The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Refugees and the politics of urban space

A series of projects conducted within the DPU aim to shed light on how governments, host communities and aid agencies are challenged by myths of refugees as subjects and spaces.


17 July 2018

With the increasing trend for the urban settlement of refugees, cities have a pressing responsibility to deal with refugees and asylum seekers. Urbanism becomes a salient subject of public discourse and a symbol of civil society initiatives at various stages throughout the so labelled ‘refugee crisis’. Cities are places where both migrants and non-migrants interact, be it through working, studying, living or raising their families or simply walking in the street. While cities offer great opportunities for migrants and refugees, at the same time they are also faced with challenges in creating opportunities for inclusion. A series of projects conducted within the DPU aim to shed light on how governments, host communities and aid agencies are challenged by myths of refugees as subjects and spaces of bare life and bio-politics, and to offer a perspective on the close and complex relationship that cities, refugee spaces and their residents have with each other. Each project fostered interdisciplinary discussion and thinking between external experts and advisors, staff members, research students and civil society. Projects offered the opportunity for the development of collaborative research ideas, methodologies and activities

Key themes: mapping the city of refuge, narratives of refugeness, the representation of the migration crisis, politics of counting, refugee housing policy and practice, homemaking in a limbo, urbanisation of refuge, paradigms of humanitarian discourse, ethics of hospitality, governmentality of migration.

Research Projects

Borders and camps

borders and camps
Makeshift camps, created in various and dynamically changing locations across Europe (near and within cities, ports, forests, borders), have become an integral part of the so-called current refugee crisis. This collaborative preliminary step between DPU in partnership with Cambridge University and others civil society groups, aimed to set a possible action-research agenda around the complex territory of camp-city and the manifold dimensions of cosmopolitanism, refuge and migration. The research was supported by the urban transformations and the diversity, social complexity & planned intervention research clusters at DPU (2016).
Team and partners

Camillo Boano (DPU)
Giovanna Astolfo (DPU)
Ricardo Martén (DPU)
Irit Katz (Department of Architecture University of Cambridge)
Nando Sigona (Birmingham University)

Sharon Ambrosio (BUDD alumna)


Blog post
Life at the edge: reflecting on Calais, borders and camps


Space, politics and imperfect citizenship. A debate on migration policy and forms of life at the edge of Europe.

Book chapters

Boano, C., Marten R., Sierra A., (2018), The Post-Disaster Camps in Ecuador: Between Emergency Measures and Political Objectives, in Minca C., Katz, I., Martin, D., The geography of camps today. Bloomsbury, London.
Astolfo, G. Boano, C (2018) Rethinking urban borders with Agamben: dispositives and paradigms, in Ortiz, C. (ed) Comparative urban design: Border making practices in Medellín & Beirut. DPU, London

Marten Caceres, R (2018) Drawing the line: the calculated production of urban borders, in Ortiz, C. (ed) Comparative urban design: Border making practices in Medellín & Beirut. DPU, London

Astolfo, G. Marten, R (2016) When borders collapse: on crises, biopolitics and representation. BUDDlab, vol 8, June 2016. DPU, London.

Refugee spaces

refugee spaces
The Cities of Refuge platform aims to stimulate and demystify the ways in which the current refugee wave has been represented in Europe, particularly by bridging insular experiences into a wider continental dialogue. The platform is a systematic repository of data and information made available by governments, international agencies and NGOs. The research was supported by the Bartlett Research Materialisation Grant (2016-2018)
Team and partners

Camillo Boano (DPU)
Giovanna Astolfo (DPU)
Ricardo Martén (DPU)
Ed Manley (CASA)
Stephan Hugel (CASA)
Keyvan Karimi (Space Syntax)
Falli Palaiologou (Loughborough University)

With Tahmineh Emami, Gala Nettelbladt (Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space) and Asimina Paraskevopoulou (Danish Research Council).

Advisors: Roger Zetter (Refugee Studies at the University of Oxford); Marta Welander (Refugee Rights Europe); Estella Carpi (UCL Geography); Nando Sigona (Birmingham University).


