t favorable for the necessary reflection for the writing of such documents.”13 The main addition was proposed by Paul Philippot as soon as the day after the adoption. Regretting, after reflection, the absence of a sentence pointing out that “in the same way a monument is inseparable from the exterior setting where it fits, it is as much inseparable from sculpture or painting elements that are an integral part of it,” he proposed a formulation that would be kept largely intact until the end as Article 8.14 But again, apart from this addition and the grouping of some articles by Lemaire “so as to create a more logical order,” the final version shows only a few differences with the former ones, despite the fact that it is sent for revision to some signatories and ICOMOS members, including Piero Gazzola, Roberto Pane, François Sorlin, Jean Sonnier, Gertrud Tripp, and Walter Frodl.15 This confirms that Lemaire played a very central role in coordinating the final version on the basis of the first draft. Nevertheless, as to the latter, the question of authorship remains—the fact that Lemaire handwrote the document only proves that he was the one holding the pen. Was the content of this first draft totally dependent on Gazzola and Pane’s “Proposte,” based on a slight revision of Giovannoni’s “Carta del restauro”? Were Lemaire, Sonnier, and Philippot responsible only for a French translation of the principles developed in the Italian’s paper?
These questions are far from easy to answer. For a number of articles, the influence of the “Proposte” is obvious and has led to the common idea that Gazolla and Pane would be the “fathers” of the charter. In one article regarding the use of monuments, they recommend abandoning the 1931 document’s reference to a function “not too far from the primitive destination” in favor of a broader opening that includes “monuments that conserve the integrity of their internal spaces,” and “functions that don’t compromise the formal configuration of these spaces.”16 In several other cases, such as Articles 6, 10, 11, and 15, the influence of the “Proposte” merges with that of the 1931 “Carta”—Giovannoni’s [End Page 222] principles being reaffirmed by the Italian scholars. But some articles do not originate from Pane and Gazzola’s paper. We already mentioned that the preamble and Article 8 had been conceived and written by Paul Philippot, but the archive reveals that Lemaire could have played the same essential part in the writing of Articles 9 and 11, beyond the question of finding an appropriate French formulation.
The Genesis of Articles 9 and 11
In March 1954, Lemaire became a member of the Royal Commission of Monuments and Sites, a national advisory board of the Ministry of Culture, then responsible for heritage administration. After some time, having noticed a lack of coherence in the recommendations produced by the commission, he wrote a “sketch of guiding principles” to be discussed and which formed the base of a “charter of monuments.”17 The date of this document remains unknown; nevertheless, some factors clearly indicate that it preceded the Venice Charter. First, the very fact that this document exists implies the nonexistence of the Venice Charter at that time: Why would Lemaire have worked on these principles if the international document, on which he fully agreed, existed already, even as a draft? Second, this document shows some principles that were considered archaisms after the drafting of the Venice Charter: the distinction between dead and living monuments, and the priority given to the artistic and aesthetic values (to the detriment of historic interest). These concepts resonate with Lemaire’s approach to architectural conservation in the early 1960s, when he shows a strong influence not only from the writings of Gustavo Giovannoni (that he obviously knew), but also from the ideas of his uncle, Canon Lemaire. Probably under the influence of the latter, he repeatedly refers to the concepts of beauty and the picturesque, both banned from the Venice document, affirming from the first draft that conservation and restoration aim at safeguarding the work of art as well as the historical evidence.18 Besides this peculiarity, the document generally refers to the “Carta del restauro”—a major source of its principles. But a careful reading of the articles also demonstrates that this document, probably never distributed outside the limited circle of commission members, at least partially overshadowed the Italian “Carta” and “Proposte” in the drafting of current Articles 9 and 11.
