© Christophe Simon/Picture alliance/AFP Creative

Vision for Reconstruction

Vision for Reconstruction

One of the principal tasks when planning culturally sensitive reconstruction is to agree on an overall vision and more specific objectives. Decisions have to be taken on how to rebuild and restore the urban heritage, on priorities, and on where to start with initial restoration measures.

A vision is commonly understood as a guiding principle that is formulated in a comprehensible way and accessible to a broad spectrum of stakeholders and actors. It is value-based, formulates a desired state, is qualitative, and functions as an initiator of voluntary change. It captures and communicates a direction of travel based on consensus, or seeks to bring about a consensus. A vision ultimately needs to be translated into operational objectives.

A desirable vision for the post-conflict recovery of urban heritage is neither a museum city, nor a wholesale modern redevelopment, but a living city that is able to conserve, adapt and re-interpret its traditional morphology. Necessary new construction should be seen as an opportunity to respond sensitively to contemporary needs.


The overriding goal of formulating a vision for reconstruction is to heal the wounds of armed conflict and civil war. The vision must seek is to re-establish a political, institutional and social environment that can maintain and revive as much as possible of the architectural heritage, while embracing renewal and transformation where appropriate.

Citizens must be able to bond again with their historic cultural assets, and consideration must be given to their other aspirations as well.

Who needs to be involved in formulating the vision and objectives?

A successful vision for post-conflict reconstruction depends on the existence of a broad consensus among the relevant stakeholders at both local and national level.

It has to be discussed and negotiated, not only with political decision-makers, professional planners and technical experts, civil society organisations and other representative bodies, but also with the affected citizens and businesses.

It is likewise essential to consider the interests of refugees and internally displaced persons who want to return to their former homes and places of livelihood.

In a post-conflict situation, the composition, interests and political stance of stakeholders can change as the initial restoration of safety and security makes way for a return to daily life and real peace. This challenging reality, and the institutional damages inflicted by the conflict will need to be adequately considered in planning initiatives for reconstruction.

Approaches and instruments

Pre-conflict commitments and plans

Collage © Franziska Laue

Pre-conflict commitments arising from international conventions on urban cultural heritage, especially the UNESCO World Heritage Convention of 1972, provide a strong reference for formulating a vision and objectives for reconstruction, with a clear obligation to recover or restore destroyed or damaged cultural heritage.

This holds particularly true for World Heritage Sites, which impose major obligations on both state parties and the relevant local stakeholders.

Such commitments and obligations can also be adopted, of course, for historic cities that do not enjoy special protection status.

Development plans, strategies and guidelines formulated for the rehabilitation and protection of historic city centres before the outbreak of a conflict can provide a good starting point for planning urban reconstruction and recovery. Such plans and documents will usually be available for protected World Heritage Sites and often for other historic cities as well.

Among the main references available when defining the objectives of reconstruction are:

  • previously established management plans complying with the UNESCO Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, and
  • state party reports on the state of conservation of sites that are especially important for urban heritage and included in the List of World Heritage in Danger.


© Franziska Laue

Developing and comparing scenarios and alternative options can prove useful when seeking to initiate an open discussion and public discourse on the vision and objectives for reconstruction. This approach can help to mobilise the support of the general public and civil society for protecting and recovering the urban heritage.

Scenarios can also provide orientation for decision making, both short-term and long-term, and for prioritising action and the allocation of resources.

Public debate and discourse

© Paul Hahn

Public debate is another pathway to reaching a consensus on the vision and objectives for recovering and restoring urban heritage and developing a common understanding of the reconstruction targets and methods.

A key challenge is to build trust and bring together the potentially diverging interests of stakeholders and actors in a post-conflict setting, where fighting may have ceased but the root causes of the conflict have not yet been addressed.

The media can facilitate and encourage public debate and discourse by fostering dialogue and communication between individuals and communities, and across generations and interest groups. Both conventional and modern media channels, in particular social media, can raise awareness and encourage active participation in bringing about a common vision for reconstruction and social reconciliation.

Public debate and discourse can take place in town hall meetings and similar forums, such as planning workshops, cultural events or conferences on specific professional or technical aspects.

Public debate and discourse can take place in form of townhall meetings or similar formats such as planning workshops, cultural events or conferences on specific professional or technical aspects.

Warsaw: reconstruction with a common vision

© Semashko/Picture alliance/dpa

In August 1944 the heart of the Polish capital was destroyed by the occupying German armed forces, which were already in retreat from the advancing Soviet Red Army. After the end of the war the joint will and effort of the Polish nation rebuilt the old city centre, of which 85% had been destroyed or lay in ruins. The joint vision was to restore the historic city as a prime representation of Polish culture.

The reconstruction of the historic centre was a coherent and consistently implemented project overseen by the Warsaw Reconstruction Office in the years 1945-1951. It utilised extant undamaged structures built between the 14th and 18th centuries, the late-medieval network of streets and squares, including the main market square, as well as the city walls.

Two guiding principles were followed: first, to use reliable archival documents where available, and second, to recreate the historic city’s late 18th-century appearance, which relied on the availability of detailed iconographic and documentary records dating from the period. Conservation inventories compiled either before 1939 or after 1944 were also used, along with the scientific knowledge and expertise of art historians, architects, and conservators.

This resurrection of an old city after its almost complete destruction provides an example of how recovery and restoration can be successful when based on a joint vision that is supported by politicians, planners and the population. In 1980, almost 30 years after the post-conflict reconstruction project, the historic centre of Warsaw was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of the joint effort of the Polish people.

Further Reference and Resources

Date: 27. September 2018 | Last modified: 24. May 2019

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