Introduction to Valle project (Original proposal for study):

Below is an excerpt from my original Valle proposal, which explains in detail the kind of research I plan to be doing while I’m in Copenhagen. In brief, I am interested in looking at areas that have been part of the InterSAVE community inventory/atlas production process. I would like to speak with the people that were involved in that process, to better understand what they felt their role was and how their (community) values were communicated in the final (published) product, as well as how values are communicated in the present built environment. I would also like to visit those areas that were designated as worth preserving to see how new development has responded to these environments designated as valuable by communities in order to see the relative success of new urban forms in terms of contextual design. For more detail, read on:

Research topic: How are community values and identity recorded in the built environment? (A series of Danish case studies based on the work of the SAVE program.)

Copenhagen is a city that has communicated its care for the context of the built environment through the initiation of a number of architectural conservation groups and the inclusion of local residents in community design initiatives. These actions address the concern for how the identity of the city is expressed, and the importance of everyday architecture and community opinion in the construction of this identity. In my thesis, I am seeking to uncover ways in which a local community can contribute to its identity of place through changes made to the larger cityscape on a property-by-property basis. To do so, I will conduct research of Danish community design based on the work of the SAVE program that took place in Copenhagen from 1990-1998.

My thesis project primarily involves the two Chinese cities of Quanzhou and Gaoyou. These cities are facing rapid changes in the built environment; these changes threaten to erase many cultural and historical aspects of the cities’ identities that are manifest in the built environment. In response to the rapid acceleration of redevelopment and globalization, many forward-looking Chinese urban planners, government officials, and community leaders are searching for ways in which to retain the identity present in the city’s built form while still accommodating needed modernization and change. The SAVE (internationally known as InterSAVE) program provides an excellent model on which to base new policies or initiatives regarding the relationship of community values and the built environment. Through photographic documentation and stakeholder interviews, I will provide a series of in-depth case studies to show ways in which community values and identity are embedded in the built urban environment. I will also explore the participatory processes by which these can be identified and designated.

Copenhagen is the ideal location in which to conduct this study for two primary reasons. First, it is the origin of the InterSAVE program, which focuses on combining citizen participation with sustainable cultural and environmental development practices. There is also an ongoing dialogue and academic interest in issues surrounding architectural context, as evidenced by the recent conference hosted by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts entitled “The Complexity of the Ordinary.” Second, Copenhagen is a city with several hundred years’ continuity of built form in which urban designers and planners work together with community members to accommodate change. While there are methods of community design participation that could be studied in the United States, the richness of history and the fine-grained nature of the built environment that is shared in common between older Chinese and European cities are absent. Conducting this research in Copenhagen will make for a much more relevant and useful series of case studies.

The product of this study will be both visual in nature (a series of documentary photographs focusing on building materials, massing, and other contextual relationships) and will also communicate the citizens’ involvement in the participation process (by pairing the photographic documentation with a series of stories given by local community members relating their values to the physical city). This will serve both beneficiary groups quite well. For the cities of Quanzhou and Gaoyou (and hopefully many others), it will provide an easy-to-use reference that gives graphic examples of how a program like SAVE addresses built form along with the interviews that will provide the imperative human element. This is key to the study, as it will demonstrate through the sharing of personal stories how both community leaders and “ordinary” citizens such as themselves can contribute to such a process. For the city of Copenhagen, this research will provide a record of what effect the SAVE program has had on the city’s form and identity as seen by its residents. It will also graphically document the ways in which new development has responded to those areas designated in the study. It will show how social and cultural community values can be, and have been, translated into physical built form.

While in Copenhagen, I plan to research and provide case studies for at least three different neighborhoods. I will use the SAVE work and documentation as a point of departure for these cases. The neighborhoods of study will be chosen to represent a variety of built forms, a mixture of new and old development, and a diversity of citizen participants in the valuation and designation of significant properties or districts. My methodology will consist mainly of field observations (through documentary photography) and personal interviews. I will supplement these first-hand resources with documentation available from local institutions, community organizations, and advice from my contacts at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

InterSAVE + SUIT: Two methodologies for addressing values in the built environment

Following is a brief introduction to two of the methodologies that I will be studying in more depth, the inventory program InterSAVE (the international version of SAVE) and the evaluation and monitoring-oriented SUIT program.

InterSAVE (International Survey of Architectural Values in the Environment) is a system of evaluation that takes a participatory and preservational stance toward evaluating buildings and urban structures. The original SAVE system was developed in Denmark in 1987, and has since spread around the world in various forms as InterSAVE (the main difference between the two is that SAVE was tailored toward Danish procedures and conditions; InterSAVE uses the same core methods, but the specific procedures used within the documentation process can be adjusted to fit each particular location).

There are two main categories within the InterSAVE survey: “developed structure” and individual building. While the latter category is quite self-explanatory, developed structures are more broadly defined and might include such things as a significant grouping of buildings, a city square, a street, or the placement of an entire town within a landscape. The three basic criteria for InterSAVE assessment are architectural observation, historical analysis, and topographical investigation; these assessments take place at three levels within the urban or townscape setting. These levels are dominating features (comprehensive spatial patterns at the scale of the town), building patterns (special districts or distinctive urban fragments), and urban elements (individual details of the urban fabric, such as squares). The three levels and three criteria can be organized into a matrix for purposes of evaluation. The inclusion of the developed structure category is actually one of the most distinguishing features of the InterSAVE program; few other preservational methodologies include such a large-scale and broad interpretation of elements that may be included in architectural inventories. Individual buildings are assessed based on the following criteria: architectural value, cultural/historical value, environmental value, originality, and technical state.

