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Alessandra Sprega

Research project

Understanding Local Risk Culture to build resilience: The case of the historic centres of York and Amatrice.

Supervised by Gill Chitty and co-supervised by Louise Cooke

Description of the research 

Natural hazards such as earthquakes and floods have had a great impact on the history of humankind, influencing our traditions and shaping our collective memory. The destruction caused by these calamities undermines the ‘sense of place’ of a community related to its cultural identity, values and meanings. Established approaches to Disaster Risk Management (DRM), characterised by a technocratic and hierarchical response to an external risk, have not been wholly effective for the restoration of community identity with its cultural heritage. In the recent decades, a new preferred paradigm has emerged introducing the concept of resilience defined as the intrinsic capacity of a system to quickly recover and adapt to external hazards.

However, the resilience of built heritage lies more broadly within community knowledge, awareness and perception of the risk in other words to its local culture. The continuity of a historical city is the result of a dynamic process of community adaptation to different environmental conditions manifested through material and architectural elements, as as well behavioural practices and knowledge. This poses question about how the resilience is built by the local community and how we can measure its impact on the historic environment.

My PhD aims to investigate ways to enhance and measure cultural heritage resilience by comparing two case studies, which consider the urban analysis of historic centres affected by flooding and earthquake namely York (UK) and Amatrice (Italy). Drawing on interviews, questionnaires and focus groups with local stakeholders the research develops an understanding of how the concept of resilience applies in areas affected by natural hazards.

Moreover, the use of the GIS software in a participatory way (PGIS) is used experimentally in the thesis to support social learning drawing on the existing knowledge and capacities of the community. The development of thematic maps, which integrate both objective (technical) and subjective layers (perceptions and views of the local community) of knowledge, is proving to be a way to engage and increase community awareness and to integrate local risk culture. It is possible to consult the resulting interactive map at the following links:

Mapping York Resilience (
Building Amatrice Resilience (




Alessandra received a BA and MA in Architecture and Restoration from the University of Roma Tre (Rome) in 2011. She participated in international research projects with the University of Roma Tre and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) into the seismic reinforcement of traditional earthen building.

She is a conservation architect qualified in Rome and ARB registered, she obtained her second Master’s degree in Conservation Studies at the University of York and she has been awarded the WRoCAH studentship to undertake a PhD in Conservation Studies by the Department of Archaeology at York.

Her PhD research is focus on assessing the resilience of the historic environment and the built heritage as a result of flooding specifically in York through digital methods.

She is working as a conservation architect and project architect alongside her PhD Studies. In addition to architecture she is skilled in traditional and photogrammetric survey of historic buildings.



2016- 2017 Teaching assistant - Buildings Survey and Applied Buildings Survey

2017- 2018 Teaching assistant - Buildings Survey and Applied Buildings Survey 

Conferences and Publications

Conferences and Publications

Speaker at the 19th ICOMOS General Assembly & Scienti c Symposium “Heritage and Democracy”. Delhi (INDIA)

Speaker at the ICOMOS Annual General Assembly and Advisory Committee “Post-disaster reconstruction”.  Istanbul (TURKEY)

Speaker at the Resilient York conference. York (UK)

Poster at Terra 2012, 11th International Conference on the Study and Conservation of Earthen Architecture Heritage. Lima (PERU)

Izalco. El Salvador. ‘Curso de restauración urbana’
Zampilli M., Sprega A. In Architecture of Earth Heritage and Sustainability in Seismic Regions. Tierra SIACOT San Salvador, El Salvador 24 and 28 November 2014.

‘Fichas para la reparación de viviendas de adobe’
Neumann J.V., Sprega A. Editor: Ministerio De Vivienda Construcción y Saneamiento Peru. Link at

Chapters in ‘El centro historico de Izalco’
Aguilar J., Canciani M., Zampilli M. Editor IILA (ROME) 

Contact details

Alessandra Sprega
Department of Archaeology
University of York
The King's Manor

Tel: (44) 1904 433931
Fax: (44) 1904 433902