The state of conservation of the City of Quito was examined during the 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee (Quebec City, 2008). The decision highlighted the concern about the potential impact that the proposed reconstruction of the tower of Compañia de Jesús could have on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. It requested the State Party to make a clear and unequivocal commitment to cease the intervention and to suspend work on the rehabilitation project for the Palacio Legislativo y Centro Cívico until the mission could study the case. As requested, the State Party submitted a report 30 January 2009 responding to Decision 32 COM 7B.121.
In addition, a joint UNESCO/ ICOMOS reactive monitoring mission took place on March 2 to 4 2009 to assess the current state of conservation and management at the property.
The State Party has reported on the actions implemented in regard to this intervention in recent years, including comments and information exchanges between the cultural heritage authorities, the Municipality and other actors.
Today the Municipality of Quito is still the main management body for the property which includes the Commission for the Historic Centre and the technical subcommission (at the Municipal level), and works in coordination with the FONSAL (Fund for Safeguarding Cultural Heritage) and the INPC (National Institute for Cultural Heritage). The district of Quito, of which the inscribed property forms part of, has been divided into four areas: historical core, surrounding area, buffer zone and environmental protection area. All the areas are equally regulated; construction and renovation processes are given according to the specific classification of each building, which means that there are no special regulations for the area inscribed as World Heritage property.
The responsibilities of the Municipality of Quito regarding the historic centre of Quito include register and inventory; policy and planning for historical areas; interventions; management and control of construction and definition of land uses.
a) Reconstruction of the Compañía de Jesus Tower
The church of the Society of Jesus (La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús or La Compañía) was built in 1605, its dome was completed in 1689 and the tower in 1690. The tower collapsed due to the earthquakes of 1859 and 1868, and since 1929 the church has existed as it physically remains today. La Compañía is considered as one the of the most significant Jesuit buildings in the Americas, distinguished by its elaborate stone façade, the mudejar style coffered ceiling, the coverage of walls and buildings, the altarpieces and works of art inside the building.
Between 1992 and 2005 there were intensive restoration interventions at the Church before it was re-opened to the public. During the reactive monitoring mission, the results of the extensive interventions could be ascertained, including the structural reinforcement of the nave and lateral aisles, the restoration of the coffered ceilings, among others. It should be underscored that the project for the restoration of the architectural ensemble did not include the intervention of the tower.
The Society of Jesus has envisaged the intervention of the tower since 2005 when an agreement between the Society of Jesus and the Community of Madrid (Spain) for the intervention was signed. It is important to mention that the church of La Compañía and the cloister is catalogued as a monumental value property by both the INPC and the Municipality, which means that they have the highest level of heritage protection.
The case of the construction of the tower in the Jesuit church was discussed with the Foundation of the Society of Jesus, the Municipality of Quito, the Commission for Historic Areas and Heritage, ICOMOS Ecuador, the FONSAL and the INPC. During the mission’s site visit, the engineers and architects in charge of the project made presentations. As indicated by the head of the project, the tower will become a viewing point in the centre of the city. Tourists will be able to have a panoramic view of Quito at 46 metres. It has been calculated that 24 persons can go up in 20 minute timeslots (8 people at a time) and that each person can spend around 20 minutes at the top. Last year 140 000 people visited the Church. To make the viewing point possible, a panoramic elevator has already been installed in the lower part of the tower and can be used to go up to the roof of the church. It was explained that the elevator has an independent structure; nevertheless the mission noted that the original brick fabric of the tower has been modified to insert it. It seems that the elevator cannot be removed without producing major damage in the fabric. In the area around the elevator shaft, a metallic spiral staircase has been built. The mission considered that a further analysis should be made as to guarantee that the staircase meets the basic security measures for this kind and size of construction. The construction of the staircase has also contributed to modify the original fabric of the tower.
The National Institute of Cultural Heritage (INPC), mandated at the national level with the control and monitoring of interventions on Ecuadorian cultural heritage, has expressed its criteria and evaluations of the project, including the request to suspend the implementation of the project and to reconsider the intervention and oriented it to guarantee the structure and stability of the current remains, incorporating reversibility and contemporary criteria. In addition, the World Heritage Committee requested the State Party to stop the interventions (Decision 32 COM 7B.121). Notwithstanding, the Municipal Commission of Historic Areas of Quito approved the continuation of the intervention in July 2008, in contradiction to the request made by the INPC to definitely suspend the works. Between July 2008 and March 2009 the lift was installed inside the tower.
The project of the tower had been changed several times according to the concerns raised by the Commission and the technical subcommission of Historic Areas, responsible of the approval of the interventions for the historic centre of Quito (see reactive monitoring mission report). When in Quito, the mission attended the presentation of the last structural proposal for the tower which has not yet been officially approved by the Commission.
The mission also observed the following factors of the Compañia Church and the whole Jesuit ensemble:
- There is no integral general project for the complete ensemble. Proposals have been presented just individually and partially.
- The church’s tower was modified because during the recent construction process, the original thickness of the campanile’s walls was reduced to introduce an elevator, affecting the main structure of the building and the traditional constructive techniques and materials.
