Construction on Mexican campus halted over Unesco ‘violation’

Plans for 600 apartments on the National Autonomous University of Mexico campus breach world heritage site regulations

March 12, 2018
Mexico City
Source: iStock

Plans to build more than 600 apartments on the site of Mexico’s largest university have been suspended after a federal judge declared the construction a violation of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) world heritage site regulations.

For just under a century, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has occupied its own “University City” state in Mexico City, sitting largely outside government and police control. 

The area is noted for its historic architecture – which has been designed by a number of famous Mexican artists – and ecological reserve, and was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2007.

But with a booming population of more than 20 million people, space to build on in the capital is in increasingly high demand and permission was reportedly granted for the construction of three new tower blocks to begin in University City from January this year.

A series of protests were staged by students and local residents against the building work, and university president Enrique Graue Wiechers called the plans a topic of “very important concern for the university, not only because of the environmental impact, water exploitation and generation of traffic in the area, but because of the impact on visibility [and harmony] of humanity”.

A previous court hearing declared the construction work fit for purpose, but on 2 March, district judge Juan Carlos Guzman Rosas agreed that UNAM had an “international obligation” to protect the site.

Giving his verdict, he said that two of the towers – apartment blocks designed at 23 and 27 storeys high – must be suspended with immediate effect.

In addition to the potential threat to the environment, the judge noted that it was in UNAM’s interests to obey the guidelines set out by Unesco, to which University City’s protection from the state is intrinsically linked.

Real estate contractors Be Grand responded that they would “seek conversation” with university leaders on the matter. The group noted that some further construction work would have to take place in order to secure the site and mitigate any risk to students.

Investigations are ongoing as to whether the construction plans were fully authorised to begin with.

Be Grand have 10 days in which to challenge the building suspension before a collegiate circuit court, a process which could take months to resolve.

Meanwhile, the construction of 600 apartments – 250 of which have already been sold off-plan – will be cancelled.

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