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Blowing new life into world heritage    Apr 18, 2019

Blowing new life into world heritage
Apr 18, 2019


De heer Ahmed ABBAS


Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage is an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration, states UNESCO. Today on World Heritage Day we talk to PhD student Ahmed Abbas who claims that looking at heritage sites with an isolated view just isn’t enough and we should look at them with a broader perspective and focus on the surrounding buffer zones in order to truly protect them.


“A concentrated effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational and economic legacies – all the things that quite literally make us who we are” - Steve Berry.

For Ahmed Abbas - born in Iraq - this PhD is a personal quest to his own cultural identity as much as it is an academic research on architecture. Spending his early childhood in Erbil, in the shadow of the heritage site that has existed and been protected for over 6000 years, the Erbil Citadel holds an important place in his memories as well as his heart. Even after the troubles in his country progressed for the worse and he and his family were forced to flee their country and start a new life in the Netherlands, the Erbil Citadel was engraved in his mind and represented his country’s cultural identity and the life he left behind.


Setting foot in Europe for the very first time, the stark difference in architecture and infrastructure immediately mesmerised him. When two opposites clash, new and creative ideas immerse. This contrast between Islamic and western culture became an inspiration for him.

“I wanted to take this aesthetically appealing culture of comfort to my native country and unite Islamic and Western designs.” Creativity can shape the world and architecture is literally shaping society. It has a huge impact on the way we live, work and interact with one another.


In Ahmed’s Ph.D. the focus lies on the Erbil Citadel, a seriously endangered World Heritage Site, and the buffer zones surrounding it. “I want to make a contribution by defining and evaluating ways by which we can improve the protective function of buffer zones for the Erbil Citadel”, Ahmed explains. “When you look solely at the Heritage Site without taking into account these buffer zones, you are putting them in great danger as they will become more vulnerable and subject to decay.”


Heritage should be protected but also given new future functions, so that people re-use it and it becomes a central part of their every day lives. We shouldn’t limit ourselves to the historical building itself but should adapt instead. Making buffer zones interesting for the local community, blowing new life into it is the solution for the maintenance of a piece of heritage. “Through restoration and re-use this heritage will withstand the test of time and remain an important piece of the cultural identity of a nation”


His research hasn’t been easy. “Books and sources are very scarce. There was very little information and lots of mistakes in de sources that did exist. And when I tried to take pictures or gather data in the area, I was questioned by the police. All the material I had collected was taken from me and destroyed.”

Yet despite all of this, Ahmed’s determination is unwavering. “The impact of my research lies in the insights it will provide on how to handle buffer zones, which in the end will not only help us to protect the Erbil Citadel but also World Heritage Sites all over the world.”

Hopefully Ahmed will succeed in translating his ideas about adaptive reuse of traditional buildings in the buffer zones of Erbil Citadel into concrete plans. Because everyone, the local community and tourism, would benefit from adapting these zones to the 21st century lifestyle while still preserving its cultural identity and individuality.