Leading international architects, urban planners and mayors will gather in Valencia, Spain's third largest city, July 2-4 for an International Conference on Architecture and Cities for the 21st Century, to explore the crucial issues affecting our cities, the people who build them and those who live in them.
These are issues of universal concern, especially as rapid urbanisation means that two-thirds of the world population will be living in cities by the next century, and as by the year 2030 the urban population in developing countries will be twice the size of the rural population.
The Conference, organised jointly by the Fundación Valencia Tercer Milenio, ADC New Millennium and UNESCO, is part of the Valencia-UNESCO Third Millennium Programme launched in 1997. Previous conferences have focused on the following themes: Challenges of the Third Millennium » (January 1997); Water Resources for the Third Millennium (December 1997); and Universal Charter on Human Responsibilities (January 1998).
Participants of the Valencia Conference have been invited to describe the multitudinous ways in which they have tackled architectural and urban problems, sharing the professional lessons they have learned as architects, urban planners or local authorities in the development of cities.
The Conference will open with the inauguration of the Valencia Congress Centre, designed by the British architect Sir Norman Foster and Partners. A striking new landmark on Spain's Mediterranean coast, it is a meeting facility whose design celebrates modernity, light and water.
Valencia, whose rich cultural heritage includes the Lonja de la Seda former silk market inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1996, demonstrates through this Conference on heritage and development its dual commitment to safeguarding its patrimony and to promoting contemporary creations for future generations.
Two main themes will inform the Valencia Conference. The first, the duality of avant-garde and heritage, poses a range of questions, including: Architecture and continuity - is adaptive reuse of historic buildings stifling new creations? How can new building technologies and architectural design contribute to environmental sustainability? Does cultural pluralism have any chance of survival against uniform style imposed by mass-produced building materials? The second theme focuses on the city's social environment. Some cities’ historic centres have been taken over by the elite, while the poor are pushed out to the suburbs; elsewhere the middle class monopolises the suburbs, abandoning inner cities to the underprivileged. Urban blight is spreading, raising such questions as: Can essential infrastructure and public equipment be built in harmony with our social and natural environment, to create a more convivial human environment?
These issues are of particular relevance to the 1972 World Heritage Convention which protects cultural and natural properties of "outstanding universal value". Nearly 150 of the 418 cultural properties on the World Heritage List are located in living historic cities, reminding UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre daily of the clash between heritage preservation and urban development. In recognition of the many pressures weighing on the world's expanding cities, UNESCO has set up the Management of Social Transformation programme (MOST), to contribute to better understanding and put social research findings to good use in policy and decision making.
A specific Conference web site has been created featuring live elements including interviews with key speakers, photographs and on-line reporting of the proceedings. Also included are six quick time virtual reality tours of Valencia locations such as the Lonja de la Seda and the new Congress Centre.