Visit our website: www.refugeespaces.org

Download our report: Part 1 Part 2

Astolfo, G, Marten Caceres, R, Palaiologou, G, Boano, C (2019) The politics of indisputable truth: Questioning statistical evidence and narrative on the refugee ‘crisis’. Society and Migration Journal.

Workshops and presentations

Platform Launch
December 2018

Research workshop
September 2017

Humanitarian Summit
22 June 2017, UCL Roberts Building

Infrastructure of care

Formal and informal spaces of displacement and refuge along with the ever-changing infrastructures of care and provision often destabilise the dichotomy between the city and camp and the meaning of concepts such as shelter and relief. This in turn suggests a re-thinking of how figures such as the forced migrant and the aid worker are understood. While foregrounding the role of space, this initiative takes as a starting point the infrastructures of care which are varyingly understood as spatial, human, material and institutional mechanisms of support and agency, as well as of control and restriction.

Dr Huda Tayob (The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL)

Dr Giovanna Astolfo (Development Planning Unit, UCL)

Dr Irit Katz (Cities Programme, LSE and University of Cambridge)

Outputs and activities

Download the Call for papers

Symposium and exhibition
1st February 2019

From emergency to integration: housing and meaningful lives

Housing has recently emerged as ‘an essential step on the integration path and a precondition for the full enjoyment of social and civil rights’ (Bolzoni et al, 2015:1) While there seems to be an agreement on the role of housing as a tool for promoting integration, there is a less clear appreciation on how to make it effective at the local level. The desk review conducted for the project Curing the Limbo (Urban Innovation Action) identifies and analyses global affordable housing practices in order to show the possibility of application to the case of Athens’ registered refugees moving from state-led accommodation to independent housing.


BUDD alumni initiative selected as part of Athens' selection as European Capital of Innovation 2018

Designing for inclusive cities. Refugee reception and housing practices in the Mediterranean context

This is an ongoing investigation into accommodation and integration policies and practices responding to the current change in the pattern of forced displacement in the Mediterranean region. Particularly, it confronts policy frameworks in Greece and Italy, two of the major entry points to Europe, in the attempt to establish a dialogue and the possibility for a translocal learning. By examining existing forms of dwelling, as well as identifying the potential impact of novel housing strategies and legal frameworks, the ongoing collective exploration wishes to address how participatory planning could better support the long-term inclusion of refugees.

Team and partners

Camillo Boano (DPU)
Giovanna Astolfo (DPU)
Ricardo Martén (DPU)
Carlotta Fontana Valenti (
BUDD alumna)
Panagiotis Tzannetakis (Help Refugees)

OMNES, Philoxenya International, Harokopio University, University of Macedonia, Stefania Gyftopoulou (CRS)
Agostino Zanotti (Local Democracy Agency in Zavidovici)
Chiara Marchetti (ESCAPES), University of Parma

Outputs and activities



The Design Workshop (BUDDcamp) is a week-long design exercise in which students are exposed to social-spatial challenges in a particular place. After an introduction to the case through lectures and seminars, the students undertake a 3-day intensive field exploration of the place, exploring the impact of urban design on issues of equality, inclusion and social integration. BUDDcamp is part of the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development.

Planning for Inclusive Cities workshop

The workshop, held in Thessalonikki in April 2018, aimed to bring together Mayors, Institutions and CSO from Greece and others cities in Europe to open a cross-country dialogue and a learning exchange platform on inclusive practices for the accommodation and housing of refugees.

Summerlab Athens

The 2018 Summerlab held in Athens between 10-15 September in collaboration with Stefania Gyftopoulou (Open Architecture Collaborative) focuses on the “Arrival city in age of austerity”. Athens has been marked as a city in crisis. Austerity policies have generated rapid social and economic changes, which are already evident in the physical and social urban fabric. Urban development policies have intensified the conflictive transformation of urban space. The workshop offers a testing ground for the proposing of contextual, hybridised spatial interventions.

Boano, C, Astolfo, G (forthcoming) The imperfect ethics of hospitality. Engaging with the politics of care and refugees dwelling practices in the Italian urban context. In "Hospitality and Hostility in a Moving World", by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (ed). UCL Press