The Bartlett School of Architecture


Felipe A. Lanuza Rilling



Absence through layering: from experiencing urban leftovers to reimagining sites

First and second supervisors 


As built reality, architecture constitutes presence: a place created to have a present use and meaning. Absence, in contrast, reflects the condition of no longer used leftover spaces and structures that escape the definition of architecture and the city as designed and planned environments.

I investigate absence as it appears in the experience of urban leftovers, drawing its qualities into processes of design and representation. Using a cross-disciplinary approach centred in architecture, I ground my research on a series of distinctive sites, which feature different forms of absence. The layering of photographs, videos, drawings and writings is the method through which I explore absence, responding to its capacity of evoking distant, uncertain and multiple presences.

By studying an unrealised project by Peter Eisenman for the Cannaregio Ovest district in Venice and George Descombes’ Parc de Lancy near Geneva I focus on absence in the relation between site and design. In two further case studies, located in South London, I analyse and interpret absence in the context of broader processes of urban transformation: Burgess Park, intermittently built over the last 60 years on a partially effaced industrial setting that still bears traces of its former configuration; and the Heygate, a modernist council estate that remained almost empty for a decade, and was recently demolished to give way to a contentious regeneration project.

I reveal absence as key for a nuanced architectural understanding and representation of the experience of the city – not opposed to presence but in balance and complementarity to it. Through layering I show how the awareness of and engagement with absence enables a richer, denser and more inclusive dialogue between site and design, rendering absence as such: something that remains away from our grasp so it has to be recreated through memory and imagination.


Felipe is an architect trained at the University of Chile and obtained his Master in Architecture at the Catholic University of Chile. His teaching and his research interests are in the areas of architectural and urban design, history and theory. Through his investigations on the notion of absence in urban leftovers, he explores processes of design and representation as a way of prompting new understandings and alternative interventions in the built environment.

Felipe studies these subjects at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, where he pursues a PhD in Architectural Design. This research is funded by CONICYT (Becas Chile Programme). Felipe is co-founder of Devilat-Lanuza Architects and Senior Associate at Urban Transcripts.

Source of funding

Holder of a full-support scholarship (Beca Chile), given by his country for PhD studies in the UK.