In the case of Article 11, addressing the respect for the historical stratification of the monument, the formulation of the first draft results in the merging of Article 5 of the “Carta”—which Pane and Gazzola consider “the most important article of the charter”—with Article B4 of Lemaire’s principles.19 Making clear that unity of style is not the aim of a restoration, it specifies the conditions in which the removal of later interventions can occur, before stating that the selection cannot be left to the architect’s own choice. While the first and last aspects originate in the “Carta del restauro,” the formulation and the conditions are borrowed from the Belgian document:
. . . che siano conservati tutti gli elementi aventi un carattere d’arte o di storico ricordo, a qualunque tempo appartengano, senza che il desiderio di unità stilistica e dei ritorno alla primitiva forma intervenga ad escluderne alcuni a detrimento di [End Page 223] altri; e solo possano eliminarsi quelli, come le murature di finestre e di intercolunni di portici che, privi di importanza e di significato, rappresentino deturpamenti inutili; ma che il giudizio su tali valori relativi e sulle rispondenti eliminazioni debba in ogni casa essere accuratamente vagliato, e non rimesso ad un giudizio personale dell’autore di un progetto di restauro.(Carta del restauro, Article 5)
. . . that would be conserved all the elements bearing an artistic or historic character, whatever era they belong to, without the desire for unity of style or for the return to the primitive form intervening to exclude one to the detriment of others; may only be eliminated those, such as walls closing windows or portico arches, without any importance nor signification, representing useless disturbance; but that the judgment on such relative values and on the subsequent eliminations would in every case be accurately considered, and not handed over to the personal judgment of the author of a restoration project.(Carta del restauro, Article 5)
La contribution de toutes les époques à l’édification d’un monument mérite d’être conservée, pourvu qu’elle soit marquée du sceau de la beauté. La réalisation de l’unité de style, chère aux restaurateurs d’autrefois et parfois encore prônée aujourd’hui, n’est donc pas un but à poursuivre à l’occasion d’une restauration. On visera, au contraire à respecter l’oeuvre des diverses générations et à les mettre en valeur en les restaurant, chacune selon son esprit propre. Lorsque, dans un même édifice, deux compositions architecturales ou décoratives existent, superposées l’une à l’autre, le dégagement du premier état, entrainant la destruction du second, ne peut se justifier que lorsque la valeur architecturale ou décorative de l’état premier est nettement plus grande que celle du second état et que sa conservation est jugée suffisante.(Esquisse de principes directeurs, Article B4)
The contribution of all ages to the edification of a monument deserves to be conserved, provided that it is stamped with the seal of beauty. The realization of unity of style, dear to the restorers of the past and sometimes still recommended today, is not an aim to pursue on the occasion of a restoration. On the contrary, one should aim at respecting the works of the numerous generations and enhancing them by restoring each of them following its own spirit. When, in the same building, two architectural or decorative compositions exist, superimposed on each other, the releasing of the first state, leading to the destruction of the second one, can only be justified when the architectural or decorative value of the first state is obviously greater than that of the second state and its conservation is considered sufficient.(Esquisse de principes directeurs, Article B4)
The first draft integrates the historical value more clearly in the debate than Lemaire’s text had, while borrowing parts of its formulation (as Giovannoni’s founding assertions did):20
Les contributions de toutes les époques à l’édification d’un monument doivent être respectées, la réalisation de l’unité de style n’étant pas un but à atteindre à l’occasion [End Page 224] d’une restauration. Lorsque, dans un même édifice, deux compositions architecturales ou décoratives se superposent, le dégagement d’un premier état entraînant la destruction du second, ne se justifie que lorsque la valeur du second état ne présente guère d’intérêt, et que, par contre, l’état premier constitue un témoignage de haute valeur historique, archéologique ou esthétique, et que sa conservation est jugée suffisante. Toute décision sur la valeur des éléments en question et sur les éliminations à opérer doit être examinée avec soin et non pas confiée à l’opinion personnelle de l’auteur de projet.(Venice Charter, First draft, Article 9)
The contributions of all ages to the edification of a monument must be respected, the realization of unity of style not being an aim to reach on the occasion of a restoration. When, in the same building, two architectural or decorative compositions are superimposed, the releasing of the first state, leading to the destruction of the second one, is only justified when the value of the second state is of little interest, and when, on the other hand, the first state constitutes an evidence of high historical, archaeological or aesthetic value, and its conservation is considered sufficient. Any decision about the value of the elements in question and about the eliminations to carry out must be considered with care and not handed over to the personal opinion of the author of the project.(Venice Charter, First draft, Article 9)
As to the current Article 9, Lemaire’s role seems to have been even more crucial. Through several of its principles, the Belgian document calls upon a contemporary expression much more explicitly than the “Carta” and Pane and Gazzola’s “Proposte,” while being, on the contrary, less opposed to partial reconstitution.
