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01 Jan

Cryogenic Heritage by James West

Posted in: Architecture

I was given this by my University tutor, its a brief essay on the role and scope of heritage. I found it to be a great read with some quite ironic and interesting twists, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of it as well.

Cryogenic Heritage by James West

_What is Heritage?

Heritage is what the present chooses to make of the past. It is never set in stone and is constantly evolving. This is meant in terms of how objects may achieve heritage status over time or how people’s concepts and attitudes towards heritage change. It is also defined in opposition to what is going on in the present. For example, if a certain type of building is becoming rare and under threat, the historical value of the remaining few increases, and they become heritage.

Heritage can be split into two types within two processes [fig 1]. There are tangible pieces of heritage or ‘objects’ such as buildings and memorabilia, and intangible ‘practices’ of heritage such as languages and music. We use both objects and practices of heritage to help to provide us with an identity and shape who we are as nations, cities, communities and individuals. These can be part of the official processes of heritage which are run by the state, for example the listing system, or the unofficial processes of heritage that focus more on people, such as community events that help to connect people with the places they live.

Heritage occurs at different scales, whether it is a replica of a bar of Sunlight Soap or the whole of Port Sunlight Village. This study focuses on heritage on an urban scale, and the potential positive and negative effects it can have on towns and cities. It will also focus on heritage within the UK and the obsession with the heritage of the built environment, and how this can be created and used to shape towns and cities in the future, with a focus on the Wirral.

_Economies of Heritage

Heritage is a business. The enthusiasts who conserve it are defensive of the idea of heritage as a product or service, but this is what it has become. Culture is frequently regarded as beyond price, even though huge amounts of money are spent on works of art and designer furniture. Towns and cities now rely on their heritage to attract visitors and provide a pivotal industry, which can be seen to add value to surrounding areas and businesses. After the exploitation of heritage sites by the leisure and tourism industries in the 1980’s, creating ‘heritage theme parks’ for commercial gain, new systems of funding emerged in the 1990’s, providing money from the state, tourist boards, charities, as well as entry fees and gift shops etc. This increased the commercial interest in the industry [fig 2].

Sylvie Zavatta in the preface to ‘Back to the Front: Tourisms of War’ discusses the geography of tourism through cultural [heritage] sites and its “essential set of economic stakes which no region can afford to overlook”.i In 2008 922 million people worldwide took vacations abroad, spending more than £569 billion.ii In the UK, travel and tourism is worth approximately £74 billion [4.5% of the GDP],iii employing 2.1 million people and there were 250 million visitors to heritage attractions. iv Membership numbers of English Heritage and National Trust are at an all time high and are continuing to increase. Heritage sites, as most of our space, have become a landscape of consumption.

This increasing interest in heritage is for a number of reasons: John Cullen believes that one of the characteristics of modernity is the loss of authenticity, which can be recuperated in the past through heritage. v Global and virtual networking such as the internet and improved transport at lower prices has increased peoples awareness of sites of heritage and their ability to get to them. Television, literature and films also promote heritage. After the success of the film ‘Saving Private Ryan’, interest increased in the Second World War, D-Day and visiting Normandy [Northern France], where the film was set and the original event took place. Diller and Scofidio in the introduction to ‘Back to the Front: Tourisms of War’ talk of the tourist desire for the extreme, and the fascination for heroism, which is found in battlefields, as well as their desire for “aura”, that can be found in heritage attractions.vi This desire for aura and the extreme is increasing due to the monotonous nature of traditional holiday resorts, as tourists look for something new.

Due to the increasing interest in heritage and its economic value, towns and cities are using it to promote themselves, attract visitors and create or improve their tourist industry. Eyam, a village in Derbyshire known as ‘plague village’, takes advantage of its role in the plague of 1665 to create its own tourist industry. The plague had been brought to Eyam from London in 1665 and the whole village was quarantined for 16 months, leaving only 83 survivors from an original population of 350. There are signs and places of interest throughout the village noting locations of events of the plague [fig 3], and along with Eyam Hall tell the full story and the history and heritage of the area. Although on a small scale, Eyam’s heritage has become its main industry.

Recently Liverpool has tried to capitalize on its association with the Beatles, part of the cities cultural heritage. Even though Liverpool has the largest number of Grade 1 listed buildings in the country outside of London, the majority of tourists are attracted by the Beatles as this is how Liverpool is marketed. You arrive via ‘John Lennon Airport’, are met by a huge yellow submarine statue [fig 4], stay at the ‘Hard Days Night Hotel’ and visit the ‘The Beatles Story’, ‘The Cavern Club’, and ‘The Beatles Shop’.

