Vietnamese fishers wearing traditional conical hats go about their daily business along the country's Halong Bay waterfront.
Halong Bay is one of 67 international sites—12 of which are presented here—selected for the World Monuments Fund's (WMF) 2012 World Monuments Watch. The list, issued every two years, calls attention to cultural-heritage sites around the globe that are deemed at risk due to natural, social, political, and economic change.
In Halong Bay, unique floating fishing villages that date to the early 19th century are at risk from tourism development and changes in the fishing industry as well as from climate change issues that are affecting the ecology of the bay, said Erica Avrami, WMF's research and education director.
"For us, [Halong Bay] is emblematic of that inextricable link between people and places," Avrami said, "which is really what heritage is all about." (See readers' pictures of Vietnam.)
Elegantly detailed with fretted wood and intricate lacework, the homes have fallen into disrepair, despite government efforts to preserve them.
"The Gingerbread Houses really were a blend of European styles with vernacular traditions from Haiti," WMF's Avrami said. "It's uniquely Haitian."
Apart from their historical value, Haiti's Gingerbread Houses should be preserved in part because they might teach modern architects lessons about withstanding natural disasters, according to WMF.
"The houses suffered significant damage during the earthquake," Avrami said. "But it was found that they actually withstood the earthquake far better than the modern concrete-based architecture."
Photograph courtesy Martin Hammer, World Monuments Fund
Cour Royale de Tiébélé, Burkina Faso
A woman repaints an earthen building—part of the 3-acre (1.2-hectare) Cour Royale de Tiébélé—in Burkina Faso.
The Cour Royale, or "royal court," is the official residence of the community chief of the country's Kassena people. The structure's murals are maintained despite the death of the last chief in 2006—though that's not to say the court is in the clear, preservation wise, Avrami said.
"Without the chief in place, it means that a new stewardship model needs to evolve," she said. "You're looking at a living tradition with the potential to attract tourists, so you want to make sure there's a balance in preserving the site, so don't destroy the tradition and freeze it in time."
Photograph courtesy Barthélemy Kaboré, World Monuments Fund
Beth Haim Cemetery, the Netherlands
A sickle-wielding skeleton is one of the many unique iconographies in Beth Haim, a 17th-century Portuguese-Jewish cemetery in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, the Netherlands.
"In the process of selecting the sites for the Watch this round, there was a great deal of discussion about cemeteries, and particularly urban cemeteries, as these places have strong cultural significance but in many cases don't have the resources to be maintained," Avrami said.
A large part of the problem, she added, is that there is a growing disconnect between the cemeteries and their communities, since the sites can no longer accommodate new burials.
Photograph courtesy Leon Bok, World Monuments Fund
Rum Orphanage, Turkey
The all-wood Rum Orphanage, in the Princes' Islands in Turkey, is the largest timber building in Europe—and is in a heavy state of disrepair following more than half a century of neglect.
Originally built as a luxury hotel and casino in the early 20th century, the building was converted to an orphanage that housed as many as a thousand boys before being closed in 1964.
"For us, the [Rum Orphanage] was characteristic of these vast structures that are in need of adaptive reuse," Avrami said. "There may be other possible uses for this site, whether as a cultural or religious or community center."
"Because you have development happening around them and increased visitation, there's a need for integrated stewardship," Avrami said.
"The Peruvian government has a management plan for the site and is looking to implement it, and we felt this was a timely opportunity to bring attention to Nasca, so we could advance those efforts."
Photograph by Robert R. Clark, National Geographic
Tell Umm el-'Amr, Palestinian Territories
Archaeologists carefully excavate a mosaic pavement in an ancient Christian monastery known as Tell Umm el-'Amr, or the Saint Hilarion Monastery, in the Palestinian territories' Gaza City. Artifacts and structures at the site span four centuries and date back to the late Roman Empire.
"It's the only archaeological site that's open in Gaza," WMF's Avrami said.
"Part of our interest in this site was really being able to highlight the fact that, in this area that's so known for its political conflict, there's still shared heritage and still international goodwill to preserve these important resources within the community."
Photograph courtesy R. Elter, EBAF/World Monuments Fund
510 Fifth Avenue, New York
New York City's former Manufacturers Trust Company Building—now simply 510 Fifth Avenue—is a landmark of mid-20th-century modern architecture, according to WMF.
No longer used as a bank, the glass-and-aluminum building, which opened in 1954, is currently a source of contention in New York. The building's current owners want to alter its original interior features as part of a renovation.
"It's one of many important mid-20th-century buildings that are of the recent past and, as a result, are often not appreciated as heritage," Avrami said.
Photograph courtesy Theodore H. M. Prudon, World Monuments Fund
St. Paraskewa Church, Poland
Faded "polychromy" murals dating back to the 17th century can still be seen on the walls of the Eastern Catholic St. Paraskewa Church. The Ukrainian church dates back to the 16th century and was constructed from hewn logs laid horizontally, clad with wooden shingles, and capped with a pitched roof.
After World War II, the borders between Poland and Ukraine changed, and St. Paraskewa Church was closed and passed into the custody of the Polish state.
"For us, [St. Paraskewa] is really emblematic of the loss of community, and in particular the loss of religious community, at many important structures," the WMF's Avrami said.
"What kind of stewardship model can you put in place so people can still visit it and allow for some of its original relics to remain on site?"
Photograph courtesy Museum of the Nanyue Kingdom Palace/WMF
Oshki Monastery, Turkey
The ruins of the tenth-century Georgian monastery of Oshki have suffered heavily from prolonged neglect.
Nestled in a valley in northeastern Turkey, Oshki was one of the most important monastic Christian churches of its time. Before being abandoned centuries ago, the monastery was temporarily converted into a Islamic mosque after the region was absorbed by the Ottoman Empire.
Like Tell Umm el-'Amr in Gaza City, Oshki "represents for us this idea of shared heritage despite political conflicts," the WMF's Avrami said.
Photograph courtesy Kakha Khimshiashvili, World Monuments Fund
Southbank Centre, London
A British citizen strolls past a monolithic cement building in London, part of the Southbank Centre, which was built in the brutalist style popular in the mid-20th century. (See more London pictures.) Upon its completion in 1976, the center was deemed a visionary combination of performance spaces and an art gallery. Many Londoners now consider it an eyesore.
"The brutalist period was symbolic of a time when municipal governments were interested in building civic architecture and really making a statement with new designs that show social progressivism," Avrami said.
"Appreciation of that period in time hasn't been cultivated yet. We haven't gotten far enough from that moment in history to appreciate all that it meant."
Like many of the structures on the 2012 World Monuments Watch list, the U.K.'s brutalist buildings exemplify the idea of people and places being linked, Avrami added.
"What we try to do at WMF is reinforce that link and help make sure that people understand that the past is an important way in which we shape our future."