Defence Heritage 2014

2nd International Conference on Defences Sites: Heritage and Future


17 - 19 September 2014
Arsenale Di Venezia, Italy



The second international conference on Defence Heritage took place in Venice Arsenale, following the success of the first meeting held in Portsmouth in 2012.

The meeting was co-organised by the Wessex Institute of Technology and the Arsenale.  Its objective was to raise the knowledge of the scale, design and functions of defence sites.  It brings a better understanding of the issues raised by their redundancy and the implications of different disposal processes for the land.

As defence priorities and strategies change a large variety of defence buildings and sites are becoming redundant in different parts of the world.  The conference explores issues related to challenges offered by former defence sites focussing on innovative approaches to achieve sustainable new life in those often significantly important sites.

Understanding and respecting a defence site’s history and significance is essential to appreciate new use, but its potential may not be recognised.  Some sites, once dedicated to national security, are being transformed by artistic activity, via redistribution of whole sites, conversion of individual military buildings, and the construction of new galleries in former defence enclosures, temporary installations, festivals and arts events.  Remote sites may need new infrastructure in order to reconnect them with the civilian world, but for countries with economic pressures financing might be hard to find, as they may be overwhelmed by the sheer weight of their historic defence legacy.

The conference discussed presentations aimed to cover some of the most pressing problems facing defence heritage sites, reviewing and discussing experiences in different parts of the world.

The meeting was opened by Professor Carlos A Brebbia, who explained the importance of this conference for the Wessex Institute of Technology, the aim of which is to disseminate knowledge across the world.

Carlos described the main activities of WIT, including the industrial research and development work.  The Institute carries out advanced consultancy and software development for large energy and aerospace companies from all over the world.

WIT Press, the publishing arm of the Institute, continues to produce a large number of books, in addition to important interdisciplinary journals.  Their work is now reaching a wider audience as digital publishing becomes more prevalent.  This contributes to make the work of Wessex Institute and its activities even more significant.  The papers presented at this conference, for instance, are now permanently archived in the eLibrary of the Institute ( as Volume 143 of WIT Transactions on the Built Environment.

Carlos concluded by wishing the participants a successful meeting, hoping that they would be able to strengthen their links.  Networking is one of the most important aspects of WIT conferences, which are characterised by their friendliness, and exchange of experience and knowledge amongst the participants.

Grazia Storelli from the Comune of Venice welcomed the delegates to the Arsenale.  She is an Architect involved with the maintenance and renovation of the complex.

The City is keen to involve the Arsenale more in the city itself, which will open a new area to visitors and locals as well, by integrating it with the Venice community.  A development plan is now being completed for Venice, incorporating the Arsenale.

The Nuova Torre, where the conference took place, was very derelict before restoration.  It was originally built to store the ship masts, which were put on the ships when they left the basin.  It was basically a large open space, but lost its roof and internal timber structures.

Following this, Celia Clark welcomed the delegates, explaining the parallels with the Arsenale’s problems and its integration in the community which are similar to the situation in her own town of Portsmouth.  Because of this, is it important when studying different shipyards around the world to share experiences.

 Invited Presentations

There were a series of invited presentations to enhance the conference proceedings, ie

  • ‘The ecological footprint and the evolution of some Roman sites on the Danube River’, by Dan Constantinescu, Polytechnic University of Bucharest, Romania.
  • ‘Assessment of the masonry strength of the fortress in Terezin’, by Milan Holicky, Czech Technical University, Czech Republic.
  • ‘The history and legacy of the United States Naval Communication Station in Thurso, Scotland’, by James Gunn, Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, United Kingdom.
  • ‘The Master Plan of Fortifications as a management tool for the conservation and development of the defence heritage of Cádiz’, by Carlos Rubio-Bellido.
  • ‘Conservation of defence heritage structures using corrosion protection techniques’, Rene Brueckner, Mott MacDonald, United Kingdom.
  • ‘Make art not war: defence sites find new life as centres of creativity@, by Celia Clark, Wessex Institute of Technology, United Kingdom.
  • ‘Accessibility to the historic defence sites of Oman for people with mobility impairment: the cases of the Nakhal, Al Hazm and Khasab fortifications’, by Mohammed Al-Belushi, Sultan Qaboos University, Oman.
  • ‘The Pula Forts: opportunities and risks’, John Harris, Fortress Study Group, United Kingdom.

 Social Occasions

The participants had numerous occasions for interaction, not only during the formal sessions but in coffee and lunch breaks, which were also enjoyed in the Nuova Torre.  The tower, which has been very significantly restored, has a terrace at the top from where the whole of Venice and the neighbouring Italian mainland can be seen.  It was a popular place for the delegates to meet during the breaks.

The conference dinner took place in a restaurant renowned for preparing typical Venetian dishes.  The recipes were based on research carried out on the history of Venetian cuisine and wines.  They consisted of risotto and pasta with seafood and as a main course a selection of duck, fish or eel, all of these very much local dishes.  The wines were from the Veneto region, specially selected to accompany the dishes.  The delegates ended by having coffee on the Piazza San Marco, accompanied as well, to the sound of music.  The good food, drinks and the excellent weather helped to make this a memorable occasion.

 Closing of the Conference

The conference was closed by Carlos who referred to the importance of the meeting and the excellent level of interaction amongst the delegates.  The success of the meeting will lead to it being reconvened in 2016, at a time and location to be shortly announced.

 Conference Proceedings

 The proceedings of Defence Heritage 2014 – Defence Sites II, 432pp (Print ISBN: 978-1-84564-833-6; eISBN: 978-1-84564-834-3) are available from WIT Press. Orders can be placed on the WIT Press web site at or by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., telephone: +44 (0) 238 029 3223 or fax: +44 (0) 238 029 2853.

Papers from the conference will also be hosted online at the WIT eLibrary as Volume 143 of WIT Transactions on Built Environment (ISSN: 1746-4498, Digital ISSN 1743-3509). For more details visit the WIT eLibrary at

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 Arsenale Di Venezia Conference Photos