About the World Capital of Architecture

In 2017, the UIA adopted a resolution to formally request that UNESCO be associated with its initiative to designate the next UIA World Congress host city as the World Capital of Architecture.


UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone R., and UIA President Thomas Vonier signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Paris on 23 November 2018 to strengthen cooperation between the two organisations, which dates back to 1956.

The MOU included a 10-year plan of action covering the period 2017-2027 and including the designation to the 2020, 2023 and 2026 World Capitals of Architecture. 

The UIA holds the World Congress of Architects every three years, organised by a UIA Member Section in the city elected to host it. As a matter of custom, the UIA General Assembly elects the host city six years in advance. The UIA World Congress now ties directly with the UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture programme. The main World Congress theme and programme should be complementary to and compatible with the one-year programme of the World Capital of Architecture.

1st meeting of the Joint UNESCO-UIA Committee at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France – October 2019.

Selection process

  • After receiving the candidacies of the cities to host and organise the UIA World Congress and General Assembly, a Joint UNESCO-UIA Committee preselects a maximum of three cities, one of which will subsequently be designated as the World Capital of Architecture for a period of one year.
  • At its General Assembly, the UIA chooses a host city for the next World Congress and General Assembly from among these preselected cities. 
  • The Director-General of UNESCO formally announces the elected city as the World Capital of Architecture.

Impact on the designated city

The UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture label is recognised globally and is an acknowledgment that the city has always encouraged an approach to architectural production with values and efforts that are advocated by UNESCO and the UIA.

The city that is designated by the Director-General as the World Capital of Architecture has the obligation to propose a programme of activities for the year of celebrations, the ambition of which will be to create new synergies between culture and architecture, which is so important in this increasingly urbanised world, and also because cities today are hubs for ideas, culture, science, and social development in general.

This programme must be approved by the Joint UNESCO-UIA Committee, whose mandate is also to ensure that the year’s programme of celebrations responds to the reasons why the Director-General has designated the city. 

Furthermore, the World Capital of Architecture should provide a platform to mobilise local communities and especially the younger generations around this initiative and around the preservation of cultural heritage.

Benefits of this designation are numerous:

  • Over a period of 12 months, the city designated as the World Capital of Architecture becomes a global forum that promotes awareness of sustainable urban development advocated by the United Nations, through the 2030 Agenda, and more particularly its Goal no. 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
  •  The World Capital of Architecture also hosts activities and events to promote projects that will involve architects and urban planners, as well as professionals from other sectors (artists, writers, policy makers and social institutions).
  • The image of the city is enhanced and receives worldwide attention through the activities it organises on this important occasion.

Designated cities

The first city to receive this designation was Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) in January 2020. During the announcement, the city of Rio de Janeiro committed to hold a series of events with a particular focus on promoting SDG 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”

In July 2021, the City of Copenhagen was named UNESCO-UIA World Capital of Architecture for 2023. During the announcement, Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay noted that Copenhagen would build upon Rio’s achievements, by continuing to show the way in which architecture and culture can respond to the challenges of our time, especially in the environmental field.