The question of restoration and additions to monuments is addressed in Articles 2, 7, and 8 of the 1931 document. According to Article 2, “the problem of restoration driven by artistic and architectural unity reasons, strictly linked with historical criterion, can only arise when it is based upon absolutely certain data, provided by the monument to restore itself and not upon hypothesis, predominantly existing elements rather than upon predominantly new elements.”21 As to the necessary additions that follow Giovannoni’s recommendation of a “synthetic effect,” Article 7 states: “The essential criterion to follow must be, apart from limiting such new elements to the necessary minimum, to give them a character of bare simplicity and correspondence to the constructive outline,” which “can only be admitted in similar style [as] the continuation of the existing lines in the case of geometrical expressions without any decorative individuality.”22 Article 8 makes clear that the legibility of interventions must be guaranteed by “the use of materials differing from the primitive, or the adoption of enclosing frames, simple and without sculpture, or the application of signs or inscriptions, in such a way that a restoration will never be able to mislead the scholars and represent a falsification of a historic document.” The “Proposte,” while bringing subtle shades to the “Carta,” does not express any clearer position in favor of a contemporary expression, beyond the philological means already promoted by the original document. On the contrary, Gazzola and Pane carefully state that “in that field [End Page 225] . . . it is absolutely impossible to establish true and proper rules,” and that “in general . . . it doesn’t seem possible to recommend anything else but keeping constantly present the most absolute discretion as a premise for any intervention.” As to the materials, they point out that “it is not certain that the material of substitution must necessarily be different from the primitive one, since a distinction between new and old parts may be conveniently realized also only by means of a different superficial treatment of the new parts.”23
The principles developed by Lemaire in the Belgian context go much further. While immediately declaring that “the aim pursued by the restoration of monuments is the conservation as integral as possible of their ancient substance” and that consequently, “the repairs will only be executed when their necessity will have been duly proved,” he frames the restoration concept as follows:
La restauration est une opération grave qui doit garder un caractère exceptionnel. Elle vise à réparer les dégâts provenant d’une absence prolongée d’entretien, d’une déficience de la stabilité, d’une usure trop poussée due aux facteurs climatiques ou d’une destruction partielle violente. Elle peut aussi avoir pour but le dégagement, tant à l’intérieur qu’à l’extérieur, des parties valables d’un monument qu’une gangue d’éléments sans intérêt ou d’intérêt moindre que les parties mises à jour englobe aujourd’hui.
Le respect de la substance ancienne ou du document original doit être l’une des bases de toute restauration. Celle-ci s’arrêtera là où commence l’hypothèse. Au-delà, tout travail de complément indispensable relève de la composition architecturale et portera la marque de notre temps.
Les travaux de restauration se feront en visant à intégrer, grâce aux matériaux et aux techniques, les parties renouvelées aux parties anciennes, afin de ne pas nuire à l’impression d’ensemble. L’intérêt esthétique prime ici tous les autres. Un monument ancien est généralement une oeuvre d’art avant d’être un document d’histoire. L’intérêt documentaire, qui exige la distinction facile entre les parties authentiques et les parties nouvelles, a, en soi, une importance moindre que la valeur esthétique et architecturale du monument. L’établissement d’une documentation concernant la nature et l’ampleur des travaux de restauration exécutés peut, à cet égard, combler les déficiences de l’édifice lui-même. De plus, l’inscription de dates d’exécution peut également contribuer à distinguer les parties refaites des éléments originaux . . . .(Esquisse de principes directeurs, Article B9)
Restoration is a serious operation that must keep an exceptional character. It aims at repairing the damage originating in an extended lack of maintenance, a stability impairment, an excessive wear due to climatic factors or partial violent destruction. It may also aim at releasing, inside as well as outside, valuable parts of a monument that are covered by various elements less interesting, if at all, than the uncovered parts.
The respect for the original substance or the original document must be the base of [End Page 226] all restoration. It will stop where hypothesis starts. Beyond, any indispensable additional work is a matter of architectural composition and will bear our time’s stamp.
Restoration works will be carried on aiming at integrating, thanks to materials and techniques, the renewed parts to the ancient parts, in order not to harm the overall impression. The aesthetic interest takes here precedence over any other. An ancient monument is generally a work of art before being a historical document. The documentary interest, demanding an easy distinction between authentic and new parts, has, in itself, less importance than the aesthetic and architectural value of the monument. The constitution of a documentation regarding the nature and the scope of the executed restoration works may, in this respect, fill the deficiencies of the edifice itself. Furthermore, the inscription of the dates of execution may also contribute to the distinction of the renewed parts from the original elements. . . .(Esquisse de principes directeurs, Article B9)