Due to the strong economic value of heritage, it is being created or recreated so that cities can benefit financially. Las Vegas holds very little heritage itself, but has built its own versions of famous buildings from all over the world that represent successful pieces of other cities heritage, including the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. Due to the extreme commercial nature of Las Vegas, these attractions are popular and profitable, and they are what the Las Vegas tourist expects. But in a UK context, in an area such as the Wirral, with a strong existing culture and strict planning laws, the process of creating heritage isn’t as straight forward. Methods of creating heritage need to be examined and tested to provide an appropriate heritage strategy for the area.

_Creating Heritage

Heritage can be fabricated, created or recreated in a number of different ways. On a small scale heritage it is created regularly in terms of collectables. Special edition stamps, coloured vinyl records and signature clothing are all created in limited numbers to add value to the product. The less of something there is, the more value it has. In an urban context it is much more difficult to create, although the definitions of heritage can be blurred. As the economic and cultural value of heritage has increased, so has the number of approaches for creating it.

_Time Must Pass

To create ‘real’ built heritage it takes time. As Peter Howard explains; “Not everything is heritage, but anything could become heritage.” vii Similarly Paul Virilio in ‘Bunker Archaeology’ describes how the bunkers of the Atlantic Wall, although of archaeological importance in his eyes, to the majority of the French public they represented occupation and the fear of death when he visited them between 1958 and 1965. viii He saw it as a question of time, and people would eventually learn to appreciate the structures. They are now important pieces of military history, architecture and part of the geography of heritage tourism in northern France.

The main method for creating official heritage over time in the UK is to apply for a building to be listed. This involves finding existing buildings with heritage potential and selling them as heritage. English Heritage states that a building has to be 30 years old or older to be able to be listed. Although a building can be just 10 years old if it is both under threat and ‘outstanding’.ix But what constitutes outstanding? If you provide a strong enough argument with public support, it seems any building has the potential to be listed.


Monuments can create heritage when there is no physical evidence of it at all. They may commemorate an event or past structure in that or a nearby location. Their presence is extremely important in a heritage landscape. Memorials in battlefields are the main attractions as they provide a physical structure to visit opposed to a field. Monuments can provide a heritage landscape with little work. The ‘Blue Plaques’ by English Heritage, located outside buildings in London mark where historically important figures lived or worked [fig 5]. The building or area becomes an important piece of heritage with the blue plaque, but without it, it is just another building in the landscape.


Heritage is fabricated all the time for the benefit of tourism within cities, such as Robin Hood and Nottingham. There is no history of Robin Hood, but the story is world famous and attracts visitors from all over the world to the city and Sherwood Forest to see where the fictional character lived. There are statues of him [fig 6], an annual Robin Hood Festival and the city council has even used the character as a symbol of the city.


Heritage can be transported for convenience and economic gain. Greenfield Village is a tourist attraction in Michigan, USA that as Diller and Scofidio describe is where “not only is time re-played but geography is re-placed.”x The village is made up of period buildings and structures that have been taken from different areas of America and transported to Greenfield to form a C19 village. Many of the buildings have historical significance, and a strange neighbourhood is created where Henry Ford’s birth house, the Wright brothers’ house, Thomas Edison’s laboratory and the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law are within walking distance. As Diller and Scofidio explain; ”correspondences between time and space – between histories and geographies become negotiable.” xi

“The substitution of originals with facsimiles presents no anxiety for the tourist so long as the expected narrative is sustained.”xii

A faster, more immediate method of creating heritage is to [re]create it, taking advantage of history or intangible heritage. An example of this recreation in the built environment is the Globe Theatre [fig 7], which became one of the key heritage attractions in London as soon as it was rebuilt in 1997. It is strongly linked to the intangible heritage of the work of William Shakespeare, which ensures its popularity. As no full set of plans existed for the original theatre, assumptions had to be made in the design and construction of the new theatre, but this has not affected the theatres success.
_Living History

Similar to the recreation of heritage, ‘living history’ aims to give the observer a sense of stepping back in time through historical activities, dress, tools and re-enactments in interactive presentations. Living history will often take place at historical locations, and many heritage attractions use it. It became popular in the UK in the 1980’s as part of the new industrial ‘heritage theme parks’ to improve and increase the range of attractions available. The ‘Plimouth Plantation’ at Plymouth Rock, USA, where the Pilgrims first settled is an extreme version of living history [fig 8]. The original village is recreated with staff impersonating the pilgrims performing daily routines and speaking in Elizabethan English. Authenticity is paramount, and even animals of the period were recreated through back-breeding.

One way that heritage has been exploited and undermined in the built environment, is in using it to criticise the current built environment and propose new developments imitating the style of past heritage buildings. This has stemmed from the obsession with heritage of the built environment and is championed by the New Urbanism movement in the USA and figures such as Prince Charles in the UK. It is the new urban quick fix that capitalizes on heritage. It is believed that using traditional forms of design will restore delight to the view of the world. Poundbury, a new town in Dorset, England uses these principles and is seen as the new urban solution to failing areas of cities.

