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Conservation and Sustainability: Case study of the Sahrij & Sbaiyin Madrassa Complex

Abstract of paper to be presented by Bonnie Kaplan, Sahrij & Sbaiyin Madrassa Complex Restoration Project I Fez, at the conference "Fez, Morocco, Crossroads of Knowledge and Power: Celebrating 1,200 Years of Urban Life"

One of the most obvious threats to world heritage is the lack of capital for rehabilitation.  However, from a conservationist’s point of view, the more pertinent problem is how to physically and financially insure that a site will be maintained after restoration such that it never reverts back to its ruined state.  The answer lies in sustainable management practice.

Sustainability in building conservation is a twofold concept referring to the ability of a project team to:
1.    Preserve a site’s defining, historical character for the benefit of future generations as well as
2.    Define an appropriate economic activity, or sustainable reuse, that permits the monument to autonomously fund its long-term maintenance.
Once the immense financial burden of upkeep has been lifted, an owner is more likely to view his property as an asset worth maintaining, particularly if it generates positive returns. 

Funded by the Getty Foundation and the World Monuments Fund, the Sahrij & Sbaiyin Madrassa Restoration Project in Fez was developed in collaboration with ICOMOS Morocco (The International Council of Monuments and Sites).  The project’s objective was to develop a conservation plan, an internationally recognized planning document, proposing suitable technical measures to stabilize the structure and appropriate lucrative activities to guarantee the economic, and hence physical, survival of the Madrassa Complex.  Once ratified by the Moroccan authorities, the conservation plan will be sent to potential donors in pursuit of funding for the proposed measures. 

As project coordinator of the Madrassa project, and with the objective of defining a sustainable reuse for the site, I researched dozens of conservation projects worldwide and interviewed approximately 100 stakeholders in Morocco and abroad.  My paper will share this experience by first giving an overview of the principles of sustainable reuse and then specifically discussing the data collection and decision-making process that resulted in the sustainable reuse proposal for the Sahrij & Sbaiyin Madrassa Complex. 

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