Thinking conservation: whose lives matter?

Thursday last (Feb 16), the Hong Kong version of the bi-city biennale opened and then on Friday afternoon, Shenzhen began its closing events with a series of roundtable panels. Along with moderator Juan DU, architect Ben Wood, and urban planner Michael Gallagher, I participated in panel #2, contemporary perspectives on preservation.

We agreed that history should serve living people and thus conservation was not a question of saving old buildings for their own sake. Rather, what is conserved are patterns of human relation and environments that support those relationships. In this sense, any act of conservation entails a value judgment; whose lives do we wish to strengthen and deepen by creating sites that reference the past?

Not unexpectedly, it was at this moment of making value judgements that our differences became clear precisely because history serves different purposes in different social groups. Continue reading