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University City of Bogotá

Date of Submission: 27/09/2012
Criteria: (i)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delagation of Colombia to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Bogotá D. C.
Coordinates: N4 38 7.67 W74 4 58.00
Ref.: 5759

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The Ciudad Universitaria - University City of Bogotá is currently located in the central area of Colombia's capital, but by 1936 - when it was created - the land upon which it was erected corresponded on the western side of the small city, which had seen until then a linear development between north and south. For this reason, the appearance of the University City was an opportunity for urban expansion on the west, giving way to new roads and developments.

The construction on this site was the result of evaluating the costs of land and its relationship with the rest of the city, thereby allowing it to be located in a peripheral area not too distant from the administrative center.

Next to the University City, the city developed a road plan that sought its modernization, with the appearance of streets and avenues of great dimension which radically changed its image. As a result of this the El Dorado Avenue was traced, which would end at the modern building of the equally named El Dorado International Airport.

The general scheme of the University City is a result of various projects and proposals developed after 1936 by teacher Fritz Karsen, and architect Leopoldo Rother.

The general layout seeks to establish zoning of the University by departments within a physical structure that would remain throughout the development of the whole project, with an oval design defined by the vehicular route, which forms a central space and is also the center of the scheme, divided into four quadrants which are symmetrical by pairs. This structure is surmounted by a functional system with three specialized nuclei; the academic area, the service area and the sports area. The buildings were located in this urban order, arranged in an independent fashion and linked by pathways and roads. The oval outline defined two road rings, a major outer ring and an inner ring which allows access to the different departments.

Within the next 10 years the general scheme of the University City would be gradually changed with the appearance of the different buildings. In this process it is possible to establish different construction times, of which the first moment becomes very important as it originates the nickname La Ciudad Blanca, as all buildings were painted white, with a simple architecture, clear volumes, without any ornamentation and the elements necessary for the effective delivery of their function, giving the whole structure a rationalistic sense, result of the trends and aesthetic and architectural movements which had influenced the formation of their authors.

This architectural complex has had the following declared as National Cultural Heritage: Alfonso Lopez Stadium (1937. Architect: Leopoldo Rother), Faculty of Engineering (1940. Architect: Leopoldo Rother and Bruno Violi), Materials Testing Laboratory (1940. Architect: Leopoldo Rother), Faculty of Architecture (1940. Architects: Erich Lange and Ernst Blumenthal), School of Law (1938. Architect: Alberto Wills Ferro), houses for teachers (1939. Architect: Leopoldo Rother), Botanical Institute (1937. Architect: Eric Lange), 26th Street Entrance (1939. Architect: Leopoldo Rother), 45th Street Entrance (1939. Architect Leopoldo Rother), National Chemical Laboratory (1941. Architect: Leopoldo Rother) and the set of buildings of the School of Veterinary Medicine (1938. Architect: Erich Lange and Ernst Blumenthal).

The size of the terrain of the campus is approximately 120 hectares, and the overall look of the set is that of an owl. At present, and modifying the initial project, there appears a central square, on which the buildings of the Central Library and the León de Greiff Auditorium were built in the 70's, as well as the Deanship Building, destined to the career of nursing for 20 years.

On the western side, following the initial outline of the campus, are the powers and buildings of Agriculture, Medicine, and Veterinary Medicine, the building of the Human Sciences postgraduate courses (designed by architect Rogelio Salmona, one of the most important architects in the Latin American context), the former houses of Faculty Staff and student residences, occupied today by the academic activities of Philology, Sociology and Linguistics.

On the eastern side one can find the faculties of Engineering and Chemistry, with their divisions of Physics, Electronics, Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Pharmacy, Materials Testing, the Astronomical Observatory, and the buildings of Science and Technology and Biology. Additionally, one can find the former Architecture building, currently occupied by Fine Arts, the Conservatory of Music, the building currently occupied by the Faculty of Architecture, Economics, and the Inter-American Urban Development Service (SINDU – from its original Spanish Language initials - Servicio Interamericano de Desarrollo Urbano).

The north wing houses the sports area, which has been partially developed, with the construction of a part of the Institute of Physical Education and the Stadium, whose oval forms the western side of the head of the owl. This sector has never witnessed the execution of the pool nor the baseball diamond construction projects.

As part of the self-management policy for the administration of the University City, peripheral areas of the main complex have been left for sale or bailment with other entities or private investors. This resulted in the presence on the campus of a series of buildings which have been occupying these sectors, including the Agustin Codazzi Geographical Institute IGAC - from its original Spanish Language initials - Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi , IPARM School, the Colombian Institute for Technical Standards ICONTEC - from its original Spanish Language initials - Instituto Colombiano De Normas Técnicas - and the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining INGEOMINAS - from its original Spanish Language initials - Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería.

South of the University City buildings were constructed for the original Deanship, the gym and one of the buildings designed by Leopoldo Rother, considered one of the highest quality buildings within the complex, the press. The press has now changed to house the Leopoldo Rother Museum of Architecture. Finally, the end of the south side is occupied by a chapel. The changes which the campus has undergone causes the current complex to have a heterogeneous look, in keeping with the overall project and road layout initially conceived. The road layout’s rings continue to be a structuring element which organizes and gives cohesion to the complex.

