A Balance: How Architectural Tourism Can Be More Sustainable


A Balance: How Architectural Tourism Can Be More Sustainable

The world of travel is multiple. There are the daily trips that one makes for work or school, to get to a certain place during the week, generally within the limits of a city. There are also the longer trips, the trips that usually involve getting on a plane to visit a place a little further away from where the traveler usually resides. These trips are often made for business purposes, but for those who can afford it, these trips are undertaken for learning and leisure – where the traveler can be defined as a “tourist”.

Courtesy of CC Flickr user Erik Jackson© Dan Novac via Unsplash© City of Paris© Andreas Brücker via Unsplash+ 11

At first glance, tourism in its most basic form is a straightforward process. A traveler visits a country for at least one night, goes sightseeing, takes pictures and leaves. For tourist hot spots like Bangkok or Paris, that overnight traveler can be multiplied by a surplus of 19 million like travelers, all contributing to what is a key part of the country’s economy. While there are various reasons that make someone visit a certain place, there is one constant factor that has attracted tourists from the past and present – that of the architecture of a place.

Bangkok.  Image © Shutterstock / By Joe Z
Bangkok. Image © Shutterstock / By Joe Z
© City of Paris
© City of Paris

Dubai’s glitzy and ultramodern architecture attracts large numbers of tourists every year, as evidenced by projects such as SOM’s Burj Khalifa. On the other hand, places such as Venice in Italy and Stone Town in Zanzibar remain popular tourist spots as people flock to see examples of architectural works of historical significance. Cities like these reap the economic benefits of architectural tourism, but can also suffer from the negative side effects of tourism.


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Venice has long had problems with tourism. Romanesque architecture, Venetian Gothic architecture, and Renaissance architecture are just a fraction of the architectural styles that draw tourists to the Italian city. However, the current population of 51,000 continues to decline by 1,000 inhabitants per year, and the lack of affordable housing compounds this massive exodus of Venetian residents. With a large number of properties rented out to tourists and the conversion of local stores into souvenir shops, Venice can be seen as an example of how tourism can, in many ways, transform a city for the worse. A city can be ‘stuck’ in trying to contort itself with the demands of tourists, leaving it without the vibrancy that has made it such a captivating destination to visit in the first place – because the tourist takes priority over the resident.

© Shutterstock / by wjarek
© Shutterstock / by wjarek
Venice.  Image © Riccardo De Cal
Venice. Image © Riccardo De Cal

Sustainable architectural tourism, far from being simply the presence of attractive historic buildings, involves a healthy balance between the needs of residents and tourists, where the architecture of a city is more than pretty buildings and rather part of it. a healthy urban ecosystem.

It’s a similar problem with Stone Town in Zanzibar. With a vibrant and amalgamated mix of modern Omani, Indian, African and European building traditions, Stone Town is part of a city with a unique architectural heritage. However, large parts of the city are being privatized – and the architecture of Stone Town is deliberately left in the image of a tourist from the distant and distant past. Infrastructure problems abound in some buildings – immediately visible to the inhabitant but to the tourist perceived as part of the “identity” of the place. Places like Stone Town should be seen as dynamic, ever-changing urban sites, referencing their past while being firmly grounded in the present. A present that compels tourists to view the architecture of a “heritage” city as more than a simple assemblage of attractive facades, but rather as three-dimensional buildings that should simultaneously serve the needs of tourists and communities of Home.

© Wikimedia User Adam Jones licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 generic license.
© Wikimedia User Adam Jones licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 generic license.
Stone town.  Image © Slim Emcee via Unsplash
Stone town. Image © Slim Emcee via Unsplash

In the midst of a pandemic that has left us wondering how to travel in a sustainable manner, it is also of paramount importance to examine and question our expectations of what a place is when we travel. The Jamaican Kincaid Book A small place, where she examines the detrimental effects of tourism in Antigua, is timely and relevant reading for a multitude of global contexts. Sustainable tourism – in the context of architecture – is about seeing the places you visit as living, breathing societies, rather than just a picturesque backdrop.

Because every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is from somewhere. Jamaica Kincaid in A Small Place – Jamaica Kincaid in A small place

Hashim Sarkis, curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, asked the question “How are we going to live together?” One of the answers may lie in how cities and towns cultivate spaces to serve their people while enabling tourists and travelers to visit in a sustainable way. It’s a soft balance, yes, but one that is quite possible.



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