After several years of intensive work by groups of experts, the nomination dossier Modernist Kaunas: Architecture of Optimism, 1919–1939 has been submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris for consideration by international advisory bodies and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, to have Kaunas Modernist architecture inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The evaluation process is expected to begin this year and may take up to a year and a half.
The nomination dossier includes a comparative analysis of similar sites on an international scale, the statement of the site’s authenticity and integrity, and the justification of the Outstanding Universal Value. In accordance with the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, Kaunas Modernist architecture meets the second criteria of exhibiting an important interchange of human values as well as the fourth criteria as an outstanding example of a certain type which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
‘Since 2015 I have been actively involved in the process regarding international recognition of Kaunas Modernist architecture, so I take great pleasure to hold in my hands today this well-grounded nomination file, which we can rightly consider to be a victory for the entire country. The process has taken several years, permitting us to take a fresh look at the unique Modernist architecture of Kaunas, to spotlight it as of especially significant value, and to encourage greater interest from society not just in Kaunas itself, but from all of Lithuania. The result reached through meticulous work would not have been possible without the leadership shown by the Kaunas City Municipality and the thorough dialogue between the local community and cultural organisations. I believe that these efforts will be rewarded with a favourable decision and Kaunas Modernist architecture will be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
However, I want to emphasise that the process of preparing the nomination file itself is of enormous value. The work that went into it and the programme of Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022, to begin less than a year from now, is an exceptional opportunity to anchor Kaunas Modernist architecture in a world context,’ said the Minister of Culture, Simonas Kairys.
Kaunas Modernism represents the unique coexistence of architecture inspired by 20th century artistic ideas with the local historical heritage and expands the concept of Modernist architecture, expressing the variety of Modernism. Kaunas Modernism encourages us to understand Modernist architecture as a political, social, and cultural phenomenon of the first half of the 20th century.
Kaunas interwar architecture was a flash of optimism in the dramatic history of the world in the first half of the 20th century, when state borders changed especially quickly. The transformation of the Temporary Capital bears witness to people’s faith in a self-determined future and their capacity to create amidst complicated political and economic conditions. Modernist Kaunas is a wonderful example of a historic city influenced by rapid urbanisation and modernisation. The sustainable course of development of Kaunas, integrating the historical heritage and the natural environment, has created a distinctive urban landscape and a modern architectural language reflecting the 20th century processes of modernisation of cities.
One of the strengths of the nomination file submitted to UNESCO is the decision to align the site’s territory and its protection zone with the boundaries of the territories and protection zones written into the Cultural Properties Register, i.e., not to provide for additional protection or expansion of existing territorial boundaries. The site’s territory consists of Naujamiestis and Žaliakalnis.
Seeking appropriate protection and management of the site’s Outstanding Universal Value, in cooperation with international experts, a draft Management Plan was prepared. It is a strategic document, integrating preservation of cultural heritage with the urbanistic vision of the Kaunas City General Plan. Implementation of the Management Plan relies on an Action Plan connected with the Kaunas City Strategic Plan and other municipal plans. The mechanism for operation of the Executive and Advisory Councils and the Site Manager is defined. It is expected that this Management Plan model will become a guide for other Lithuanian sites with UNESCO World Heritage status.
The nomination dossier Modernist Kaunas: Architecture of Optimism, 1919–1939 was prepared in cooperation between the Ministry of Culture, the Kaunas City Municipality, and the Secretariat of the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO. The nomination dossier was prepared by a group of experts, led from 2019 by Professor Marija Drėmaitė of the Faculty of History at Vilnius University.