Beyond the obvious similarities in formulation uniting this text with the draft—and even the definitive text—of the French version of the most controversial article of the Venice Charter, two interesting observations arise. First, giving prominence to the aesthetic and architectural value of the monument, Lemaire rejects, like Renato Bonelli at the same moment, the classically Italian philological approach leading, even when the missing elements are perfectly documented, to a clear distinction between “authentic and new parts.”24 The text shows no trace of the “bare simplicity” recommended by the “Carta del restauro,” replaced in Lemaire’s text by the need for documentation or simple inscriptions. On that point, therefore, Lemaire partially agrees with Gazzola and Pane, tending to reduce the contrast between old and new to a difference in surface treatment of the materials. But the second observation is the most important: contrary to the cautious position of his Italian colleagues, Lemaire clearly declares that beyond hypothesis, “any indispensable additional work is a matter of architectural composition and will bear our time’s stamp,” without clarifying, as the “Carta” did in some way, the acceptable means to reach this goal. Consequently, Article 6 of the draft version of the Venice Charter is formulated as follows:
La restauration est une opération qui doit garder un caractère exceptionnel. Elle vise à conserver et à révéler la valeur esthétique et historique du monument. Elle s’appuye (sic) sur le respect de la substance ancienne ou de documents authentiques et s’arrête là où commence l’hypothèse. Au-delà, tout travail de complément reconnu indispensable relève de la composition architecturale et portera la marque de notre temps.(Venice Charter, First draft, Article 6)
Restoration is an operation that must keep an exceptional character. It aims at conserving and revealing the aesthetic and historic value of the monument. It is based on the respect of the ancient substance or authentic documents, and stops where hypothesis starts. Beyond, any additional work accepted as indispensable is a matter of architectural composition and will bear our time’s stamp.(Venice Charter, First draft, Article 6) [End Page 227]
Before concluding, it is worth noting that with regard to current Article 9, despite the close similarity of this first formulation with the definitive French text—the English translation, realized afterward, is not perfectly truthful to the original—the archive shows that Lemaire felt unsure about the formulation.25 While the major part of the charter was prepared in the summer of 1964, this article was once again revised in November. Lemarie wrote to Gazzola that “proofreading the article 9, [he] still ha[s] scruples [because] the writing is still not perfectly clear.” He sent him, only then, what will become the definitive version, differing very slightly from the draft. It is also worth noting that Lemaire went even further in the Belgian document, recommending, as to the additions and completion of monuments, the use of “present architectural norms,” which had not been transposed into the draft.26
To conclude, a careful confrontation of the principles of the 1931 “Carta del restauro,” their review by Gazzola and Pane in their 1964 “Proposte,” and the principles formulated by Lemaire in the Belgian context leads to a more subtle understanding of each person’s role; a perspective that does not simply reduce Lemaire to writing under the dictation of the Italians and translating their ideas into French. It seems that the field experiences of not only Gazzola, Pane, and Philippot, but also of Lemaire in confronting the principles of the “Carta del restauro”—with the difficult heritage problems in postwar Western Europe—have served as common breeding ground for the development of the new charter.27 A complete overview of all signatories’ contributions would require further research, but this analysis at least demonstrates the active role of Lemaire who was, if not the “main author” of the document, an important voice in this international debate, particularly in the writing of Articles 9 and 11. Knowing this, the many derogations to their principles illustrated by his own work in the next years, as well as the critical position he later adopted toward the interpretation of Article 9, now appears quite ironic.
The Venice Charter and the Historic City in the 1970s: A Necessary Adaptation
All authors agree on the fact that the main innovation of the Venice Charter in terms of preservation doctrine is the renouncement of the sole concept of monument in favor of a broader approach, including urban or rural settings as well as minor architecture with cultural significance.28 As underlined by Andrea Pane,
fundamental aspects such as the extension of the concept of monument, the definition of environmental values, but also the necessity to reinforce the links between protection and planification, in a more general attention paid to the insertion of the monument in the society, closely lead back to the reflections developed by Gazzola as well as by Pane between the middle of the Fifties until the beginnings of the Sixties.29
The same can be said about Lemaire, entrusted with the renovation project of the Great Beguinage of Leuven, which was purchased by the university in 1962. Nevertheless, one [End Page 228] must admit that, apart from the definition section, the Venice Charter’s inclusion of the environmental problem and heritage at an urban scale is limited to Article 14, which recommends the “special care” of monumental sites “in order to safeguard their integrity and ensure that they are cleared and presented in a seemly manner,” extending the application of all the principles of the charter to such places.
As first president and secretary general of ICOMOS, Lemaire and Gazzola played an important part in the reflections initiated in the 1960s by the Council of Europe in the field of historic cities “reanimation.” They were soon convinced of the necessity to review the Venice document.30 The archive reveals that as early as February 1971, they shared a common will to update the articles related to historic cities’ preservation. Their concern pertained not only to “this aspect [which] is scarcely initiated in the charter’s text,” but also to “the experience of the ten last years [which] brought out that a pure and simple application of principles devoted to monuments as such, is not always possible, nor always desirable for the ensembles.”31 A detailed analysis of the Great Beguinage renovation by Lemaire—often considered as a perfect illustration of the contemporary international debates—reveals much derogation to the Venice Charter’s articles, including those for which he proved most influential.32 Therefore, his field experience appears to have revealed, soon after the charter’s adoption, the limits of the doctrinal document.
