Mapping controversial memories in the historic urban landscape: a multidisciplinary study of Beijing, Mexico City and Rome

How is the plurality of urban cultural heritage perceived and how is it taken into account in the urban development in Beijing, Mexico and Rome?


Over the past decade, heritage management has become key to sustainable urban development. An increasing proportion of the world’s population lives in cities, yet few policies ensure strategic balance between urban development and conservation. Opportunities for innovative reuse of urban space also arise, however, leading to re-invention of its cultural meaning. In response, new approaches to heritage protection have emerged aimed at better integration with broader urban management policies. At the international level, this reflection culminated in the 2011 UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (RHUL). The RHUL is a normative and general instrument, open to interpretation, that depends upon the cultural context of its implementation. Little research exists on its feasibility, interpretation and effects.

This research project assesses the potential and limits of the emerging approach of ‘historic urban landscape’ (HUL) by analysing the socio-spatial effects of its implementation at the local level in Beijing, Mexico City and Rome. Specifically, it questions how fully this approach recognizes the plurality of memories – from official to subaltern – that underpin attachment to urban territories.

Combining methods from urban sociology, cultural anthropology and visual modeling, the research will map collective perceptions of space in order to identify different types of memorial territories in the three cities and the emerging controversies within and between them.

Focusing on the RHUL implementation at the local level, the project will contribute to the understanding of its specific cultural interpretations. The research will furthermore develop an innovative method enabling a comprehensive mapping of a city’s cultural and human resources and foster stakeholders’ participation.


  • Collective memories
  • Cultural heritage
  • Controversies
  • Historic urban landscape


  • Anthropology
  • Architecture
  • Cultural studies
  • Development
  • Ethnology
  • Geography
  • History
  • IT
  • Political science
  • Sociology
  • Urban planning


International Organisations:

  • UNESCO, Paris
  • Swiss commission of UNESCO, Bern
  • Organization of the World Heritage Cities, Québec

Non Governmental Organisations:

  • All NGO’s concerned on local level and selected neighborhoods such as Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center

States & Public Collectivites:

  • Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage

Relevant Countries

  • China
  • Italy
  • Mexico


This project, which started in 2014, has been completed.

Contact the project team

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Research team

Florence Graezer Bideau
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Jean-Christophe Loubier
Haute Ecole Spécialisée de Suisse Occidentale

Rafael Matos-Wasern
Haute Ecole Spécialisée de Suisse Occidentale

Yves Pedrazzini
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Lucia Bordone
Principal Member
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Lesslie Astrid Herrera Quiroz
Principal Member
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Michele Bonino
Associated Member
Politecnico di Torino

Claudia Conforti
Associated Member
Università degli studi di Roma Tor Vergata

Martha de Alba
Associated Member
Universidad Autònoma Metropolitana

Filippo de Pieri
Associated Member
Politecnico di Torino

Daniel Herniaux
Associated Member
Universidad Autonòma de Querétaro

Zhang Li
Associated Member
Tsinghua University

Viola Mordenti
Associated Member
ETICity (Exploring Territories Imagining the City) – Rome

Francesca Romana Stabile
Associated Member
Università degli studi Roma Tre

Alejandro Suarez Pareyon
Associated Member
Universidad Nacional Autònoma de México

Haiming Yan
Associated Member
Chinese Academy of Cultural Heritage – Beijing