The Bartlett School of Architecture


Nicola Antaki

Nicola Antaki


A learning architecture: Active citizenship with Muktangan School and Mariamma Nagar community.

First and second supervisors


This research explores how design affects children’s experience and ability to learn, concentrate and play in the spatial realities of difficult urban environments such as the informal settlements of Mumbai. It investigates the spatial-axiological, social, political, and psychological conditions of learning focused on a constructivist educational approach. The research explores at varying scales where design can act generatively and interrogatively in and towards critical-pedagogical situations: How can architecture be considered a ‘third teacher’?

It is through the case study of Muktangan in Mumbai, a school that caters for urban poor communities, that this live practice-led research interrogates the architectural and spatial interplays between learning and pedagogy in simultaneously global and local, informal and formal, school and home community contexts.

Developing a collective process where children are included in becoming active citizens through design, the research engages with local cultures, economies and histories whilst examining how the architect can use development practice (Nabeel Hamdi) as a critical pedagogical tool (Paolo Freire). Developing a reciprocal ‘learning architecture’ while improving life-long learning, my research questions focus on challenging the current disconnect between practice and research in the area of pedagogy and architecture, and build on the work of contemporary experimental research strategists such as Stalker, Urbz and Atelier d’Architecture Autogeree.

This research aims to demonstrate the value of participatory affordable design through local craft for the making of a more democratic learning city, to influence communities, architects, pedagogy and policy-making. This research is a live practice-led co-design project; a collective initiative with Muktangan School children to observe, map, assess critically, and then transform through design and local craft their learning environments; the children become actors in the fabrication/transformation of their urban realm.

The practice intertwines a scholarly and reflective study of how design, pedagogy, urbanism and development practice interact, and an active practice-led participatory research methodology to engage the learning community in identifying and acting upon learning situations. Oscillating between design and writing, the research is structured in such a way that each active project, with a designed and realised output, is followed by a period of reflection and analysis.

The development of a series of experimental design sessions with Muktangan Lovegrove school over five years includes pupils in critically assessing their environment: They began with a focus on the school building and classroom, later then spreading into their home territory, informal settlement Mariamma Nagar.


Nicola Antaki has been working independently on a design-led research project in Mumbai since February 2011. The research looks at how architecture can be a third teacher and develops a critical pedagogical participatory design process that includes school children in the improvement of their environment. She started a PhD on the subject in 2012 between the Bartlett School of Architecture and the Development Planning Unit at UCL. Currently she works as an architect at We Made That.

She studied architecture at Oxford Brookes University, The Royal College of Art and UCL. After graduating from the RCA, she worked for a number of years at Cottrell and Vermeulen Architecture, where she designed sustainable schools and nurseries. She taught architecture at Nottingham University, co-running an undergraduate unit, and collaborates with urban farming initiative Fresh & Local based in Mumbai, that works to create places for communities to grow their own food organically and improve health and the urban realm through gardens in the city. She is co-founder and design director of biennial FOCUS Photography Festival Mumbai.