The Great Beguinage of Leuven as (Counter-)Laboratory33
Dating back to the thirteenth century, the Great Beguinage is composed of a church, a hospital, and a series of houses and convents organized around streets and squares (Fig. 3). Exclusively hosting Beguines, it was confined within walls until the end of the eighteenth century. Following secularization resulting from the French Revolution, it became the property of the Public Assistance Commission, providing dwellings to the poorest families of Leuven. From the nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century, funding shortages for the maintenance and sanitary adaptations of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century houses, often divided into smaller units, caused in an important decay of the urban fabric. Former gardens were filled with annexes and precarious constructions. The only large-scale work on the site was the periodic lime washing of the walls, hiding radical modifications of the façades that were carried out beginning in the late eighteenth century. These alterations were designed to convert traditional brick and limestone compositions, with mullions and transoms windows, into more regular arrangements of higher windows to provide more interior light and to conform to the Neoclassical spirit of the time.
Although contemporary to the writing of the Venice Charter, the Leuven project shows, as we already underlined, many criticisms of the international document’s principles. Simply looking at before and after views of the ensemble makes clear that the restoration aimed at reviving the traditional aspect of the whole at the expense of the evolved Neoclassical style (Fig. 4). After stripping the wall renderings, former compositions of the façades were restored based on—sometimes scarce—archaeological observations, often reusing ancient material found on the site. Ancient-looking window frames housing [End Page 229] stained glass replaced nineteenth-century models. The restoration or reconstruction of arched doors, dormer windows, chimneys, and gables emphasized the picturesque atmosphere of the site. Hence, for a great majority of the buildings, later interventions were merely erased in order to, as the Venice Charter states, “reveal an underlying state,” admittedly “of great historical, archaeological or aesthetic value.” However, having a “state of preservation good enough to justify the action” as it had to be did not hold true, as certain elements were completely recomposed.34 In this case, the conflict of his practices and the conditions Lemaire himself added in Article 11 of the charter was evident, but can easily be explained by his particular affinity for beauty and the picturesque and, on the contrary, his moderate interest in nineteenth-century architecture. In one of the few papers dedicated to the Great Beguinage, he explains how, for the hospital, the transformation of the façade, executed around 1850 had been radical. Of course, it constituted an important stage of the hospital’s history, as the expression of the adaptation to the needs of that time.” But he immediately makes clear that “on the aesthetic point of view, it was difficult to assign to the nineteenth century façade qualities that would have justified its conservation, condemning definitively the more ancient layout below.35
Moreover, the chronology of the works has also impacted the decision to revive the traditional state of the Beguinage. As they started with streets of the “Soldier’s District” where the buildings were quite well-preserved in their original state, Lemaire justified the rest of the intervention by the necessity to reestablish its homogeneity, “unquestionably” considered to be “one of the most appealing characters of this urban ensemble.”36 The [End Page 230] individual historical value of each building has thus been sacrificed to the aesthetic and picturesque value of the whole, providing a first argument on the inadequacy of the Venice Charter in the case of urban ensembles.
Another derogation of the Venice Charter principles can be observed in Lemaire’s attitude toward additions to the urban fabric. Despite the fact that he seemed to have been the one to promote the use of a “contemporary stamp” in Article 9—and even more in his own Belgian charter proposal—his attitude in the Beguinage appears quite ambiguous on that point. While his restoration of Saint Lambert’s Chapel in Heverlee, restored between 1961 and 1963, had been a radical example of the integration of old and new, “going much further than the Charter was going to suggest one year later” (Fig. 5), the Beguinage shows a mix of reconstruction, interpretation, and creation that scrambles legibility.37 While some of the additions are clearly—but discreetly—identifiable, others, replacing demolished houses or annexes, are reconstructed using the style of the former without any “contemporary stamp.” A study of the project’s successive plans shows that the additions evolved, starting from clearly modern creations that radically contrasted with the existing constructions, and moving to a discreet infill architecture, using brick, stone, and concrete (replacing the white stone), which fit better in the ensemble atmosphere (Figs. 6 and 7). Once again, Lemaire appears to have progressively departed from the Venice Charter principles, considered partially irrelevant in this case, for the sake of [End Page 231] the harmonious beauty of the whole area. This methodology takes us back to the Belgian document, which stated that “the documentary interest, demanding an easy distinction between authentic and new parts, has, in itself, a lesser importance than the aesthetic and architectural value of the monument.”38
The third and last important deviation pertains to interiors. Despite the continuity of the housing function, a detailed analysis of each house’s organization before and after restoration concludes that a large majority of the buildings’ distribution was fundamentally modified in order to accommodate modern needs and budgetary and rentability priorities. As Lemaire wrote in an earlier paper on urban renovation,
the sanitation and reanimation of the ensemble cannot be limited . . . to the safeguard of an urban or rural scenography, to the conservation and enhancement of a vast decor of the past, appealing through its surprising and picturesque aspects and very often to unquestionable qualities in urbanism and architecture. If we want to assure the ensembles’ survival and guarantee their maintenance, we must find solutions that allow ancient buildings to satisfactorily fulfill their new role or the current expression of their primitive function.39
Lemaire condemned, in the same text, the solution aimed at “conserving the exterior volumes and the façades, while systematically emptying the interiors to insert a new organization.” However, the study of the Beguinage shows that, in this case, space distribution was most often strongly modified, and the “ancient” atmosphere of the apartments created in the former houses was left to central elements such as fireplaces, ceilings, and stairs, which were sometimes moved from one house to another (Fig. 8).40 Once again, the reality of the renovation project is far from the Venice Charter’s prescriptions, submitting the “desirable” use of heritage to the fact that it “must not change the lay-out or decoration of the building.”41
These deviations clearly show that reading the Great Beguinage renovation through the Venice Charter’s prism would be absurd, leading to the merciless condemnation of a project that was considered, even before its completion, to be a model by experts all over Europe.42 Rather than an illustration of the application of the charter’s principles, the project has been an early challenge for the document, almost immediately negating the evolutionary preservation principles it established. Consequently, the Great Beguinage experience must have been one of the most powerful stimuli toward a revision of the charter.