One of the most critical features of InterSAVE is the creation of a dialogue about what a particular urban artifact or building means at both the individual scale and at the developed structure scale. A single building, for instance, could be extremely important as part of the urban pattern, but be relatively unimportant in its own right. The coexistence of the two levels of assessment encourage discussion and debate about what is important, and why it is important. The methodology recognizes different levels of meaning of components of the built environment.

The assessment process itself consists of three steps:

1) The preliminary investigation, in which information on the topographical, historical, and architectural characteristics of the region in question are carried out. In this phase, community members are openly invited to share what they value about their community, and to give suggestions for further study and investigation. This part of the process is considered “open,” and community members are encouraged to attend meeting and to bring with them items that speak of community value (photos, maps, drawings, etc.); the community members then create an “organized tour” in order to introduce the neighborhood or municipality in question to the expert members of the survey team.

2) The fieldwork, in which features are evaluated as developed structures and individual buildings by a team of surveyors trained in the InterSAVE methodology. The evaluations are recorded as text documents formatted specifically for the survey, and are supplemented with photographs.

3) The publishing of a preservational atlas, which provides an illustrated summary of the fieldwork and investigatory findings. The community members who took part in the assessment author a note at the end of the document that indicates their desires for future developmental or preservational direction in the community. The atlas is meant to be considered as “open cartography,” that is, not as a plan or a blueprint for preservation, but as a jumping-off point for discussion about community values and future developmental directions.

(Note: The preservational atlases are produced with the help of a subsidy from the Danish government, and their production was originally initiated by the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy. In recent years, the municipal atlases have changed somewhat from their original format and intent; they are now known as “cultural atlases,” and have abandoned much of the methodology of the original InterSAVE program.)

For more information on InterSAVE, please see:

SUIT (Sustainable Development of Urban Historical Areas Through an Active Integration Within Towns) is a project that uses the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Enviromental Assessment (SEA) procedures to encourage a culture of long-term, active preservation of cultural value in the built environment.

SUIT recognizes that in order to conserve the richness and diversity of European city life, a different approach needs to be taken to the urban environment than those taken when conserving monumental built heritage. It recognizes that urban environments are dynamic, in need of ongoing private action and investment, and need to be continuously involved in cycles of sustainable development activity.

The SUIT project focuses specifically on the “urban fragment,” which it defines as “the area of the city suitable for establishing a long-term management strategy.” The area must exhibit coherence, need not be physically continuous, and it should have an acknowledged existence as a recognizable entity, even at the local level. The project assesses the heritage value of such environments by referring directly to local cultural groups and cultural values; the focus is on the inhabitants of the urban fragment, and the goal is “active conservation.”

The role of public authorities in the SUIT project is to stimulate private investment and action, improve quality of life, steer and coordinate activities, and to monitor the cumulative effects produced by actions on the urban fragment.

The EIA/SEA procedures embedded within SUIT encourage the participation of both the public and experts in an iterative process of creating development strategies. Among the methods and tools developed for SUIT with the intent of involving public participation are field survey methodologies, visualization techniques, and other participatory methods. The EIA/SEA procedures also provide a starting point for the ongoing and active management of heritage values within urban fragments.

For more information on SUIT, please see:

Beginning directions for research:

I had a great initial meeting with my advisors at the Royal Danish Academy, Gregers Algreen-Ussing (inventor of the InterSAVE program) and Peter Thule Kristensen (organizer of the 2006 Complexity of the Ordinary conference). We talked a bit about InterSAVE, its history in Denmark and elsewhere, and the development of the more recent but related SUIT program. I am extremely interested in some of the issues addressed in both programs (community participation, generating awareness of community and community values through active mapping and discussion) as well as characteristics specific to each program (InterSAVE: the contrast and potential for conflict between the two scales; SUIT: ongoing project monitoring, the consideration of the “urban fragment”). I will be keeping these issues in mind as I begin to explore the city, investigate projects, and talk with participants in the InterSAVE program. I look forward to hearing how community members felt about their participation in the program, and how their experience at the time may or may not relate to the present built environment in Copenhagen. I am interested in finding out in what capacity the preservational atlases are used, and by whom. An interesting point that Prof. Algreen-Ussing brought up was that sometimes, once we map something, or study it closely, we change it. Put another way, making a community aware of what it values, delimiting and defining it, may cause changes in the way the community sees itself and its values. Sometimes that value is marketed or emphasized more strongly after it has been published as a definable entity, thereby causing values to change. On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to preserve an endangered environment without giving it a name and a boundary. Are the atlases constructive in that they promote awareness and discussion, or destructive in that they change a community’s own perception of itself and its values? My initial guess is that I will find evidence of both. My initial directions for research, beyond further research on InterSAVE and SUIT, will involve interviewing those involved in the InterSAVE process, both expert and local, and talking about their experiences. I will also be visiting some newer architectural projects in Copenhagen and looking at how new development is responding to some of the older areas that were inventoried in the Danish SAVE atlas series.

As an added note, I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Dong Wei, an urban planner, architect, and Vice Dean of the School of Architecture at Southeast University in Nanjing, in Copenhagen last week. Dong Wei is a former colleague of my University of Washington advisor, Prof. Daniel B. Abramson, and has worked in the city of Quanzhou (where my thesis work is based). Dong Wei happened to meet Prof. Algreen-Ussing on a train recently, and having been attending a workshop in Trondheim, he decided to stop by the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen to learn more about InterSAVE from Prof. Algreen-Ussing. We discussed the possible applicability of the principles of InterSAVE in the Chinese context (some work has already been done in Lhasa, and has been published at “The Lhasa Atlas”). This was a very exciting meeting for me, as it was extremely relevant to both my thesis work and my Valle project. Dong Wei invited us to attend the 2008 World Urban Forum conference that he is organizing, which will be hosted in Nanjing next October.