The Bartlett School of Architecture


Maria Luísa Silva Alpalhão



[Urban Nomads]: a catalyst for cross-cultural cohabitation in public spaces

First and second supervisors 


[Urban Nomads] is the study of how participatory architecture and art interventions can contribute to the social integration of migrant communities in Lisbon through the analysis on how they use and appropriate public spaces in the city in parallel with their home countries.

The thesis focuses on three immigrant communities (from China, Bangladesh and Cape-Verde) that co-live/work in Mouraria, a run-down historical neighbourhoud in Lisbon’s downtown where a high concentration of immigrants have become established over the past decades (Tavares, 2008). Lisbon’s ‘Babilónia’ (Domingues, 2008), a bustling and diverse area of the capital where different cultures confluence in a limited footprint, has also been chosen as the pioneering neighbourhood for urban regeneration as a strategy to remove the stigma linked with that neighbourhood.

[Urban Nomads] will investigate if these type of interventions (Architecture/ Art temporary operations), that result from a full understanding of the different cultural contexts, in opposition to imposed constructions; are built up through the collaboration between local people and designers/artists are more successful then government imposed policies that had no involvement of the end-user.

The role of art becomes closer to the one of architecture and, together, when layered by a social agenda, they can perform an essential role for the development of urban planning as, at the moment ‘(…) the planning processes are multi-layered, with community-led action still at the bottom – there is a perception that it will not be visionary.’ (Blundell Jones, Chiles, 2005).

[Urban Nomads], with its specific case study in Mouraria, should provide the key elements that will form a ready to use manual that can respond to different situations across urban contexts in other countries working as a mediator that informs reforms on urban policies. It shall represent a strategy with a positive impact on the development of cities.

Socially active and role players in the way urban fabrics are structured, these interventions are the opposite of the analytical approach to masterplanning as they start from a micro approach and slowly grow towards macro urban strategies.


Luísa Alpalhão (b.1984, Lisbon) is a Lisbon and London based architect & installation artist and founding member of the architecture, art & design collective atelier urban nomads. Her work focuses on creating informal, playful and participative projects that vary in scale, representation methods and format.

Linked by the way they investigate and analyse misused urban spaces so that through the process of reclaiming those derelict urban niches new socio-cultural links can be established between local people of all ages and backgrounds. These projects help developing new methods and techniques to engage the public/users in the design and construction of the public realm in a participative way so that social boundaries and separation lines between private and public spaces will fade.