Clemson scientists seek to partner with Cubans to conserve, preserve cultural heritage


A street in Trinidad, Cuba.


Photos courtesy of Clemson University

Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba.


Photos courtesy of Clemson University

A tower at San Isidor de los Destiladeros.


Photos courtesy of Clemson University

CHARLESTON — A new era of communication and collaboration between the United States and Cuba is under way, and researchers at Clemson University are in the first wave.

A group of Clemson scientists at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center and faculty at the Clemson University/College of Charleston Graduate Program in Historic Preservation made a trip to Havana to discuss a possible partnership between the South Carolina university and our island neighbor.

“The timing is just right for this to happen,” said Carter Hudgins, director of the graduate program in historic preservation.

During the trip, the key players for Clemson met with Cuban experts, public officials and university faculty. They explored the long-term effects of the U.S. trade embargo on the island’s historic architecture and opportunities to engage Clemson faculty and students in new research initiatives.

And now, as trade and travel restrictions are continuing to ease between the two nations — as evidenced by President Obama’s trip there — and as foreign investors are already surging onto the island, Cuban authorities understand the challenges that new development pose for the island’s cultural heritage.

Stéphanie Cretté, director of the Warren Lasch Conservation Center, said Cuban opinion leaders consistently stated that they “want new buildings to be built around Cuba’s cultural heritage, not on top of it.”

Clemson faculty are laying plans to return to Cuba later this year to work with local educators, planners, architects and archaeologists to study and launch a pilot project in the Valle de los Ingenios. Fifty-seven sugar mills in this historic valley linked historically to Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage city founded in 1514 and located on the island’s Caribbean coast, produced much of the island’s sugar from the late 17th to the late 19th centuries.

Using the university’s expertise in architectural documentation, preservation and conservation and its capabilities in 3D laser scanning and photogrammetry, Clemson scientists will identify conservation issues that face Trinidad and provide data heritage stakeholders can use to conserve and interpret this aspect of Cuba’s architectural history.

More specifically, Clemson research will be focused on themes identified by the International Council on Monuments and Sites Cuban National Committee in its Heritage-at-Risk Report, published in 2000. In that report, four categories of at-risk buildings were identified: Agro-Industrial Heritage, Wooden Architecture, Urban Industrial Heritage and 20th Century Legacy. Initial research will focus on the smaller rural city of Trinidad.

“As a university, our job isn’t just to educate young people,” said Brent Fortenberry, research scientist at the Lasch center. “We are active participants in the international exchange of information. Projects like this one at Trinidad study the past and provide access and resources that expand our ability to protect the cultural heritage, and that means everybody benefits.”

Hudgins echoed his sentiments, adding, “Partnering with our Cuban counterparts will help us understand South Carolina’s broader connections to the Caribbean… that’s something that nobody else has done. And we’re thrilled and honored to help that happen.”

A street in Trinidad, Cuba.
http://pickenssentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_cucubanculture01.jpgA street in Trinidad, Cuba. Photos courtesy of Clemson University

Plaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba.
http://pickenssentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_cucubanculture02.jpgPlaza Mayor in Trinidad, Cuba. Photos courtesy of Clemson University

A tower at San Isidor de los Destiladeros.
http://pickenssentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/web1_cucubanculture03.jpgA tower at San Isidor de los Destiladeros. Photos courtesy of Clemson University

This story courtesy of Clemson University

This story courtesy of Clemson University

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