As an architectural historian and conservator, Prof. Niels Gutschow has made a remarkable contribution to the conservation, restoration and revival of historical buildings. In particular, he has developed conservation programmes for ancient and religious buildings in Nepal, India and Pakistan, involving not only conventional stylistic criteria but also detailed analysis and understanding of their religious rites, original construction methods and designs. On the basis of this he has established an interdisciplinary conservation theory and system. From there he has expanded his scope to include neglected religious sacred sites and buildings which are on the verge of collapse, thus greatly stimulating progress in conservation theories and techniques, and so influencing conservation practice across Asian and in Japan.
Prof. Gutschow was born in Hamburg in 1941. He spent time in Japan during 1962-63 as an apprentice carpenter, learning conservation techniques in situ at Inuyama Castle and Fudo-do in Koya-san Kongobuji, and so establishing the foundation on which he later built his expertise. In 1970, he graduated from the Architecture Department, Darmstadt University of Technology. He became a member of the first bilateral German-Nepalese conservation project team in 1971, and pioneered the preservation of urban beauty and the development of museum cities. In 1973, he received a Ph.D. in architecture from Darmstadt University of Technology: his research was on Japanese castle towns. He has been involved from the outset in the project to conserve ancient cities in the Kathmandu Valley, and has also continued the comparative study of architecture and cities.
His work in Nepal became a driving force for first German and then other Western specialists to begin empirical on-site examinations of Nepalese historical urban monuments, which encouraged them to communicate more widely with Asian colleagues, and led to research into, and the conservation of, these unique Asian timber-and-brick buildings. The Hindu/Buddhist monuments of three cities of Kathmandu Valley on which Prof. Gutschow had worked on - Bhaktapur, Kathmandu and Patan - were collectively designated as the first Asian UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
He has developed a conservation methodology through profound insight and knowledge gained from his own lifelong experience, and this methodology has evolved to cover an extensive interdisciplinary scope, focusing not only on architectural history but also reaching to the adjacent fields of religious studies and anthropology. His achievement is embodied in an important book, Benares (2006) in which he discusses, from architectural and anthropological points of view, the interaction between religious rituals and urban space in the sacred city of Indian Hinduism and Buddhism, Varanasi (Benares). Currently he is a professor of the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" at Heidelberg University, and pursues in an interdisciplinary framework, both theoretical investigations and case studies of interaction between architecture and urbanism.
Starting from learning Japanese carpentry skill firsthand, Prof. Niels Gutschow has developed a deep insight into historical architecture and urbanism in South Asia, and has raised the academic research pursuits of preserving and restoring buildings and cities to the higher level of philosophical activity. He has successfully led the way towards discovering a comprehensive value of architectural heritage. For such a remarkable contribution, he is worthy of the Arts and Culture Prize of the Fukuoka Prize.