Urban heritage and its conservation have long been an integral part of urban planning around the world, in a bid to preserve the cultural identity and historical significance of cities. The integration of cultural identity and historical significance increases a city’s attractiveness through the creation of a distinctive atmosphere, which attracts visitors, investors and foreign businesses.
Highlighting the interdependence between environmental, social, economic, and cultural factors, urban heritage conservation maintains the continuity of a city’s historical and cultural heritage. This helps foster a sense of connection and belonging among the residents, and can provide a sense of pride and identity to bolster the social and cultural fabric of the city.
Urban heritage conservation in Cambodia
The task of conserving Cambodia’s urban heritage conservation presents a set of unique challenges. Many heritage buildings in the city originate from the British colonial period, which is often seen as a time of suppression under an old regime. To Cambodians, the presence of such buildings can come off as “offensive”, which lowers the collective willingness to conserve them. Furthermore, the restoration of old colonial buildings is also impeded by a lack of traditional building skills.
Despite these challenges, urban heritage conservation can still be beneficial to the cultural identity of Cambodians. This requires thoughtful urban planning that is capable of preserving and protecting these historic buildings, while respecting the values of the post-colonial state. Efforts should account for the needs of the local community, while preserving the country’s cultural heritage for future generations.
A case in point is Battambang, Cambodia’s largest secondary city in the North. The region surrounding Battambang served as the Khmer Rouge’s final stronghold. Both the city and its surrounding provincial area were directly affected by the civil war after 1979, and Battambang’s revitalisation and the entailing unplanned urban growth only started in 1998.
In 2004, Battambang started a pilot project on provincial spatial planning. Early implementation of urban planning took a low-threshold approach to conservation, which leveraged on campaigns and lectures held in the city centre to raise public awareness on the value of heritage conservation. The city centre with approximately 800 heritage buildings was integrated into a land-use plan designated as a ‘Heritage Protection Area’. Since 2010, the demolition of heritage buildings in the Heritage Protection Area has been halted.
The use of buildings in the Heritage Protection Area has also changed, with a decline in residential use and traditional shops, and an increase in commercial use targeted at tourists. Notably, the overall structure of these heritage buildings were retained, while their interiors were designed to meet the present needs of the city. As a result, the city has seen a notable increase in heritage tourism, attributed to an increased awareness of the value of heritage.
The conservation of Battambang’s city centre is a great example of how a city’s overall development, especially on an economic level, can be positively influenced by the integration of urban heritage conservation within urban planning.
Preserving heritage through urban planning
Urban planning plays a critical role in conserving heritage worldwide. By identifying and evaluating the significance of heritage resources, they can be protected and conserved in a way that respects their cultural, social and economic values. Urban planning can also facilitate the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings and sites, seeing how they can be valued by the local community. This requires careful consideration of the community’s needs, and the economic feasibility of restoration and reuse.
Besides reflecting the unique cultural identity and historical significance of the local populus, urban planning can also help ensure the integration of heritage conservation into broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include improving the residents’ quality of life and promoting economic development.
MORROW’s approach to integrating heritage conservation into urban planning
Here at MORROW, our approach is rooted in our philosophy of romanticising the land, and harmonising the relationship between urban environments, nature and unique circumstances. That is why our Intelligence Planning Approach applies the three key principles of Value, Science and Art.
Value — With the heart of a humanist, we believe that the true purpose of urban planning is to serve the land and its people. Cities should be liveable ecosystems that support the community’s culture, while ensuring the sustainability and functionality of the land.
Just like how good architecture is an assembly of proportionate and complementary essential parts, we believe that urban planning should also account for heritage and its conservation. This means that the conservation of heritage buildings and sites must be sensibly executed to preserve their historical and cultural significance, while enhancing the spatial experience of its functions.
Science — Thinking like a scientist, MORROW views cities as “machine for living”. We ensure a city runs efficiently, by leveraging the local economy for its materials, information and technology made available by its geographical composition.
We recognise the importance of balancing the needs of the built environment with the natural environment and seek to create a sustainable and beautiful urban environment that enhances the spatial experience of its users.
Art — Romanticising the land through the eyes of an artist, we seek to harmonise the relationship between the urban environments, nature and unique historical sites. MORROW stands firm in our belief that beauty should never be compromised – even when striking a balance between plot ratio and building height. By respecting what a city has inherited from nature, traditions and history, we can help preserve its soul, memory and unique cultural identity for generations to come.
By prioritising the preservation of heritage resources and integrating them into urban planning, we believe that heritage conservation can contribute to the creation of a resilient urban environment that reflects the unique historical significance of a city.