- Despite the modification inside in the original tower, it could be possible to maintain the elevator in order to preserve and protect the material characteristic and elements.
- Ancient engraving and pictures, considered the basis for the reconstruction, leave ample room for conjectures, as they are not clear enough to make an accurate statement nor can they be considered as comprehensive baseline documentation for the intervention.
The proposal to reconstruct the tower raises philosophical and intervention theory issues as it aims to promote the restitution of the architectural ensemble to a state that existed over 130 years ago, before the 1859 earthquake. Although towers of religious complexes were and continue to be landmarks of the skyline of the colonial cities in Latin America, any intervention needs to be reconsidered and balanced with the values of an exceptional building and in consideration to the integrity, authenticity and values of the property.
Current conservation theory and approaches to the intervention of historic buildings and ensembles do not foster this kind of intervention. In addition, the back and forth decision making process and revisiting the project over the last two years has generated doubts to the mission in terms of technical consistency mechanism. On several occasions an unsatisfactory proposal was approved and later stopped, for revision.
b) Rehabilitation project for the Palacio Legislativo and Civic Centre
The State Party reported that the proposal submitted to the Historic Areas Commission of the Municipality of Quito was deemed inappropriate because it did not meet conservation criteria for the historic centre and was consequently not approved. However, the report also notes that there are functional needs that need to be met at the Palacio Legislativo, including parking and storage areas, so a proposal is currently under review, which includes architectural and structural projects that do not affect the urban image of the area. As for the Civic Centre, the State Party report indicates that the project did not have enough support and has been dismissed by the Municipality.
The mission noted that the decision to halt the project was adequate given that it would allow for the preservation of one of the emblematic buildings of modern architecture of the City. It recommended that the drilled metallic façade be uninstalled to retain the original characteristics of the building. It also noted that the proposal for parking areas was controlled to guarantee the structural stability of the building.
The State Party also noted additional measures adopted for conservation, including the review of the Republic’s Constitution that entails new cultural rights, the creation of a national system of culture and the conservation of cultural heritage as a responsibility and duty of the State, covered by the mandate of the Ministry of Cultural and Natural Heritage Coordination and the respective Law for Cultural Heritage, currently under review. Increased funding has been allocated for cultural heritage conservation to the National Institute for Cultural Heritage (INPC), who is responsible for cultural World Heritage properties in Ecuador.
During the reactive monitoring mission, an extensive analysis of the municipal policies regarding the protected area was carried out, and missing information in the original nomination file was also identified. An extensive consultation process, site visits, and several meetings were held with the following institutions: The Ministry of External Relations, the Coordination Ministry for Natural and Cultural Heritage, the Fund for Safeguarding Cultural Heritage (Fondo de Salvamento del Patrimonio Cultural - FONSAL), the National Institute for Cultural Heritage (Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural - INPC), the Municipality of Quito, the Commission for the Historic Centre, the Foundation of the Society of Jesus, INNOVAR - the urban development company of the municipality-, and ICOMOS Ecuador. In addition, a meeting with the civil society (neighbours’ associations, business owners within the historic centre, and others) was also undertaken to gage the civil society’s vision and perception of UNESCO’s role in safeguarding World Heritage. The main assets as explained by the attendants are related to the relocation of street commerce into commercial centres, the housing improvement programmes, reconditioning of neighbourhoods and public spaces. The main concerns are related to prostitution, delinquency, mendacity and alcoholism in certain areas of the historic centre.
The mission found that, despite the excellent work carried out in the past years by the competent local authorities, especially the Fondo de Salvamento (FONSAL) and the Municipality of Quito, it is urgent to update the nomination file of Quito according to the current requisites of the implementation of the World Heritage Convention.
The property was inscribed in 1978 yet it lacks a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value, including justification of authenticity and integrity as well as proper cartography of the property. It is a matter of urgency to complete the information to guarantee proper policies in place concerning the OUV of the property in the light of future architectonic, archaeological or landscaping interventions. The mission also highlighted the need to regulate and precisely define the limits of the protected area, including the establishment of a buffer zone, according to the areas currently considered by the Municipality of Quito as core and buffer zones of the historic centre.
The Municipality of Quito has made significant improvements in the state of conservation of the property and is currently working on the improvement of the quality of housing, transportation and environmental policies, but it has not mentioned how these measures operate in favour of the integrated conservation of the World Heritage property.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS share concern about the distribution of competencies among institutions responsible for the City of Quito. The INPC delegated its responsibility for to the property the Municipality of Quito in 1984. The INPC currently has one representative in the Commission and one in the subcommission, with no capacity to veto. The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS consider it a matter of urgency to take advantage of the mandate of the Coordination Ministry for Natural and Cultural Heritage to identify the proper decision-making mechanism for interventions affecting the City of Quito at the technical and institutional levels.
The World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS consider that a holistic assessment of the Jesuit building needs to be urgently carried out by a multidisciplinary team, to understand its attributes and how individually and, as part of the ensemble as a whole, they contribute to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. This analysis needs to be the driving force behind decision making for future interventions and should be documented and developed as part of the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the property.