The Bartlett School of Architecture

Prof Sophia Psarra

Prof Sophia Psarra

Professor of Architecture and Spatial Design

The Bartlett School of Architecture

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st Jan 2011

Research summary

Before coming to UCL (2011) I held academic appointments in internationally distinguished universities. My research activities have resulted in publications, creative installations and design projects. Recently, I have co-organised the international seminar Rio@Rio at Columbia University GSAPP's Studio-X Rio in Rio de Janeiro in the context of the international studio trip in the SDAC MSc. My research work focuses on the relationship between space and form together with the social meanings they afford, the architectural and social theories associated with this subject, and the ways in which spatial characteristics interact with patterns of use, shaping spatial navigation and experience. This has been at the centre of my PhD studies and subsequent work culminating in the publication of two books (Routledge 2009, UCL Press 2018).

Another line of investigation is design research, and the formation of conceptual content through visual form and space, how architecture and the city carry cultural narratives, and how meanings bridge across architecture and symbolic media such as film and literature. I explore the conceptual structuring of buildings, plans, films and texts, and the sequential framework in which these works are experienced. The underlying idea is to situate architecture and cities within a theoretical, analytical and interdisciplinary inquiry.

My work also explores the ways in which layouts support vibrant spatial cultures, and how patterns of inhabitation relate to spatial relations. A special focus has been the relation among spatial layout, curatorial intent, exhibition design and the exploration patterns of visitors in cultural buildings, museums and galleries. This has been developed in the course of my collaboration with leading cultural institutions in the UK and the US. This research looks at the interaction between architecture and exhibition design, the formation of cultural messages through the ways in which objects are arranged in space, and the ways in which the layout and the display narratives affect the visitors’ experience. 

Another branch of my research explores the relationship between street networks, land use and economic activity in cities through historical research and analytic descriptions of spatial configuration particularly in relation to cities that experienced a rise and fall in pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial periods, such as Detroit in the US and Venice in Italy. 

I have disseminated my research to design practices, institutional bodies, organisations, design practices and I have lectured widely (The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, New York, The National Museum of American History - The Smithsonian Institution, The School of Architecture and Technology, University of Xi’an, China).  

Teaching summary

PhD Completions-selected

2018 K. Krenz. Network Centralities in Polycentric Urban Regions, UCL.

2017 A. Lazaridou. Three-dimentional Spatial Navigation in Real and Virtual Museums, UCL. 

2016 C. Capille. Spatial Configuration of the Unprogrammed Knowledge: Function and Use in Public Learning Environments, UCL. Shortlisted by RIBA Presidents Medals for Research, 2017. 

2017 P. Aycac. Musealisation in the Urban Context: Multiple Narrative of Sultanahmet Archaeological Park in Istanbul's Historic Peninsula, UCL (2nd supervisor). 

2009 I. Kaynar. Architecture Reshaping the Cultural Experience: Visual-Spatial Relations Influencing Visitors' Exploration, University of Michigan (co-advisor). 

PhD examiner-selected

2018 P. Miranda Garanza. Programme Matters: From Drawing to Code. KTH, Stokholm.

2014 K. Amygdalou, A Tale of Two Cities in Search of a New Identity: The Politics of Heritage and Modernisation in Early Twentieth Century Izmir and Thessaloniki, UCL.

2013 W. Ming, Negotiating a People's Space: A Historical, Spatial and Social Analysis of the People's Square of Shanghai from the Colonial to Mao to Post-Mao Era, University of Melbourne.

2011 K. Ioannidis, Designing the Edge: An Inquiry into the Psychospatial Meaning of Architecture in the Urban Waterfront, KTH, Stockholm.  

2011 Y. Lu, Targeted Visibility Analysis, Georgia Tech, USA


University College London
Doctorate, Doctor of Philosophy | 1997
University College London
Other higher degree, Master of Science (by research) | 1986
National Technical University of Athens
Other Postgraduate qualification (including professional), Diploma | 1985


Sophia Psarra (PhD) is Professor of Architecture and Spatial Design since January 2011 and Associate Editor of the Journal of Space Syntax. Before joining the Bartlett she was Associate Professor at the University of Michigan in the US (2005-2010) and Lecturer/SeniorLecturer in Cardiff University (1997/2004) where she led the MArch course and the BSc Year Three course. Her research interests are in the area of conceptual and perceptual spatial characteristics and their relationship with patterns of movement, use, spatial cognition and cultural content. She is PhD supervisor in the Ecological Brain Doctoral Training Centre at UCL, focusing on the relationship between layouts and spatial cognition. Her activities in these areas have resulted in publications, (The Venice Variations - Tracing the Architectural Imagination, UCL Press 2018 and  Architecture and Narrative –The Formation of Space and Cultural Meaning, Routledge 2009), creative installations and design projects. She has collaborated with leading cultural institutions on layout design, exhibition narratives and visitors’ experience (The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, New York, The Natural History Museum, London, The Burrell Collection, Glasgow, The Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove, Glasgow, The Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, and The Manchester City Art Gallery). As a practicing architect, Dr. Psarra was part of a team that won first prizes in international architectural competitions (EUROPAN). Her work has been exhibited in Venice Biennale, the George Pompidou Centre, NAI Rotterdam, London, Berlin, Milan and Athens in Europe. In 2007 she led an interdisciplinary studio collaborating with neuroscientists, artists, composers and poets and exploring the role of narrative, and memory in space, text, music and dance (‘Arts and the Brain’) in the context of the ‘Arts on Earth’ initiative, University of Michigan).