The 1978 Revision
As already mentioned, as early as 1971, Lemaire initiated, together with Piero Gazzola, the revision of the Venice document, arguing, contrary to the assertion of Article 14, its inadequate character in dealing with architectural ensembles. In addition to the Beguinage experience, renovation projects of ancient areas in other Belgian cities, including Brussels, [End Page 232] confronted much more drastic constraints and confirmed the lessons learned in Leuven, which explained Lemaire’s tenacity regarding this question.43
At the end of 1971, Lemaire and Gazzola, respectively secretary general and president of ICOMOS, planned to write a basic proposal, together with François Sorlin, to present to the new Committee of Monuments and Sites of the Council of Europe. Yet, it is only in 1975, “looking at the proliferation of texts in this matter,” that the consultative committee of ICOMOS—supported by the general assembly gathered in Rothenburg in May under the last presidency of Piero Gazzola—initiated an plan of action to enlarge the existing charter, rather than write a new document.44
Taking into account the documents in the process of adoption or recently adopted by UNESCO and the Council of Europe—such as the Nairobi Recommendation draft and the Amsterdam Declaration—the project was fed by a large consultation of the national committees. It was then to be written by a commission “acting under the authority of the President of ICOMOS”—the recently elected Lemaire—and submitted to the next General Assembly, planned in Moscow in 1978.45 In December 1976, the Executive Committee created a “Venice Charter Committee” and a “Venice Charter Working Party” that convened at Ditchley Park Castle (Great Britain) in May 1977. While the ten member committee opened and closed the debates, the writing of the new text was entrusted to the Working Party, which included Lemaire, the Secretary General Ernest Allen Connally [End Page 233] (United States), Miklos Horler (Hungary), Andrew Saunders (United Kingdom), and Jean Sonnier (France).46 Whether because of the insufficient contributions of the national committees, or the disagreement of the meeting participants on the very necessity of in-depth or minor modifications, the Ditchley Park initiative was a failure.47 Consequently, the revision task was handed over to the ICOMOS board; thus, it was sent back to Lemaire.
It was in this context that in January 1978, Lemaire wrote a revised version of the charter, “flying over Siberia,” “between Khabarovsk and the Oural” (Fig. 9).48 Wishing to correct the definitions and “to replace Article 14 on the historical ensembles by articles giving a better answer to the evolution of ideas and experiences since 1964,” the text respected, according to the author, the wish of most of the national committees to “stay as close as possible to the original text,” while taking into account the results of the Ditchley meeting.49 Besides nuances brought into the principles of Articles 9 and 12, the subject of which we will return to later, the main innovation of the document was the addition of six new articles concerning the “urban and rural traditional ensembles.” These drew particular attention to economic and social aspects, upstream from architectural and historic considerations. Thus departing from monumental preservation, the document stated that
the safeguard[ing] and rehabilitation of traditional ensembles aims in particular at conserving life, unity and continuity of urban and rural human settlements, endowed with a particular town-planning or architectural value, bearing evidence of a political, social, economic or cultural structure. To that purpose, one will maintain or reintroduce there a function useful to the society, compatible with its structure and the nature of the buildings and sites that compose them.50
Insisting on the necessity to take into account the population’s vested rights, the proposed addition reaffirmed an idea already often defended by Lemaire, according to which the ancient areas would bring to social life “the necessary presence of the past as an identity [End Page 234] and cultural factor, and a guarantee of the indispensable diversity of the built environment.”51 Adopting the main argument of the Amsterdam Declaration, it promoted the idea of safeguarding heritage through urban planning policies.52 It was only in the last new article that architectural aspects were addressed, making clear that “sanitation and adaptation of the urban structures . . . mustn’t alter the proportions, the scale, the rhythm of streets and squares, nor the composition, the structure, the materials or the characteristic elements of the building’s architecture.”53
