The inclusion of Kaunas modernist architecture (Modern Kaunas: The Architecture of Optimism, 1919–1939) on the World Heritage List, approved by the members of the World Heritage Committee, was announced at the 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia). The group of experts who drafted the application was led by Marija Drėmaitė, a professor at the Faculty of History of Vilnius University (VU).
“This is the culmination of a great effort from scholars and diplomats who have been drafting the nomination for three years. We have managed to get approval from the member states on the UNESCO Committee, which means that our reasoning convinced the experts. Kaunas has an exceptional overall value; it is important in the context of the world’s cultural heritage as an example of local modernism. From now on, this architecture will be considered a characteristic example of the modernisation of the whole of Eastern and Central Europe. If you want to discover what happened in the countries that emerged from the grip of empires between the two world wars, come to Kaunas. The entire optimistic idea of the capitals of newly independent countries is concentrated there,” Prof. M. Drėmaitė comments on the success.
The application, which was approved on Monday, introduces the phenomenon of the creation of Kaunas, the temporary capital of Lithuania from 1919 to 1939. It emphasises that Kaunas is an exceptional example of a modern city characterised by rapid urbanisation and modernisation, distinguishing itself with different expressions of values and achievements related to an optimistic belief in an independent future. It is suggested that the architecture of Kaunas represents the multifaceted nature of modernism and reveals the optimistic mindset of a newly emerging modern country and the ambitious expectations of building a new capital, intertwined with the traditions of the city and the country.
The members of the Committee have assessed Kaunas Modernism as a huge discovery of value in the context of the world heritage of modernism. The detailed nomination revealed and demonstrated the exceptional qualities of Kaunas Modernism and introduced a conceptual narrative of the architecture of optimism. This positive outcome is an example of successful cooperation between Lithuanian institutions and experts in drafting, presenting, and defending the application.
“These applications are subject to very high requirements. Our nomination consisted of almost 400 pages. A large team worked on it. I am delighted that the book I edited and the outcome of the work of seven more authors of Architecture of Optimism: The Kaunas Phenomenon 1918–1940 constituted the basis for this nomination. Thus, the nomination itself was based on a large scholarly and academic research,” shares Prof. M. Drėmaitė, the chairperson of the Heritage Research Studies study programme of the Faculty of History of VU.
Prof. M. Drėmaitė, a professor at the Faculty of History of VU, has led the group of experts in the 2019–2021 nomination Modern Kaunas: the Architecture of Optimism, 1919-1939. The group drafted the application for the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and, as part of the Lithuanian delegation, introduced the nomination at the session of the UNESCO’S World Heritage Committee in Riyadh.
When analysing what practical changes this will bring to Kaunas, the historian of architecture reveals that the expansion of tourism is one of the most important economic factors: “Many countries compete and seek to be included on this list with the aim of promoting cultural tourism. The way to also receive indirect funds has been opened up – through the organisation of conferences, restoration, and conservation. We are right to expect not only cultural but also economic benefits.”