Focus Scientific Research

Discovering patterns of damage and conservation practice

Project lead: Gabriela Krist
Institute of Conservation
Duration: 01.01.2021 - 31.12.2023
Austrian Science Fund (FWF): P 33985 Einzelprojekte

Preservation and conservation of World Heritage are matters of international interest and demanding, complex tasks. Particularly in Nepal, where the Kathmandu Valley’s World Heritage Property is endangered by recurring earthquakes – the most recent one hit the region in 2015 – challenging climatic conditions, inappropriate repairs, and lack of maintenance. Since decades, it has thus been a focus of Austrian research and restoration activities. The Patan Durbar Square, a unique and exceptional testimony of architectural variety and outstanding craftsmanship with monuments dating from the 16th to the 18th century, thereby always received particular attention. The planned research follows and builds on this tradition, going one step further. In the framework of a 3-year project the Institute of Conservation at the Austrian University of Applied Arts Vienna and the Nepalese Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust join forces to provide the scientific base for the sustainable preservation and management of Patan’s World Heritage.

One aim is to gain a better understanding of the condition of the monuments built in brick, timber, and stone through the study of damage and decay patterns and the comprehensive assessment of risks, which threaten the cultural property. Thus, deterioration mechanisms and the most devastating damage factors to be tackled can be identified. But the project looks not only ahead and thinks about future conservation strategies; it also looks back and examines historic and current conservation measures. The effectiveness and sustainability of materials and methods in the challenging Nepalese environment are assessed, differences in conservation philosophies are traced and forgotten traditional preservation practices are uncovered and revived. At the same time, the role of craftsmanship and other forms of intangible cultural heritage, which is living and omnipresent in the Nepalese environment, with regard to conservation-restoration is examined.

The interdisciplinary project brings together not only students, early-stage and senior researcher, but also conservators-restorers, architects, engineers, art historians, craftsmen, and traditional knowledge-bearers. An open mindset and constant lively exchange between all parties enable to benefit from the cultural diversity and offer opportunities for learning from each other and capacity building in the field of conservation on site.

Preserving World Heritage is practically a mission impossible, if it is not supported and carried by the local community and wider public. Thus, the project pays particular attention to broad media coverage, production of films and documentaries, participation at research events and exhibitions as well as open discussions. These efforts raise not only awareness for the vulnerability of Nepalese built cultural heritage on a local and international level but create a broader understanding for the need of further conservation scientific research.