This summer I interned at Cultural Heritage without Borders at their office in Tirana, Albania. Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB) is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) based in Sweden that works to preserve tangible and intangible heritage in areas that have been touched by
conflict, neglect or disaster. The goal of their work is to contribute to building democracy and supporting human rights by ensuring all people have access to their cultural heritage. CHwB creates key partnerships with national and local governments, international agencies, and civil society to help build equality and understanding while protecting cultural assets.
In my time here, I have worked with the team on several projects including attending a Regional Restoration Camp in Rogljevo, Serbia and the preliminary planning stages to protect and reuse a work prison, Spaç, located in the mountainous northern region of Albania. On both of these projects, the team has been working closely with local agencies, experts, and other preservation-minded people to collect, protect, and honor a blend of intangible and tangible heritage.
Regional Restoration Camp program is one of CHwB’s most successful outreach programs.The camp in Rogljevo, one of five camps our office is holding within the Western Balkans this year, focused on the themes of building conservation, documentation, heritage for development and site interpretation. Participants in the camp were students and young professionals from Greece, Serbia, and Albania who study architecture, archeology, or anthropology.
The camp was in a small village where wine making was the traditional industry in the area dating back to at least the mid-19th century. The work of the camp focused on restoring aspects of three different wine cellars while encouraging the group to think about ways to interpret the site for future economic growth. During the first week of camp, there were educational seminars by international experts in stone conservation, mud plaster techniques, site interpretation, and cultural tourism held in the morning.
In the afternoon, participants broke into groups based on their interests and worked with local craftsmen on rebuilding wooden roof structures, documenting and replacing deteriorated stone cornices, and plastering one of the few remaining wooden wine cellars.
I had the opportunity to try out mud plastering and wood hewing and it was not nearly as easy as the master craftsmen made it look! I think we all came away with a greater appreciation of the skills they acquired through years of training and experience.
While the camp helped to physically restore some of the cellars located in one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List sites, it also help to preserve the intangible heritage of traditional building techniques with the hope that the area can remain a functioning wine-producer and build off of a growing interest in cultural tourism.
The site of the former communist-era prison camp, Spaç, is located in the northwestern portion of Albania. The prison housed both traditional criminals as well as political prisoners from the late 1960s until the fall of the regime in 1991. While a site of sadness and painful memories, the now
crumbling prison represents an important piece of the country’s past and CHwB is working with former prisoners, community residents, and local officials to preserve the site and the memories before they are irreversibly lost. On our trip up to the site, we measured four of the main buildings for a preliminary conditions report and geolocated entrances to the mines. For this site visit, I went with a coworker whose background is in intangible heritage preservation, an urban geographer, a tour guide, and an archeologist.
It was great to get to work with people with diverse expertise and to learn something new from each of them, but it was also fun to teach them about what I knew – documenting buildings. While the prison buildings were much larger than the mausoleums we worked with in Studio I, the same techniques and principles were easy to apply. The only challenging part for me was working in the metric system since I could not easily judge if our measurements sounded accurate! Back in the office, I am converting our field measurements to AutoCAD drawings and further researching other prison sites and museums in adaptively reused spaces, especially spaces of abandonment.
My internship experience was fun, diverse, and a great learning experience. Working out of New York and the U.S. gave me a great opportunity to learn about preservation in a very different place – both geographically as well as in approach and heritage preservation need. CHwB is also a wonderful organization and they have helped me to expand my ideals about the work preservationists should be doing. For anyone looking for interesting cultural heritage work, I recommend a trip to Albania and connecting with the organization!