Besides being an outstanding urban and architectural group within the Latin American context, the University City of Bogotá is an area of ​​great environmental value, as it is near the main green area of ​​the city, configured by the Simon Bolivar Metropolitan Park.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The University City of Bogotá is an urban, architectural and educational project, developed since 1936. Its appearance signified the concentration in one place of all of the divisions of the National University, which until then have been scattered in different places and buildings of the city.

For its design, the Colombian government held consultations and studies of the "Campuses" developed in different North American universities, in order to determine which model would be suitable. Being that the country had no experts or specialists who could advise the president requested the different diplomatic delegations to send professionals with the ability to take on this enterprise in its various fronts. Thus, a project that reflected the technical, architectural and conceptual popular avant - garde and movements in Europe began to take shape, only adjusted to meet the conditions and characteristics of Bogota.

Of the foreigners in the country, two Germans were decisive: the educator Fritz Karsen (former Dean of the Karl Marx School in Berlin and responsible for the formulation of the comprehensive academic structure) and the architect Leopoldo Rother. Karsen and Rother jointly developed an innovative educational framework that is integrated in the existing institutions, as well as an urban and architectural plan.

The University City of Bogotá was a pioneer project in Latin America, which not only incorporated the concept of Campus, but served as a laboratory of architecture and urbanism with the introduction of trends, styles and languages ​​that broke the hitherto existing paradigms, driving the emergence of modern architecture in this region of America.

As the first Latin American campus, it became a benchmark for other countries. It is worth noting the campus was visited in 1944 by Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva, on behalf of the Ministry of Public Works in his country, to make a critical study and prepare a report with the best recommendations for the new Caracas university project.

From this study, it was determined that, in order to provide the new project with greater homogeneity, planning and design should be left in the hands of a single architect, covering both the urban and the architectural issues. For this reason, Villanueva was appointed as the sole responsible and author of the Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, considered since 2000 a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site.

The whole of the University City of Bogotá consists of a large number of buildings that have been considered Cultural Heritage of the Nation, works of prominent architects who have made a special contribution to the history of architecture in Colombia and Latin America, including Leopoldo Rother, Eric Lange, Ernst Blumenthal, Bruno Violi, Fernando Martinez Sanabria, Guillermo Bermudez, Alberto Wills Ferro and, just recently, Rogelio Salmona.

Criterion (i): The University City represents the pinnacle of the development of educational architecture of the 30's in Colombia and Latin America, with the first occurrence in this region of the concept of "Campus" and the introduction of modern language and aesthetics in its buildings.

Criterion (iv): Its urban layout exhibits unique characteristics and served as a reference to other "Campuses" such as those of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the University City of Caracas, as well as educational projects in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru and Ecuador.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Both the layout and the buildings that gave birth to the University are kept in use and have been protected by Colombian legislation by Decree 1418 of August 13, 1996, as they were declared of National Cultural Interest, and they coexist with more recent buildings which together make an interesting display of the development of architecture in this part of the continent by renowned architects.

The University City is the largest and most strongly consolidated educational complex in the country, whose presence is guaranteed not only since its declaration but also from the sense of ownership by those who have worked or have been educated there.

Comparison with other similar properties

White City of Tel - Aviv

The criteria established for the declaration of this group were ii and iv.

Tel-Aviv was founded in 1909 and was developed, from the image of a metropolitan city in the days of British rule in Palestine. The so – called White City was built from the early 1930's until 1948, according to the layout designed by Sir Patrick Geddes, which was based on the principles of modern organic urbanism. The buildings were designed by architects trained in Europe, where they practiced their profession before immigrating to Israel. In a new cultural context, these architects made an exceptional set of buildings which is very representative of the modern architectural movement.

University City Campus of Caracas - Venezuela

The University City Campus, inspired by the University City of Bogotá, was appointed by UNESCO in accordance with criteria i and iv. The University City Campus was built between 1940 and 1960, under a project by architect Carlos Raul Villanueva. This project is an outstanding example of modern architecture. The campus includes a large number of constructions and buildings grouped in a functional and well structured complex, whose value is enhanced by architectural masterpieces and modern art as the Plaza Cubierta (Covered Square), the Olympic Stadium and the Great Hall, decked with the sculpture "The Clouds" by Alexander Calder.

University City Central Campus of the UNAM – Autonomous University, Mexico

In this case the declaration was made partially, without covering the whole campus; only the Deanship Building, Central Library, the so - called "Islands", the faculties of Philosophy and Arts, Law, Medicine, Economics, Architecture and Engineering, the University Museum of Sciences and Arts, Humanities Tower II, the Olympic Stadium and sports areas. The criteria considered for this declaration was the originality and richness of the campus and the murals of the Central Library to which outstanding universal value is attributed. The uniqueness of the University City Central Campus of the UNAM lies in its layout as an educational which has made modernity compatible with our pre-Hispanic past. This consideration was underpinned by the presence of works of artists and architects of great importance such as architects Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral and muralists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Chávez Morado, Juan O'Gorman, Francisco Eppens Helguera, Federico Silva, Mathias Goeritz, Guillermo Ceniceros, Mario Benito Messeguer and Omar Falcon. 

Except for the White City of Tel-Aviv, built in the early twentieth century and with a profile which stands distant from the educational profile of the university complexes of Caracas and Mexico, the exceptional value that the University City of Bogotá displays is that of having been the predecessor of the afore – mentioned urban and architectural models, as an pioneering exercise throughout Latin America which retains its most important features.