Interview Mario Santana

Prof. Dr. Mario Santana Quintero (Canada)

Professor in Architectural Conservation and Sustainability Engineering, Carleton University, Ottawa

Which site do you associate your first World Heritage memories with?

World Heritage has been part of my life. I graduated from the Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas ( de la Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) as an architect. The UCV is an outstanding modern movement university city designed by the famous architect Carlos Raul Villanueva and a World Heritage property, my most dear memory is graduating under the Calder cloud at the Aula Magna. Furthermore, when I moved to study at the Raymond Lemaire International Center for Conservation in Belgium, I lived and raised my children at the Grand Beguinage of Leuven, part of the Flemish Beguinages ( and graduated from my Ph.D. there.

Early in my Ph.D. work, in 1997, I worked at the Al Baleed Archaeological site part of the Land of Frankincense ( where I learned to document historic sites under the guidance of Professor Michael Jansen from Aachen University. In conclusion, World Heritage has been part of my professional life and more esteem memories.

How did your professional journey in the heritage sector begin?

When I was a teenager, I went to Belgium as an exchange student for a year and back after my studies in Venezuela, I had the opportunity to visit the University of Leuven and walked over to the Castle of Arenberg, where the Raymond Lemaire International Center for Conservation is located and teaches master in the conservation of monuments and sites. The setting of the Castle is impressive and attracted me to study conservation for two years and followed by my Ph.D. The rest is history.

In your opinion, what are currently the biggest challenges in the heritage sector?

The biggest challenge is the general inequality between the conservation of our historic built environment and the pressures from development, climate change impact and the lack of support to this crucial issue. Furthermore, the heritage sector requires to reinvent itself and ensure that the conservation of historic places results from an inclusive process between the different stakeholders.

Which skills do you think will be important in the future for the heritage sector?

We need to reinforce the requirement of interdisciplinarity skills contribution for the decision making towards the protection of heritage, not only having experts in managing change of the historic fabric of the site, but also reflecting about other facets of heritage (e.g. intangible heritage), community engagement and the use of technologies.

Furthermore, training our emerging professionals in climate change adaptation and sustainability should be a priority in the following years to mitigate the effects of climate and social inequalities in our societies.

Which advice would you like to give to young heritage professionals?

Joint professionals’ organizations, such as the International Association of World Heritage Professionals and ICOMOS, enlarge your network and exposure. Volunteer to advance the field of heritage. We need a lot of help and engaged professionals to achieve everything that is required. Do not hesitate to try new experiences and embrace a new culture, do not judge others based on social media or TV news, go there and confront yourself with the inequalities of our societies, bend the envelope in work and be open for dialogue.

Mario Santana

Mario Santana