The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Re-earthing Urban Design: Radical theory and practices

04 February 2022, 11:00 am–12:30 pm

Re-earthing Urban Design

Event Information

Open to





Laia Garcia


Virtual event

The impacts of climate change on cities and societies is an important part of current debates on urban issues. These impacts are inevitable, and if society as a whole does not act, the frequency and severity of the impacts will increase. While the commitment to action has a strong focus on technology and individual social behaviour, it disregards the fact that the current crisis is the result of colonial modes of production and modern living that have downplayed the importance of systemic modes of living eroding our relation with the earth and the environment. From most disciplines, design has been at the service of humanity’s exploitation of the environment. To shift the role of design it is imperative to first acknowledge and understand its own complicity with the current crisis and second, to recognize the multiplicity of others, human and not, with whom we share this space called earth. Re-earthing design requires disruptive innovations to break existing systems of thought and practice and engagement with existing knowledge and practices that offer alternatives for decolonial futures that foster radical interdependencies in the production of space.

Landscapes for Care: Exploring food systems in the city

Globalization led to a decoupling of production, locations and food practices creating a false idea of abundance, independent of climatic conditions, geography or natural cycles. However, not everyone has access to a healthy and complete diet, despite the seemingly unlimited availability of food.Moreover, food production is responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gases, causes depletion and contamination of soil and water resources, and a decline in biodiversity. Nevertheless, the relationships between cities and  food systems remain largely ignored. Therefore, this presentation will explore how urban design can contribute to building healthy relationships between food systems, the city and its inhabitants. The investigation used research by design, constructing a methodology to visualize the multiple dimensions and spatial implications of food systems in the city and exploring how food production areas and food places can be transformed into landscapes of care. 

By Claudia Rojas Bernal - PhD
Professor Universidad de la Costa, Colombia

On re-earthing tools and pedagogies

Indigenous peoples, neighbourhood organisations and activists in Latin America are already enacting relevant tools for re-earthing our practices. For urban designers to engage in such an agenda, the ‘urban’ and the ‘designer’ may need to become something else entirely. Rather than becoming problem-solvers and authors of ecological salvation, the emerging field of critical design studies argues for rethinking the role of expert designers as facilitators of collective design processes or collaborators supporting communal organisations. At the same time, principles on radical interdependence and indigenous cosmologies ask for acknowledging non-human beings as active agents in embodied co-creation processes. 

By Alejandro Torero Gamero
BUDD Alumnus, Lecturer at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú

Re-earthing the commons 

Connecting with the space across all senses is important, so I will discuss how we encourage those we work with to feel, smell, listen, look and taste. This is a way of grounding ourselves and others in the sites we create, which is at the core of re-earthing. At Global Generation, we value the idea of 'I, We and the Planet', earthing ourselves, our communities and our practice in our care for the city, the environment and the wider world.

I will discuss our future vision for a 'green river' across Euston and Somers Town; integrating place-making, health, education and environment in the context of a patchwork of green 'commons' and grassroots circular economy construction practice. These projects only work through the collaboration of local communities, children and young people, institutions, developers and local government. We believe that multi-level collaborative practice is a core value for Urban Design Otherwise and to show the possibilities of change.

By Martina Mina
BUDD Alumna, Community Build Manager at Global Generation

Speaker Bios

Claudia Lucía Rojas Bernal is a doctor in Architecture (KU Leuven, 2017). She holds a Master’s degree in Human Settlements (KU Leuven, 2012) and a bachelor’s degree in Architecture (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2004). Her research and design work has a strong focus on climate change adaptation, human settlements, landscape and urbanism. Claudia Rojas worked as Leader of the Master in Urban Design at the University of Sheffield and as a teacher of urban design studios at KU Leuven and at the HCMUARC Ho Chi Minh University of Architecture, Vietnam. Currently, she is affiliated to the Department of Architecture and Design at the Universidad de la Costa in Colombia. 

Alejandro Torero Gamero has experience in research, design, and planning in the fields of infrastructure, urbanisation and territory. He has worked for the public sector in Peru and is interested in collaborating with local organisations in transdisciplinary projects, critical design and participatory processes for the sustainability of life. An architect by Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and MSc in Building and Urban Design by Development at the University College London. Currently working as a Planning Analyst at the Peruvian Ministry of Housing, lecturer of Urbanism and Design at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and a researcher at CONURB-PUCP.

Martina Mina graduated from the Building and Urban Design and Development masters in 2019. Since then she has been working as the Community Build Manager for environmental education charity Global Generation, overseeing the participatory design and construction of the Story Garden in Kings Cross in collaboration with Jan Kattein Architects. In January 2022 she will be taking over as Joint Director of the charity, with a specific focus to her role on Site Developments and Partnerships.

Chair: Dr Natalia Villamizar Duarte / Laia Garcia

About the Urban Design Otherwise series

Urban Design Otherwise offers a space to think together how to enact and foster emancipatory  spatial practices. As designers and urban professionals we are faced with the mission of ‘creating and imagining new worlds’. This mission has to confront the historical juncture of COVID19, the climate crises, the upsurge of national regimes are adding pressure to long standing problems such as poverty, structural inequalities and violent colonial legacies. However, urban design has been complicit in the spatial reproduction of privilege.  Recalibrating urban design thinking and practice requires on one side, a critical examination of theories, methodologies, and pedagogies. On the other hand, it requires talking, debating, acknowledging our role in today’s outcomes and expanding and reimagining our discipline “beyond the dominant Western solutionist and anthropocentric model of thought” (Mareis, C. & Paim, P., 2021:12).  
Following the 2020 BUDD initiative “Urban Design Conversations” that focus on collective reflections with  alumni  about the agency of urban design to cope with the changing pace and emerging challenges during the initial strike of the pandemic. 

Find out more about the series here.