Dennis Rodwell. Oskars Redbergs PhD Dissertation—Review. 20 August 2019
Transformation Projects of Historic Urban Structure and Architecture in the
Historic Centre of Riga – Territory of the World Heritage Site, since 1997
PhD thesis by Oskars Redbergs
Summary comments by Dennis Rodwell
– Of necessity, the Historic City of Riga is inscribed in the World Heritage List under the
category of group of buildings (Article 1 of the 1972 Convention; 1997 ICOMOS
Advisory Body Evaluation). This does not immediately inspire confidence in a holistic
approach to its management as a historic city. This incoherence is effectively admitted at
Annex 3 (14) (ii) of the Operational Guidelines, which reads:
historic towns which are still inhabited and which, by their very nature, have developed and
will continue to develop under the influence of socio-economic and cultural change, a
situation that renders the assessment of their authenticity more difficult and any conservation
policy more problematical.
– The Outstanding Universal Value Brief Synthesis on the UNESCO website
(http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/852) goes some way to addressing this:
The Outstanding Universal Value to be preserved also resides in the spacious panorama of the
Historic Centre of Riga with an expressive skyline. The medieval core of Riga is located on
the right bank of the River Daugava, allowing a picturesque view on the skyline saturated
with numerous church towers from the different perspectives of the left bank. Historic
buildings are relatively low, with only church towers creating vertical dominance.
Also, under Integrity:
[…] The outstanding panorama and visual perspectives of the Historic Centre of Riga reflect
the effective protection of the important views of the property.
These extracts provides immediate ambiguity, however, when read alongside the
Criterion (i): The medieval and later-period urban planning structure of the Historic Centre
of Riga, as well as the quantity and quality of Art Nouveau architecture, which is unparalleled
anywhere in the world, and the 19th century wooden architecture make it of Outstanding
Universal Value. The Historic Centre of Riga has the finest concentration of Art Nouveau
architecture in the world.
Criterion (ii): Riga has exerted considerable influence within the cultural area of the Baltic
Sea on the developments in architecture, monumental sculpture and garden design.
o Navigating these ambiguities / inconsistencies / lack of coherence is a major challenge for
the management of World Heritage Sites globally.
UK example: The 2004 nomination dossier for the Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City
WHS proposed urban landscape in the draft for the criteria. Inscribed under the same
category of groups of buildings, the 2004 ICOMOS Advisory Body Evaluation deleted
urban landscape. This sowed the seeds for the multiple conflicts that led to the Liverpool
WHS being placed on the List in Danger in 2012, and continuously to date.
– From this, I resort to the unfortunate conclusion that the Historic City of Riga does not
benefit from inscribed Criteria that would reinforce sound management of the panorama
/ urban landscape of the inscribed property (or, indeed, anything much else).
– Initiatives such as this PhD dissertation thesis are essential to provide support for holistic
management of the Historic City of Riga World Heritage Site.
Comments on the Annotation Conclusions:
– This correctly identifies “… a wide spectrum of problems – starting from those
related to identifying and defining the attributes worthy of preservation in the
– It states that “… formation of the territory until 1914, as well as the
transformations until 1991 have been implemented systematically, consistently
adhering to a number of urban development and conservation plans and building
– Also: “Since 1997, the management plan of HCR still has not been developed as a
single document …”, and “… an in-depth analysis of the transformation projects
implemented in the territory of HCR since 1997 reveals the tendency towards
planless development and post factum planning policy.”
– In other words, a lack of planning in a meaningful sense (planning anticipates, it is
not retrospective), and a lack of an effective “management model” / “management
– The Annotation suggests / proposes “… forming a new – site-specific
organization for protection, preservation and development management of HCR as
the world heritage site.”
– Comments on the Thesis:
– This provides a detailed overview study of the fact and circumstances of
transformational projects 1997 to 2017 and seeks to analyse them qualitatively.
This, in the context of the three distinctive areas of the World Heritage Site –
Medieval, 19th Century wooden, and Art Nouveau – together with the Buffer
– It has a helpful section on Terminology, setting out key words and definitions in
the Latvian context. Word usages and their definitions are often confusing within
individual languages and their cultural contexts; and, in practice, despite
endeavors such as the ICOMOS-Australia Burra Charter, there is no universal
– The thesis further relates disparities between the orthodox “European-oriented
definition of authenticity”, the 1994 Nara Document on Authenticity (which was
not incorporated into the UNESCO Operational Guidelines until 2005, eight years
after the inscription of the Historic City of Riga), and the 2000 Riga Charter.
– The thesis seeks to navigate the countless ambiguities / inconsistencies / lack of
coherence both in the UNESCO inscription and the Latvian / Riga context, and
confronts this challenge head-on. It additionally addresses important issues of
territorial divisions and boundaries.
– For the detailed transformational analyses, conclusions and recommendations, I
rely on the author.
– Some international comparative references / analyses would enhance the author’s
further work, post-thesis, starting with two overview(s):
– How do the post-1991 transformational specifics of Riga compare with the
other two geo-politically equivalent Baltic State capital cities?
– Is, based on practical / real life experiences elsewhere, rather than
academically-derived “standards”, the recommendation that a “site-specific
organization is necessary to develop a unified basis for ensuring
protection” the only model, or is there inherent contradiction between
“site-specific” and “unified”? In other words, a World Heritage Site does
not exist in a cordoned off silo, and its effective management is – I would
argue – dependent on its integration into city-wide planning: fully
integrated rather than set-apart. (For this, Regensburg has been cited as a
Dennis Rodwell, 20 August 2019