As Cuenca celebrates the 15th anniversary of the designation of its historic district as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, officials worry that there are not enough architects trained in historic restorations to handle increasing demand.
Gustavo Lloret, professor of architecture at the University of Cuenca, says that there are only about 10 architects currently working in the city who are capable of handling renovations of historic buildings. According to the official city inventory, there are more than 3,000 properties that have designated as historic.
“Many of the city’s historic houses are in need of some level of work,” says Lloret. “The interest in restoring these properties is growing and is in evidence by the number of houses that have been restored in recent years. The problem is that we do not have enough professionals trained to handle these projects. Architects trained in modern construction cannot do this work,” he said.
Nancy Quezada, director of the Department of Historical & Heritage Areas, agrees. “There are very specific needs involved for working with old structures,” she says. “An architect who does this work needs to be trained in historic building techniques and materials and must also have a grasp of the historical context.”
Both Quezeda and Lloret say the need is growing rapidly for architects to handle restoration projects. Currently, they say, 30 to 40 of projects are underway and many more are in the planning stages. Most of the projects, they say, are for hotels and residential apartments. They add that they expect to see even more demand due to the construction of the city’s light rail system that traverses the historic district. “Investors will realize the opportunity and will start buying property near the train route,” says Lloret.
Part of the increasing demand, Quezeda says, is from foreigners. “There are several residential projects in the center owned by foreigners. They understand the value of our heritage and have the resources to hire the professionals.”