An emerging area of heritage through the development of technology is virtual heritage. This relates to heritage that is represented within a technological domain. It focuses on the tangible aspects of heritage, using 3D modelling, graphics and animation to recreate historical buildings and areas. The first time it was used was as an exhibit in 1994 at Dudley Castle, providing a ‘walk-through’ of a 3D reconstruction of the castle and has been used more and more in museum and online exhibitions. Although a useful tool in recreating heritage, it lacks the intangible aspects of heritage that are arguably just as important as the tangible aspects.

All these examples of creating heritage have shown the ways in which economic success is and can be achieved, whether the original intentions were for economic gain or in the interest of heritage. The authenticity of many modern pieces of heritage is debatable and there are large criticisms of the heritage industry for the way in which it re-manages and re-creates history for financial gain and for as Diller and Scofidio describe the “ever evolving construction of our national narrative”. xiii The visitor is now the ‘heritage consumer’ and attractions are aimed at supplying their needs through the product of heritage. But it is just as hard to define authenticity as it is to define heritage itself and the majority of the time the benefits of this approach to heritage outweigh the drawbacks in terms of social and economic factors. These factors are very important in declining towns that look to tourism and heritage as a possible route to social and economic improvement. There are many towns in the Wirral that are in decline, but have the potential to recover from decline through heritage.

_Cryogenic Heritage

Cryogenic Heritage is a temporary heritage based solution for the landscape of Birkenhead Docks. Through a thorough process of visiting, rating, mapping, collecting and recording the heritage of the Wirral, it was chosen that Birkenhead Docks provided the most heritage potential and authentic heritage landscape due to its ‘untouched’ nature. The docks are in urgent need of redevelopment, but current local and national, social and economic conditions aren’t suitable for this to take place. What happens in the meantime? The empty and weathered nature of the docks has created a fascinating and unique landscape revealing layers of Birkenhead’s industrial and post-industrial history. The landscape acts as a monument to post-industrial Britain.

Cryogenic Heritage proposes to cryogenically freeze the landscape of Birkenhead Docks, preserving it in its current state as a post-industrial heritage tourist attraction. The landscape will be removed from its cryogenic state once social and economic conditions have improved and are appropriate for full redevelopment. The Birkenhead Post-Industrial Land Museum will create a new and unique heritage attraction to add to the existing tourist geography of the Wirral and Liverpool. 3 routes will be created as part of the museum based on experiencing the landscape, visiting a new series of events to take place in the derelict industrial warehouses on the site, and a direct route for the local community and for short visits. At the centre of the museum will be the museum building which will house the main exhibition space with a panoramic view of the landscape, with service facilities for the museum visitors as well as a new Birkenhead library and archive. The building is designed to be extremely flexible to serve the museum during cryogenesis, and serve the new developments and communities post-cryogenesis.

i Zavatta, S., ‘Preface’, Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R. [ed.], Back to the Front: Tourisms of War, [New York: Princeton Architectural Press:: 1994], p.10.

ii UNWTO World Tourism Barometer June 2008, <http://unwto.org/facts/eng/pdf/barometer/UNWTO_Barom09_2_en_excerpt.pdf> [accessed 14 December 2009].

iii Promoting Sustainable Tourism – Theme Report, <http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/pdf/145785.pdf> [accessed 14 December 2009].

iv Misiura, S., Heritage Marketing, [London: Elsevier: 2006], p.11.

v Cullen, J., Cultural Heritage, [London: Routledge: 2007], p. 94.

vi Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R., ‘Introduction’, Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R. [ed.], Back to the Front: Tourisms of War, [New York: Princeton Architectural Press:: 1994], p.25.

vii Howard, P., Heritage: Management, Interpretation, Identity, [London : Continuum: 2003], p. 37.

viii Virilio, P., Bunker Archaeology, [New York: Princeton Architectural Press: 1975] , pp. 13-14..

ix Harwood, E., England: A Guide to Post-War Listed Buildings, [London: B T Batsford: 2003], p. 11.

x Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R., ‘Suit Case Studies: The Production of a National Past’, Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R. [ed.], Back to the Front: Tourisms of War, [New York: Princeton Architectural Press:: 1994], p.36.

xi Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R., ‘Suit Case Studies: The Production of a National Past’, Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R. [ed.], Back to the Front: Tourisms of War, [New York: Princeton Architectural Press:: 1994], p.37.

xii Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R., ‘Suit Case Studies: The Production of a National Past’, Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R. [ed.], Back to the Front: Tourisms of War, [New York: Princeton Architectural Press:: 1994], p.40.

xiii Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R., ‘Introduction’, Diller, E. , & Scofidio, R. [ed.], Back to the Front: Tourisms of War, [New York: Princeton Architectural Press:: 1994], p.46.

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