In March 1978, the text was proofread by Jean Sonnier who, among other corrections, added a paragraph to Article 19 about new constructions in traditional ensembles, with Lemaire’s consent.54 This version was presented as such to the General Assembly in Moscow in May, despite the proposal of the Russian committee to amend it using the national committees’ suggestions of 1976. Considered “more prolix and more obscure than the Charter itself,” the text was rejected, and the idea of a revision was temporarily abandoned in favor of the joint writing of an “explanatory note” and a “document on the ensembles” under the authority of Alfred Schmidt.55 However, the documents produced by this new committee were never adopted. Instead, at the 1981 General Assembly in Rome (with Michal Parent serving as president), the doctrinal section reaffirmed the validity of the Venice Charter despite Lemaire (outgoing president) and Roberto Di Stefano’s pleas for the adoption of a new document. In a proposal to the plenary meeting, the latter presented, in vain, an International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (Venice 1964–Rome 1981), reusing parts of the 1978 Lemaire document.56
Despite the absence of tangible results, the mere existence of the revision project and the energy put into the organization of an international consultation leading to the Ditchley meeting demonstrates the early awareness of the Venice Charter’s inability to adequately address the contemporary challenges of preservation. In fact, the perfectible character of the document had already been underlined by Lemaire during the original writing process in 1964. In a letter to Gertrud Tripp, Austrian signatory, he wrote in July [End Page 235]
1964: “You certainly have been asking to yourself why I pushed so much, in Venice, towards the adoption of a document, of which I didn’t ignore the imperfections. I was, and I am still convinced that the adoption of a text, even imperfect, was more desirable than any charter at all; provided that, of course, the writing would be corrected with a clear head afterwards.”57 But, as we saw in the first part of this paper, the definitive version differed only slightly from the text adopted at the congress. During the following years, despite the fact that Article 14 rapidly proved to be insufficient to face the problem of ensemble preservation, the argument stating that “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” prevented the adoption of a revised text: rewriting a document, based on an international consensus and already fully adopted throughout the world seemed hazardous. Lemaire was clear-sighted when he observed in 1995 that “the success of the charter blocks the critique of its content. . . . We think it is irreplaceable because, not without reason, we fear not to be able to find the same consensus around a new document.”58 In 1983, Lemaire declared at a preservation congress in Switzerland that “nothing numbs more the conscience than a clear conscience,” underlining the risk of intellectual drowsiness caused by the charter’s good fortune.59 Many comments received during the consultation process also show that any reformulation of its principles appeared to many as uselessly burdening its articles’ conciseness. Nevertheless, on this particular point, Lemaire’s archive shows once again that for some of the articles, and more particularly the [End Page 236] controversial Article 9, conciseness was synonymous with terseness, leaving too much room for interpretation.
Article 9’s Unexpected Fate
As the author of the controversial core of the Venice Charter’s Article 9, Lemaire made repeated critiques of the notorious “contemporary stamp”—referring to Ruskin’s idea that each time would imbue works of art with a particular spirit—became particularly revealing.60 We have already seen how the Great Beguinage renovation showed a shift from a strongly contrasting modernist expression to a subtle interpretation of traditional forms occasionally verging on a pastiche. The projects or plans conceived by Lemaire in Brussels in the 1970s further illustrate his quest for an appropriate architectural transposition of the principle. Between the harsh “contemporary stamp” of the Heverlee Chapel and the [End Page 237] harmonious circumspection of the Beguinage, Lemaire developed, in the less homogenous context of semi-preserved fragments of traditional urban fabric, an infill architecture that freely reinterpreted traditional models in the heart of a mostly modernized city (Fig. 10).
In 1972, these principles of composition are somehow theorized in the structural plan for Bruges, for which Lemaire collaborated with Jan Tanghe and his office Groep Planning.61 Including criteria related to form, such as scale, height, size, material, and color, the principles became the foundation of a specific course, initiated by Lemaire in 1976, in the Master in Conservation of Monuments and Sites Program within the European College in Bruges. At the same time, the formal principles inspired his creations in the field of urbanism.62 Caught between his belief in the necessity for architecture to express the spirit of its own time and the respect owed to the artistic value of ancient buildings and cities, he attempted to strike a balance between two poles: expression and integration, creation and preservation. But despite his attempts at theorization in Bruges, Lemaire continued to believe that “it would be too simple to think that the mere application of a few rules would allow [us] to solve such a delicate question.” In a 1976 text entitled “La mémoire et la continuité,” he insisted on the importance, above all, of an appropriate state of mind.
