There may be debate in our industry on whether to preserve a landmark or to rebuild or redevelop it. For me personally, it's a gray area where some structures and sites are worth saving and some are not. But I'd have to applaud the World Monuments Fund on their preservation efforts through their biennial endangered-site list (the 2012 list was released just this month). While the organization was founded in the 1960's, it didn't launch the World Monuments Watch list until 1996, so the public was largely unaware of these culturally significant sites that were, in some cases quite literally, crumbling to the ground.
What particularly draws me to the organization is that oftentimes the endangered sites aren't limited to, say, the Saarinen masterpiece in a major metropolis or a Wright house in the Midwest. Rather, it might be a temple sinking into waters off of Southeast Asia, the ruins of an ancient Mesopotamian court, a district of historic houses in the U.S. hit by hurricane, or a once grand European cathedral that's now seeing its end of days. More often, the WMF has kept its eye on international sites that aren't in danger of being pushed out by a new shopping center or condominium, but by the elements, economic hardship, or even civil or governmental change. Moreover, to the WMF, it's not just about saving a site from decay or destruction–it's about restoring heritage and reconnecting people to place. Indeed, some of these places are the very fabric or identity of a culture.
If you're like me, you're no Bill Gates or Martha Stewart when it comes to funds. But, we can still do our part to help preserve these sites whether it's through getting the word out to increase public awareness, or making a small donation to the fund. (85 percent of the WMF's revenue goes to preservation projects, fieldwork, advocacy, and educational programs.) To view the 67 sites listed for 2012, a slideshow of the sites, or more information on the organization and donating, visit www.wmf.org.
Images, from top: Wangduechhoeling Palace in Bhutan; Cour Royale de Tiebele in Burkina Faso; painting the earthen walls of Cour Royale de Tiebele. Images courtesy of the World Monuments Fund.