The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Dr Giovanna Astolfo

Dr Giovanna Astolfo

Senior Teaching Fellow

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
27th Oct 2014

Research summary

Since 2014, Giovanna combines research, teaching-based research, consultancy and project management on a variety of global projects in Latin America, West Africa and South East Asia, with a focus on informal urbanisms, continuous displacement and refuge, and housing rights. Current funded research includes a two-year project on “Refugee spaces”; a two-year project on “Sustainable cities in the Amazon (CASA)”; a one-year project on “Leveraging Heritage for Sustainable Urban development in Yangon”; and a comparative project on “Between the camp and the city”. Further research interests are related to the ethics of design, especially the social role of architects and the legacy of the community architecture movement that informs the pedagogical dimension of her taught programme.

Teaching summary

Giovanna’s teaching practice challenges the boundaries of mainstream and participatory urban design toward more socially just mode of space and knowledge production. Design is ultimately conceived as a form of urban inquiry, a way of seeing and representing the world critically. Hence, a hybrid and vulnerable discipline that moves away from technical self-assured solution-based instances towards embracing uncertainty, subjectivity, and people-centred, ethnographic and activist work. Six pedagogical dimensions (collective, active, embedded, reflexive, relational and trans-disciplinary) are employed in her urban education to address exclusion and inequality, and global disparities in the production of knowledge and space. Her pedagogical approach is immersed in the ethical and practical tradition of action learning and research-based teaching which has been advocated by the DPU. Modules combine theoretical inputs with Studio-based hands-on work focusing on selected case studies in the Global South. Students are connected with ongoing research in Latin America, South East Asia and Southern Europe.

Reflections upon teaching are included in the publications “A Six-fold Mandate For An Engaged Urban Design-Research Education” (2015), “Informal Urbanism, city building processes and design responsibility” (2016), “Rethinking urban borders with Agamben: dispositives and paradigms” (2018). The book “Bangkok. On Transformation and Urbanism” edited with Camillo Boano is the first volume of the Cities series that presents projects and reflections undertaken by staff and students from the Master’s programme BUDD between 2010 - 2015. Giovanna has also been curating the BUDDlabs between 2015-18. Her students’ projects have been invited to international exhibitions including the XX Biennal of Architecture and Urbanism of Chile (2017), and the London Festival of Architecture (2016). Students’ projects featured in several Urban Design journals.

For consecutive three years Giovanna has been granted the UCL Global Engagement funds to organise and implement teaching related activities in Yangon, Myanmar in preparation for the MSc BUDD fieldtrip, including training, seminars and workshops held at Yangon Technological University (2016-2018).



Giovanna's background is in architecture and urban design; she is senior teaching fellow and research associate at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Giovanna hold a PhD at School of Urbanism in Venice. Her PhD research focused on land and housing practices in border cities, which triggered a three-year collective design investigation for the radical re-appropriation of abandoned military land with a multi-stakeholder participatory process in different small and medium cities in Italy. Giovanna has worked as an architect in between studies, in architectural offices in Venice and São Paulo, on international projects and competitions for the re-appropriation of vacant buildings and marginal areas.