Kaunas Modernist Architecture Nomination Dossier Submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre


2021 01 22

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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, a statement on the site’s authenticity and integrity, and the justification for considering it to be of 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 of being ‘an example of a certain type illustrating a significant stage in human history’.

‘I have been actively involved in the process of getting international recognition of Kaunas Modernist architecture since 2015, so I take great pleasure in holding 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 put a spotlight on it as  having especially significant value, and to encourage greater interest not just in Kaunas but in all of Lithuania as well. The result reached through meticulous work would not have been possible without the leadership shown by the Kaunas City Municipality and the in-depth dialogue between the local community and cultural organisations. I believe that these efforts will be rewarded with a favourable decision to inscribe Kaunas Modernist architecture on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

However, I want to emphasise that the process of preparing the nomination file is in itself of enormous value. The work that went into it together with the programme Kaunas – European Capital of Culture 2022, to begin less than a year from now, provide an exceptional opportunity to anchor Kaunas Modernist architecture in a world context,’ said Simonas Kairys, Lithuania’s Minister of Culture.

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. Kaunas modernism encourages us to understand modernist architecture as a political, social, and cultural phenomenon in 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 Lithuania’s temporary capital bears witness to people's faith in a self-determined future and their capacity to be creative in complicated political and economic conditions. Modernist Kaunas is a wonderful example of a city influenced by rapid urbanisation and modernisation. The sustainable course of development of Kaunas, integrating its historical heritage and natural environment, has created a distinctive urban landscape and a modern architectural language reflecting the 20th century processes of the 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 the areas of Naujamiestis and Žaliakalnis.

A draft Management Plan was prepared in cooperation with international experts with the aim of obtaining appropriate protection and management of the site's Outstanding Universal Value. It is a strategic document, integrating the 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. 

The initial work to prepare the documentation necessary for the inscription of Kaunas Modernist  architecture on the UNESCO World Heritage List was begun in 2016.