The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Dr Catalina Ortiz

Dr Catalina Ortiz

Associate Professor

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
1st Apr 2015

Research summary

I consider recalibrating knowledge production from the Global South is the main challenge of contemporary urbanism. That is why, my quest on understanding the territorial and relational nature of urban spaces serves as the intellectual platform to guide my research and teaching.  My areas of intellectual inquiry seek to understand the territorial and relational nature of urban spaces and the political economy of urban design. I am interested in disentangling the ways in which the transnational flows of urban models, ideas, and tools shape the built environment and the political process of space production in global south cities. 

My dissertation, entitled “Bargaining space: deal-making strategies for large-scale renewal projects in Colombian cities”, was awarded a honourable mention at the International Award for Dissertations on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development given by the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and INFONAVIT. In this research I explored the negotiation for unlocking land values in prime real state locations through the lenses of what I termed ‘critical spatial planning’ as a critique of a-spatial orthodox planning theory.  While in my dissertation I followed the travel and historic trajectory of specific planning tools, in my current research: “Circulating Urban models: genealogies and trajectories of urban policies in Latin American cities” I analyze the geographies of emulation and the circulatory power of some ‘best practices’ in South-South circuits. Moreover, as PI of “Macro-projects of national social interest: the tensions between national housing policy and local spatial planning” I am exploring land management practices of housing provision in Colombia for low-income households unveiling the spatial disruptions in the policy implementation.  

I belong to the Network of Latin-American Urban Theory [RELATEUR] and the Colombian Association of Urban and Regional Researchers [ACIUR]. Currently I co-coordinate the Latin American Cities Working Group with early carrier scholars interested in promoting an inter-disciplinary dialogue from which to improve the linkages between urban theory and practice.

Teaching summary

I consider teaching as a constant learning process that becomes a vehicle to train in autonomy, critical thinking and question driven inquiries.  As my vita indicates, I have experience working as teaching assistant, instructor, and professor. At undergraduate level, I have thought Introduction to Urban Planning and Urban History; at graduate level, I have taught and designed courses such as: Plan Making Studio, Research Design and Methods, Urbanism and Urbanisation, Land Management Tools, Urban Morphology and Spatial Planning Studio.


I recently joined The Bartlett Development Planning Unit as Lecturer at MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development seeking to contribute to shape just cities in the global south. This objective encourages my research and motivates my teaching.  In particular, I seek to contribute to achieve this aim engaging with socially relevant research on critical spatial practices intersecting urban design, land management, large-scale projects, strategic spatial planning and urban policy mobility in the global south. 

I hold a PhD in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago as Fulbright scholar. I also hold a Master’s in Urban and Regional Studies and a Bachelor in Architecture from the National University of Colombia. My professional experience of over a decade focuses on teaching, research and consultancy linked to international organizations, national and local governments around urban projects and spatial planning issues in Latin America.  

Before joining UCL, I had previously worked on full-time basis for the National University of Colombia (Medellin), where I was Director of the Urban and Regional Planning at the School of Architecture for few years. I led collaborative initiatives of transnational design studios on spatial strategies for informality. As a result, I have been visiting fellow at the Latin Lab, GSAPP, Columbia University and at DUSP, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, I worked as senior consultant in urban development for the Inter-American Bank, the Cities Alliance Program, and the Informal City Requalification Foundation (ReCI).