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CHrisis: Protecting Heritage in Crisis Situations

When, heavy flooding in July 2021 impacted more than 250 heritage sites, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), in close cooperation with the relevant regional organisations, has coordinated a cross-sectoral response. In follow-up, the Cultural Heritage in Crisis (CHrisis) project works on recovery actions as well as on improving risk preparedness and management for the affected sites.

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Anne-Catherine Olbrechts
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Enhancing Risk Preparedness and Response for Heritage

The CHrisis project works to assist cultural institutions and heritage owners affected by the 2021 floods. With the support of various studios and labs within KIK-IRPA a selection of objects and buildings affected by the floods are being treated and studied. The staff of KIK-IRPA is testing the cleaning and treating of damaged church textiles, ceramics, and metal objects, as well as studying the drying of various historic buildings. These efforts are undertaken in view of determining improved conservation and response protocols for these types of heritage.

CHrisis is also aiming to enhance risk preparedness and responsiveness of cultural institutions and heritage sites in the case of future disaster events. Together with the Preventive Conservation Unit affected cultural institutions area assisted with establishing and implementing a variety of preventive measures, ranging from improved storage and documentation to the development of risk management plans. The CHrisis project is also evaluating the crisis coordination for heritage that was undertaken by KIK-IRPA, together with a broad group of local and institutional partners, as a way to identify enhanced crisis coordination mechanisms.

Research into stain reduction methods and treatment of ceramics from the Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Céramique (Verviers)

Cups, saucers, plates and jugs mostly from the nineteenth century were among the 26 objects that were entrusted to KIK-IRPA for study and conservation after the July 2021 floods. They consist of a fine earthenware body covered with a transparent lead glaze which is often crazed. The crazing of the glaze or craquelure can be related to production or occur later, making it possible for flood waters and dirt to be drawn into the porous ceramic body causing unsightly staining underneath the glaze.

Treating stains on fine earthenware is a complex task not only due to the limited accessibility of the stain through the glaze cracks but also because stains are often a complex mixture of organic and inorganic material and ingrained surface deposits from use or handling, previous restorations, burial, storage and, in this case, related to flooding. Furthermore, a lack of research looking into any adverse effects that current treatment methods may have on such objects, contributes to the difficult decisions conservators are facing when determining the course of treatment.

Therefore, conservators-restorers from the Glass & Ceramics studio and the Polychromed Artefacts Lab (KIK-IRPA)are collaborating with the CReA Patrimoine centre (ULB) to conduct research to test the efficacy and innocuity of common treatment methods. Current treatment practice among conservators is established through literature research, a survey and consultation with experts within the field. Cleaning tests are carried out on tiles that are made based on the technical analysis of the objects from Verviers. The treatment is evaluated by looking into changes in colour, gloss, physical or chemical damage to the ceramic.

The results of this research project will not only contribute to the choice in cleaning method for the ceramics affected by the floods but also fine earthenware in general, as we aim to fill a knowledge gap about the effects of current treatment methods within the field.

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Preventive Conservation and CHrisis

Between July and November 2021, the unit was directly involved in leading the coordination of the crisis committee and emergency response for the flooded heritage. From 2022, the projects focused on supporting four main impacted sites managers with large collections: The Verviers museums, the Conservation and Study Center (CCE) for archeological collections in Wallonia, the advisory bodies for churches heritage and IKOB-contemporary art museum in Eupen.

From mid-2022, more specific research projects were developed:

  • RE-Met: study of flood impact on the condition of archeological metal objects considering former restorations. Partnership with AWaP (Walloon Heritage Agency)
  • RE-Store: method to adapt an impacted museum building into a long-term safe storage for Verviers Museums collections. Partnership with Verviers Museums.
  • RE-Mold: methods to deal with recurring mold after floods for churches.

The Unit also works with the Sustainability Unit on a training program for emergency management, with the textile workshop on flood impact on religious textiles, and with the Laboratory for Monuments on humidity management in impacted buildings.

CHrisis and the conservation of textiles from the affected areas

The KIK-IRPA’s Textile Conservation Studio is working on two different objectives under the CHrisis project.

Objective 1 consists out of cleaning tests for the conservation of liturgical textiles that have been exposed to floods. The goal is not only to enhance the durable preservation of the affected textile objects, but also to draft the basis of a protocol to support other textile conservators when confronted with these unique cleaning challenges and conundrums. In this way, our aim is to be able to sustainably support not only the entire affected textile heritage, but also its caretakers and the conservation community.

Objective 2 focuses on supporting the process of value- & significance assessment and the related historic research of the textile heritage found and preserved primarily in the churches of Wallonia. Creating a workable tool that can be applied by the caretakers of these collections, will be the most important goal of this research. This tool also aims to provide a support for the ‘collection-caretakers’ in related institutions in the preparation of their collections assessment and in drafting a priority list to be used for different outputs in the future. Related to this, the (art-)historical research and knowledge of these collections will be increasingly looked into and developed.

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Establishment of a global approach for the conservation-restoration of protected buildings impacted by the floods of July 2021 in Wallonia

This research project on listed buildings impacted by floods is articulated in 3 distinct and highly complementary parts that will allow the development of a global approach to choose the most appropriate conservation-restoration interventions and the means of prevention to be put in place, taking into account the specificities of each building.

The first part of the research consists of monitoring the moisture and salt content in the walls of eight buildings affected by the 2021 floods.

The second part will identify possible treatments or interventions to be carried out according to the salt and humidity levels observed, before proceeding with the restoration of the masonry.

The third part of the research will define the concrete means to be implemented to limit the impact of flooding in the future, whether in the form of resilient materials to be used during restoration, permanent development of the surroundings and/or removable devices to be installed in the event of a flood warning.


CHrisis is a project that followed the crisis response in the cultural sector during the flooding.

KIK-IRPA is grateful to all organizations that took part in the crisis committee and acknowledges the work they have done during and after the crisis.

  • The Belgian Blue Shield
  • ICOMOS BELGIUM (International Council on Monuments and Sites)
  • ICOMOS Wallonie (International Council on Monuments and Sites)
  • ICOM B/Wallonie-Bruxelles (International Council of Museums)
  • ICOM B/Flanders (International Council of Museums)
  • CIPAR (Centre Interdiocésain du Patrimoine et des Arts Religieux)
  • AAFB (Association des archivistes francophones)
  • CRMSF (Commission Royale des Monuments, Sites et Fouilles)
  • Association Royale des demeures historiques et jardins
  • FARO, Vlaams steunpunt voor cultureel erfgoed vzw
  • AWaP, Agence Wallone du Patrimoine
  • MSW (Musées et sociétés Wallonie)
  • FWB (Fédération Wallonie – Bruxelles)
  • Monumentenwacht Vlaanderen
  • Monumentenwacht provincie Limburg

KIK-IRPA is also grateful to all organizations they consult during the project.

  • ALIPH, International alliance for the protection of heritage in conflict areas
  • KBR (Royal Library of Belgium)
  • MUSEF Musée de Folklore
  • Brussels Museums
  • KMKG (Royal Museums of Art and History)
  • Service patrimoine du Ministère de la Communauté Germanophone
  • Urban Brussels
  • PARCUM, Expertisecentrum voor religieuze kunst en cultuur
  • NCCN National Crisis Center
  • King Baudoin Foundation
  • Interministerial Commission for Humanitarian Law
  • UCP Knowledge Network (Union Civil Protection Knowledge Network)
  • Departement Culture de la Fédération pour Verviers
  • Departement patrimoine mobilier Wallonie

The Grammont Breviary now available online

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