Remnants of a Roman city wall inside the basement of One America Square, London

+ The Roman city wall of Londinium was preserved and given a new functional use inside the basement of One America Square, a commercial office in London completed in 1972.

I believe cultural heritage – the tangible and intangible legacy we inherit from previous generations – is an essential component of a successful society. Yet cultural heritage has so far been strangely absent from the sustainable development debate and from Arup projects. It’s time for this to change.

There’s no doubt that our heritage draws out our memories and imbibes a spirit of place, and that it inspires the communities and people to which it belongs. It can also give commercial added value to our clients. An example close to home is the European headquarters of Merrill Lynch. Here we preserved London’s Roman and medieval city wall within the building – creating access for the public linked to the Museum of London and also a dedicated venue for business events. 

It also forges links between differing cultures and traditions. In this way, cultural heritage can have a profound impact on our lives. Thus much attention has been given to celebrating assets and cultures lying along the Asian Silk Routes. Also very topical at the moment is the trans--Atlantic slavery initiative of UNESCO which preserves a complex and diverse heritage, the ‘cultural capital’ giving an impetus for re-forging long-lost linkages and stimulating international development. 

And our holidays to historic places provide a vital and sustainable source of income for local people. Cultural heritage tourism is worth billions of dollars. But also small sums in remote rural economies, in Africa, say, are vitally important for societal stability and resilience in times of imposed change. 

Organisations including UNESCO, UN HABITAT, World Bank, Asia Development Bank, European Investment Bank and international NGOs are now waking up to the situation. They are, finally, providing cultural and heritage policies, guidance, and skills and targeted resources. 

Over the past five years much work has gone into trying to embed cultural heritage in the revised Sustainable Development Goals that were set at the UN Summit just held in New York. Although this was not successful, there is still an urgent need to ensure it is part of all future development policies.

This is why Arup is supporting the drafting of a manifesto to mark the 50th anniversary of ICOMOS-UK, the UK’s national committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites. This aims to capture the new mood. 

Firstly, we want to broaden understanding of the role of cultural heritage in our social, cultural and economic wellbeing. 

Next, we wish to promote the need to make cultural heritage more resilient as it seems always under threat. Importantly we want to campaign for strategies, plans and development initiatives to be ‘cultural-heritage-proofed’ and for cultural heritage to be at the centre of decision-making about our society, communities and the environment. 

Lastly, we want to get cultural heritage addressed and implemented at the grass roots of society as well as with governments.

This manifesto is very timely for me because while I was writing this article, national presidents and members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling for the implementation of an integrated approach towards cultural heritage for Europe. 

It’s very encouraging too that Britain has committed to signing The Hague Convention, and its additional Second Protocol. Here the aim is to prevent formal armed conflict targeting our heritage for military advantage. 

We hope this will also reinforce the message that it is unacceptable to trade in illicit artefacts or to blow up monuments as a means of destroying society. In such situations using cultural heritage for disaster recovery development is now that much harder.