Inventory and Assessment of Immovable Cultural Heritage

The concept of "authenticity" in cultural heritage and mechanism for its assessment, preservation, and management is a core issue of international conservation policy documents.

The Nara Document used by the 2008 Operational Guidelines for Implementation of the World Heritage Convention lists 14 criteria as sources to be examined to established authenticity. These criteria namely are form and design, material and substance, use and function, traditions and techniques, location and setting, spirit and feeling, and other internal and external factors. 10 of these 14 criteria relate to the physical and material values of the site. Thus it can be argued that our cultural heritage is evident in the physical manifestation of our buildings and that the demolition of significant buildings will erode our heritage.

The protection of heritage is primarily accorded to properties that have been acknowledge or designated as having "heritage value" through a system of listing and gazettal. Inventory is a prelude to facilitate the process of listing and gazettal and is as such a key component in heritage management as without knowledge of the existing building stock, heritage managers are unable to effectively plan and prioritize what needs to be conserved, repaired or maintained.

The recording of information in an inventory is critical in order to enable correct management decisions. Insufficient or incorrect data can be erroneously interpreted and lead to poor or incorrect assessment, resulting in the possible loss of integrity and authentic heritage values of the site.

The process of inventory is not limited to the physical recording of buildings. Rather it can be considered as an overall framework which includes an understanding of the purpose and the use of the inventory, availability of resources, methods of data collection and documentation, vocabulary and procedure, data management and archival as well as cost and time. It can therefore be construed not only as a written list of all objects but also as a process of recording and documenting as well as the execution of surveys on cultural heritage.

While data collection is crucial, the analysis of the information collected plays a decisive role in ascertaining what is to be protected. This paper discusses the requirement for inventory as stated in international conservation policy documents as well as the practise abroad for inventory and assessment. It offers a possible standard system for inventory and assessment for Peninsular Malaysia, which would facilitate and ensure that consistent and just evaluation, is implemented for the designation of sites and registration on the National Heritage Register.

Ms. Helena Amam Hashim
Department of Architecture Faculty of the Built Environment, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur