The Significance of WTA for Europe

Dionys Van Gemert

WTA has a mission of encouragement of research and its practical application in the field of building maintenance and monuments preservation.  Since its foundation in 1977 it has developed steadily into an international platform with members from all over Europe.  WTA now stands for Wissenschaftlich-Technische Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Bauwerkserhaltung und Denkmalpflege, as well as for International Association for Science and Technology of Building Maintenance and Monuments Preservation, and Association Technique et Scientifique pour la Conservation et la Restauration des Bâtiments et des Monuments, and Wetenschappelijk-Technische Groep voor Aanbevelingen inzake Bouwrenovatie en Monumentenzorg. 

The international character of our WTA-association was decided in the General Assembly of Berlin in 1997, and confirmed in the General Assembly of Fulda in 1998.  The organisation of activities in and by regional branches of WTA was further stimulated.  Regional and national branches of WTA allow to take into consideration the cultural and language differences in dissemination and implementation of scientific and technical findings into conservation and restoration practice.  Five regional branches are already active within the frame of WTA: the Swiss branch WTA-CH; the Nederland-Vlaanderen Groep WTA-NL/VL; the Czech branch WTA-CZ; the German branch WTA-D.

The activity of WTA and of all its regional branches is based on free and voluntary collaboration of individuals.  The structure of this collaboration has been variable and different with time and place.  The original by-laws of WTA (Satzung) already provided the possibility for members of a certain region to set up a regional branch and to organise regional events like seminars or restoration site visits, and to translate and adapt WTA-Recommendations (WTA-Merkblätter) to regional conditions, all in agreement with the Executive Committee of WTA (WTA-Vorstand). 

The methodology adopted by WTA involves international collaboration and exchange in the work of the WTA-Divisions (Referate) and in the WTA-Technical Committees (Arbeitsgruppen).  At this moment the following divisions are active: physical fundamentals; surface technology; natural stone; brick and block masonry; concrete; timber; timber-framing. In these divisions and committees a scientific and practice oriented dialogue takes place, of which enhanced know how and if possible WTA-Recommendations emerge.  Conferences, seminars, expert discussions, proceedings, books and recommendations, and not the least the International Journal for Restoration of Buildings and Monuments are the tools that WTA uses to distribute its knowledge.  The question arises if this methodology of information transfer is the best one for the wide spectrum of members of WTA.  Sharing and transfer of information in WTA must happen between scientific researchers, dealing with fundamental and applied aspects of materials, theories and technologies,  and practitioners in the field, dealing with the building or monument itself.   Scientists as well as practitioners have a strong commitment to the construction under restoration, because of its high economical, emotional or cultural value.  The built environment is after all the sign of our culture and cultural heritage.  Advancement in material science, in techniques and technologies is based on research.  Materials sciences, building physics and structural analysis may seem difficult to practitioners in the field, but the same yields for techniques and technologies, organisational procedures, and execution methods applied so easily by practitioners but difficult to grasp by pure scientists.  However, all practical approaches must be based on scientific research.  This is very well reflected in the title of the WTA - International Colloquia in Esslingen: Materials Science and Restoration.

Membership of WTA is a matter of giving and taking.  WTA expects that all its members become active participants in all WTA events: seminars, workshops, conferences.  Moreover, WTA would hope that all its members contribute to the mission of WTA, being transfer of knowledge, through their active participation in Technical Committees (Arbeitsgruppen) and Divisions (Referate).  In that WTA adopts the following quality principle: The quality and relevance of all the WTA-products (Merkblätter, Schriftenreihe, Zeitschriftsbeiträge, Zertifikate...) must be so high that every member should be prepared to spend his /her time and money to their development.  Being invited to collaborate in WTA-activities is an honour, expressed by the world of building maintenance and monuments preservation.

The origin of the International Association for Science and Technology of Building Maintenance and Monuments Preservation WTA lied in München and Germany.  The first expansion of the association took place in the German speaking, central part of Europe.  The foreign members, active in the different divisions, are nearly all German language mastering individuals.  This might become the Achilles= heel of WTA: the number of such German language understanding and speaking individuals is decreasing in large parts of Europe, in northern Europe, western as well as southern Europe.  Amongst young scientists and engineers, they are very rare.  This limits the possibilities for contact and collaboration with the non German speaking parts of Europe.

However, also in other parts of Europe, initiatives have been taken and associations have been formed that are similar to WTA or that are to a large extent complementary to WTA-activities.  One of the most important is the non-governmental International Council on Monuments and Sites ICOMOS, which is more directed to architects, art historians, archeologists.  The Réunion Internationale des Laboratoires d'Essai des Matériaux is maybe more directed to scientists and researchers, but in its Technical Committees scientists as well as practitioners work jointly in establishing technical specifications.  The FIB International Concrete Federation limits itself in the field of conservation  to concrete maintenance, retrofitting and strengthening, but also brings together researchers and practitioners.  The European Federation of National Associations of Restoration Companies represents the producers of repair and restoration materials and the restoration contractors.  ICCROM International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property is a Unesco organisation, which has strong links to education.  ICPIC International Association for Polymers in Concrete promotes research and knowledge transfer in the field of concrete-polymer composites, of which repair materials are an important part.  In each country the restoration industry becomes so important that all national building research institutes deal with restoration research and are publishing technical specifications concerning restoration.  All these associations and institutes are executing pre-normative research: some of it is original, some of it is duplicating already existing work of other associations such as WTA, and a lot of work is running simultaneously, which might not be a problem if the associations and people involved would be aware of each others work.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.

During its 25 years of existence, WTA has made a great number of Technical Specifications, and restoration materials are being certified according to WTA standards.  The commercial value of this certification is based on the scientific value of the WTA-specifications.  This is a strength and virtue of WTA, and this virtue should be exploited by WTA in its future collaboration with other European associations.  The close collaboration of scientists and practitioners in WTA is favourable for a quick dissemination of new knowledge in the restoration practice.  How to collaborate with other European associations, and how to share the tasks for developing appropriate restoration materials and procedures must be negotiated, but WTA should take an initiative for such talks.  The intensifying unification of Europe, which is even accelerating with the introduction of the common currency euro, we must have the courage of questioning ourselves about the future value of the actual specifications, if we are not able to make agreements with all the other nations in the European Union, and if we are not able to set up specifications with validity all over the union territory.  The most direct way to achieve this goal will be to engage ourselves in CEN, the European Standardisation Committee and its Technical Committees.  Initiatives are already running there, but mainly in the field of concrete maintenance and restoration.  Some standards already have been approved by the European Commission, e.g. EN 1504 on products and systems for the protection and repair of concrete structures.  However, the work of the CEN Technical Committees must be enlarged to cover the broad field of building maintenance and monument preservation.  WTA must contact the European Standardisation Commission and present itself as a valid organiser of technical committees work on standardisation and certification of restoration materials. 

Many members of WTA-Technical Committees and WTA-Divisions have contacts with their colleagues on the international European and intercontinental level.  It will not be that difficult to engage these colleagues in European standardisation committee work.  In that way WTA experience will be transferred to Europe, but also European knowledge will flow back to WTA and its members.  In that way, the main goal of WTA will be fulfilled: increase of knowledge and transfer of knowledge to restoration practice.  In the next future WTA will go for Europe.


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