“to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”– UNESCO, Selection criteria iv

The heritage in Macau demonstrates over 400 years of Portuguese and Chinese interchange, as well as some European presence in the style of architecture. The developers of casinos have purposefully constructed casinos with a historic-looking facade, these includes the Venetian casino, the replica of the Eiffel tower in Cotai with the Parisian casino etc.; while there is also the attempt to create a themed ‘historic’ park like the fisherman’s wharf in 2006. The act of blurring real and fake heritage becomes a method of bringing development and preservation together and seeking identity.

The facadism, meaning new façade imitating old building, versus façade retention, which is old façade with new structure behind, tries to keep the aesthetics and historical atmosphere of the overall urban context. (IFLA, 2016) According to Dimitrokali, Richards, architects who wrote about facadism, the results of such methods are often an alienated hybrid of generic architecture. (2010) The morphology, building’s density, integrity is lost. Orbasli, names this as “stage-sets of townscapes” and “Disney glorification of urban heritage”. (2008)

In the way of treating Macau heritage, before the Historic urban landscape approach by UNESCO in 20111, the government has been using façade retention for many cases. For example, the Senado Square was the legislative assembly before 1999 sovereignty change, now those buildings along the square are cuisines and shops. The square maintains as a cohesion of public, preserving its social function.

However, in the case of Venetian resort for example, the Square of St. Marcus in Venice is introduced but is used as carparking since the ‘square’ is only accessible by vehicles. The surrounding plots are rather empty therefore no pedestrian would travel from the neighboring area to this place. Even though each of the many entertainment spots is maximizing their thematic and visual impact, they are used in a completely different way which does not have any interchange or relation with each other. The designer also does not emphasized connection but rather treated their designs as a ‘small city’ within the plot.

The Fisherman’s wharf, which was built just after the inscription of historic city by UNESCO in 2005, is a waterfront theme park with classical monuments and façade of the old street of Macau. From the promotional webs of the project, it states that ‘the concept came from Europe and America’, while it uses the style of Tang dynasty, Greek, Arabic, Roman, Latin for its buildings. It is true that Macau has been using its capacity of high degree of hybridizing different cultures as an attraction. However, in the current state of integration, the different cultural symbols are simply put together.

As a result, the city becomes more diversified in terms of style of buildings, mixing those with real historical background with those fake heritage. Rui Leão regard this as the problem of “the lack of a concrete and consistent masterplanning scheme in Macau,which leads to a case-by-case analysis”. However the problem of identity can only be addressed through case-by-case as well as urban scale examination, like the HUL approach.

1 In 2011, UNESCO adopted a new recommendation which highlights the need for urban management strategies to be broadened to a landscape level(Historic urban landscape -HUL approach).
“It is an alternative method to cutting the city up through ‘zoning’ into separate conservation areas, which thereby become ghettos of historic preservation.”

1 Caballero Gabriel, Challenges of the Casino and Historic City of Macau: Preserving heritage amidst the creation of stage-set townscapes, March 2016
2 Dimitrokali, E; Hartungi, R. and Howe, J, Sustainable considerations for façade retention developments. Global Built Environment Review. February 2013, Vol. 8 Issue 2, Pp. 40-60.
3 Orbaşli, A. Architectural conservation.[ebook] Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 2009 ISBN 978-0632040254
4 Richards, J. Facadism.[e-book] London and New York: Routledge. 1994 ISBN 0-415-08316-8
5 Chung, Thomas and Tieben, Hendrik, Macau: Ten Years after the Handover, in: Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 38, 1, 7-17. 2009
6 Turner, M. Presentation made in the Opening Ceremony of the 10th Anniversary of the Historic Centre of Macao as World Heritage – International Academic Seminar on the Conservation of the Cultural Heritage and Book Launch, July 12, 2015, Macau SAR, China.
7 UNESCO, The Criteria for Selection,
8 UNESCO, New life for historic cities The historic urban landscape approach explained, 2013


  1. Macau being heavily influenced by the Portugese culture, bore many of her cultural characteristics in its architecture and still celebrating the style till nowadays. With regards to this special historical context, Macau is successful in creating impression of the ‘eastern Portugal’ with all of the well-preserved city artifacts and ‘eastern Las Vegas’ with the extensive scale of casinos and entertainment complexes around the world. However, recent new developments like the transformed Eiffel Tower raised controversies, questioning if the approach of Macau duplicating heritage without any cultural background is suitable for future development.

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