The Bartlett Development Planning Unit

Dr Giovanna Astolfo

Dr Giovanna Astolfo

Lecturer in Building and Urban Design in Development

Development Planning Unit

Faculty of the Built Environment

Joined UCL
27th Oct 2014

Research summary

Beyond the imperative of identifying commonalities, trendsand patterns across cities, my urban enquiries are connected by an abiding andincessant interest for the social and lived experiences of the oftenmarginalised urban majority, their spatial provisions and power arrangements.Away from disciplinary categorisation, my research focuses on overlapping andinherently plural urbanisms –as the many ways people make space and themselves:unconventional, contested, improvised and feminist. Following the lead of manywomen researchers and activists before me, my research practice aspires to besituated, reflexive, disobedient, critically inquisitive, and caring.

Ongoing research includes the projects 'House-In' (2021-22)and ‘European Platform for Integrating Cities (EPIC)’ (2019-22). The projectsaim to reframe housing and migration away from current dominant, colonial andtop-down paradigms, and instead conceptualize them as relational practicesconstituted by multiple incremental and transformative formal and informalencounters between people, places, institutions and services that are developedto endure and maintain life. This project is part of an extended researchconducted since 2015 to shed light on how governments and civil society arechallenged by myths of migrants and refugees as subjects and spaces of barelife and bio-politics, and to offer a perspective on the close and complexrelationship that cities and their residents have with each other(https://www.ucl.ac.uk/bartlett/development/research-projects/2019/feb/refugees-and-politics-urban-space).Between 2016-18, I worked on the Bartlett Materialisation Research Grant  ‘Refugee spaces’ (http://refugeespaces.org/europe)to develop a platform that stimulates debates and demystifies through evidencethe ways in which European countries have responded to the so-called “refugee”crisis in 2015. Through mapping and analysis of the openly available data providedby institutional and governmental sources, the platform attempts to spatialisethe political and security measures designed to contain migration and themobility of refugees.

Teaching summary

My teaching practice challenges the boundaries of mainstreamand participatory urban design toward more socially just mode of space andknowledge production. Design is ultimately conceived as a form of urbaninquiry, a way of seeing and representing the world critically. Hence, a hybridand vulnerable discipline that moves away from technical self-assuredsolution-based instances towards embracing uncertainty, subjectivity, andpeople-centred, ethnographic and activist work. Six pedagogical dimensions(collective, active, embedded, reflexive, relational and trans-disciplinary) areemployed in my urban pedagogy to address exclusion and inequality, and globaldisparities in the production of knowledge and space.

The module Participatory processes examines the multiplemeanings and eminent debates on participatory urban design, linking theoreticaland methodological approaches with practice. It reflects upon the role of thereflexive practitioner, and that of situated knowledge, drawing upon humangeography, post-structuralist and feminist research. The Critical Urbanismstudio takes a political ecology perspective to examine normative constructionsaround the un/inhabitability of urbanised areas in the Amazon basin, betweenexpulsion, extraction and exception. As part of the Urban Intervention Studio:the fieldtrip project every year I embark with students on immersive fieldworkwith selected communities and grassroots in the Global South. During 2016-2019we supported the social mobilisation and ‘quietly revolutionary encroachment’(Bayat, 2000) of housing activists in Yangon. Since 2020 we have been shaping alearning alliance with several collectives in Medellin to co-create a LivingHeritage Atlas.

In the past years I have engaged with the Liberating thecurriculum initiative at UCL. By diversifying and de-colonising the readinglist, my aim is to expose students to the very latest thinking on amultiplicity of perspectives and disciplines, and to challenge assured notionsof ‘centre-periphery’ of knowledge production. Questions around ‘whoseknowledge’ have informed several capacity building efforts undertaken withstaff and students in partner organisations. Since 2016 until the coup, Ico-developed a series of initiatives for pedagogy and professional developmentin Myanmar funded by the Global Engagement Office at UCL.


I am an urban researcher with an architectural theory andpractice background. As a Lecturer at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit(DPU), University College London, I combine research-based teaching and actionlearning from several contested and ungovernable urban geographies in SouthEast Asia, the Amazon region and Southern Europe with a focus onnon-conventional urbanisms, continuous displacement and migration, spatialviolence and housing justice.