The Bartlett School of Planning


Melissa Barrientos Trinanes

Research subject

Urban sprawl and the city construction process: uncovering potential changes in the morphological patterns of informal and mass produced housing developments and their role on the city’s fragmentation and dysfunctions.

Primary supervisor: Professor Stephen Marshall
Secondary supervisor: Dr Elsa Arcaute (Centre of Advanced Spatial Analysis, CASA).
Starting date: September 2018
Projected completion date: September 2022
Sponsor: Becas Chile, CONICYT

For many decades, cities were assumed to progress through planning, developing as ordered environments with Euclidean geometrical principles driving their development. From the Garden City, the later New Towns, and until Le Corbusier and the Modern Movement, a highly arranged urban design brought the eradication of the physical complexity of traditional cities. Nowadays nevertheless, it’s increasingly understood that real urban environments do not benefit from those levels of simplification, therefore, cities are now being understood as complex systems, and bottom-up dynamics are being recognised as a fundamental part of their development.

However, in some current processes of growth, new developments seem to move backwards in responding to the city’s complex construction. Urban sprawl appeared as a phenomenon that is expanding the city overnight, together with challenging its lengthy developed complex patterns, with either over-designed/rigid structures in the form of mass-produced developments, or by totally impulsive, unregulated initiatives that arise suddenly as informal land occupations. It seems that these types of expansion have patterns that appear to depart from the preceding complex city structuring process, affecting the cohesion of the system, damaging the city socially, functionally, environmentally and economically.

Even though urban sprawl is a highly discussed topic in academia, it hasn't been explored enough to characterise it from a detailed, evidence-based morphological and functional approach beyond assumptions. This study seeks then to unveil the patterns of the city and the new growth, searching for correspondences among consolidated and later structures and dynamics. Urban morphology, clustering and percolation analysis, morphologic and functional characterisation, street network analysis, fractal analysis and other complexity related methods will be used to advance in the understanding of urban sprawl as a quantifiable urban problem. The testing of possible discrepancies of the recent urban growth in relation to the urban system from a measurable perspective will allow us to define what constitutes urban sprawl in physical terms, how it emerges, and if the current sprawl is and behaves differently from previous phases of growth, and in which ways.



Melissa is an architect graduated from Austral de Chile University (UACh), with an MSc in Spatial Design from The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. She has 4 years of experience as a full-time architect in Chile, where she also developed as an urban consultant, academic and researcher. During the last years she has been part of the research project FONDECYT 11160096, which explores sustainability and modularity in middle sized Chilean cities. She has also collaborated as a teaching assistant in two schools of architecture; she has conducted consultancies in Spatial Analysis for public and private urban design and planning projects, besides lecturing a course in urban spatial configuration and human use, in the School of Architecture, UACh.


Melissa is currently a member of OBSUR: an observatory for sustainability and urban studies from southern Chile. She is also a member of PEC (Work Programme for built heritage and context), which specialises in the rehabilitation of architectures and environments of heritage value.

  • Author and lecturer of the course ’Configuracion Espacial y Uso‘ [Spatial configuration and use], Escuela de Arquitectura, Facultad de Arquitectura y Artes, Austral de Chile University, UACh. 2018.
  • Invited lecturer at Escuela de Arquitectura, Facultad de Arquitectura y Artes, Austral de Chile University, UACh, in the course ‘Taller IV’ Design workshop, 2018.
  • Invited lecturer at Escuela de Arquitectura, Facultad de Arquitectura y Artes, Austral de Chile University, UACh, in the course ‘Taller V’ Design workshop, 2018.
  • Assistantship in Design Workshop, School of Architecture, Central University of Chile (UCEN). 2014-2015.
  • Assistantship in Design Workshop, School of Architecture, Austral de Chile University, UACh. 2011.
  • Assistantship in the course ’Introduccion a la Arquitectura‘ [Introduction to Architecture], School of Architecture, Austral de Chile University, UACh. 2006.