Industrial heritage in Austria: Monument conservation, research and education

Nina Bartošová


Protection of industrial heritage is difficult even in the countries which have not undergone such a complex political-economic and social change with an impact on ownership status and historical continuity as we have witnessed in Slovakia. In the reappearing situations, when we are confronted with an inability of our society to safeguard the valuable examples of our industrial past, we tend to look for answers abroad, to the culturally more advanced countries which seem to achieved better results in the area. Although it is not reasonable to expect simple solutions, it could be valuable to learn about the background and the context of industrial heritage conservation in other countries. From the historical and geopolitical point to view, it is suitable to get interested in the solutions which were performed in the neighbouring countries with which we share part of the history, and which – regardless of the differences – can help us find solutions to specific problems.

This article aims to describe the situation in one of Slovakia’s direct neighbours – Austria. It focuses on several aspects: the history of monument conservation in connection to industrial heritage, the research of industrial heritage, legislation, promotion and education. Austria and Slovakia are compared in the last part of the study. The factual information in the study mainly draws from the published works of two Austrian experts on industrial archaeology: Manfred Wehdorn (1942) and Gerhard A. Stadler (1956), who are closely connected to the Institute of History of Art, Building Archaeology and Restoration at the Vienna University of Technology; other findings were collected during a research stay at the above mentioned institute (February – July 2014).

Presented findings show that although the situation of industrial heritage in Austria can be considered more favourable than in Slovakia, a simplified conclusion can be misleading, and not helpful in the task to find references for amendment of conservation initiatives. Very successful projects which we can find in Austria are rooted in the history of monument preservation which has been supported at an institutional level very early. However, historical development slowed down after World War II, and at the time, when countries such as Great Britain witnessed rising interest in industrial archaeology, the department for technical monuments in the Austrian Federal Monuments Office was facing a decline caused by the lack of competent staff. However, today we can draw many analogies between Austria and Slovakia – common theoretical background in monument conservation, similarities in the legislation on an institutional level – there are certain areas, e.g. education, where Austria can stand for an example.

Keywords: architecture, industrial heritage, research, Austria, education, cultural heritage, protection, historical sights