Beyond the talent indispensable for the creation of any valuable work, the state of mind is, before everything, the guarantee of success. In general, two qualities characterise it: the respect for the ancient work, and the modesty in the intervention’s conception. A monument is not in itself the occasion offered to today’s architect to affirm his personality. It finds its value per se in the truthfulness of the evidence it leaves of its time’s art. Likewise, the new intervention will have to clearly get recognised. The art—and the condition of success—is to harmonise both of them and to merge them into a global work of art. The only architectural discipline isn’t enough to solve the problem that such an operation includes. The perfect knowledge of the monument . . . [is] indispensable to recognise—and thus respect—its value . . . [as well as] for the repair of the mutilations the work may have been subjected to during time and of which the repair in the original forms is essential. The conception of the new contribution, allowing an edifice, dating back to a distant past, to fulfil [sic] [End Page 238] an active mission in the context of contemporary life is delicate as well. . . . The experience demonstrates . . . that pride is a bad counsellor and that the essential thing is to incorporate with humility into the global values of the urban and architectural fabric.63
The 1978 revised version of the charter showed the same backward step regarding the absolute legibility of restoration interventions—already perceivable in the pre-1964 Belgian document despite the promotion of “our time’s stamp.” On one hand, Article 9 specified that “any additional work accepted as indispensable for aesthetic, technical or use reasons is a matter of architectural or landscape composition and will bear the stamp of” not only “the time,” but also “the place and possibly, the authentic and living tradition that characterize it.” The article showed that in addition to accepting vernacular cultures, a looser position on the “contemporary stamp” was taken, which coincided with Lemaire’s contemporary projects.64 On the other hand, under the revision Article 12—which calls for replacement elements to be distinguishable as well as harmoniously integrated to the existing fabric—had an important clarification amended, which stated that “they adopt the material, the form and the techniques [of the original] when they are perfectly known.”65 Deeply sensitive to the intrinsic qualities of ancient heritage, Lemaire had become visibly aware of the wide interpretations of Article 9 that he either overlooked or considered excessive at the time of writing. The clearest formulation of this critical position is to be found in one of his last texts, under the revealing title of “Faut-il revoir la Charte de Venise?” published in a 1995 issue of the Italian journal Restauro:
The charter states a clear and firm position as to the reconstitution restorations, still so common at that time, rejecting any conjectural realization in that matter. May it be said that it was followed in that field? If it wasn’t, it is because there were reasons that deserve being analyzed and submitted, as well as the principle itself, to the critique. Since the charter, modernist interventions on ancient monuments have multiplied. Article 9 states the legitimacy and the norms of application of this principle. Nevertheless, how many mistakes have been perpetrated in its name! Haven’t we come to believe, in certain circles, that the mere essence of a safeguard operation is a modernist intervention in the edifice or neighborhood?66
The thirty years of Lemaire’s activity in the urban preservation field clearly illustrated a perpetual search for the right implementation of the “contemporary stamp” concept. Starting with a confident modernist approach in the early 1960s, transcribed in his Belgian “principles” and the Venice Charter, Lemaire soon reflected on current practices and confronted the threatened picturesque harmony of the Great Beguinage of Leuven, incorporating a more subtle—sometimes very slight—distinction of old and new. His experiences in Brussels and elsewhere in Belgium provided many occasions for this reflection, which he theorized in the structural plan for Bruges. As several of his quotes show, Lemaire’s infinite respect for the artistic creations of the past explain this shift from modernism to [End Page 239] his reinterpretation of traditional models; however, we must also note his conviction of the educational and social roles of ancient cities for contemporary mankind, which brings him close to the postmodern movement.67
A Necessary Deconsecration
Even if the Venice Charter was undoubtedly a collective creation, approaching it through the figure of Raymond Lemaire sufficiently demonstrates the necessity for a critical evaluation of the doctrinal monument. Lemaire’s battles to overcome the document’s shortcomings in describing ensemble preservation and his condemnation of the over-interpretations of Article 9 should bring us to the conclusion that at least a more careful reading of the Venice Charter should be undertaken by preservation authorities and practitioners.68 In southern Belgium at least, the over-simplified application of the charter’s principles is one of the major causes of heritage exhaustion. This effect stands as the reason why we wonder whether, facing the inability of the charter to clearly display its intended meaning without ambivalence, we should not dare to rewrite it, in order not to betray the spirit of its fathers.
Claudine Houbart is an architect and art historian and has a master in conservation of historic towns and buildings. She teaches architectural history and heritage conservation at the faculty of architecture of the University of Liège (Belgium) and is finalizing her Ph.D. research at KULeuven on the theme: Raymond Lemaire (1921–1997) and the Conservation of the Historic City: Historical and Critical Approach of His Belgian Projects in an International Perspective. Her major research and publications are in the field of history and theory of heritage conservation and urban renovation.