The Bartlett School of Planning


Zhaoxi Li

Research subject

Less is More or A Bore? The Application of Minimalist Philosophy in Public Space Design

Primary supervisor: Professor Matthew Carmona
Secondary supervisor: Dr Filipa Wunderlich
Starting date: October 2021
Projected completion date: September 2025


This research builds on three main contexts of the recent decade. Firstly, there is a recognition that the contemporary world is becoming increasingly complex, accompanied by an overload of sensory inputs (e.g. noise, pollution, disruption) that can lead to negative consequences. Secondly, the impact of aesthetic quality on human well-being and behaviour is recognised, with many urban design agendas and guidelines outlining the importance of aesthetically attractive public spaces. Thirdly, the crisis of over-consumption of resources and sustainability is receiving increasing attention. As a result, the philosophy of minimalism, increasingly seen as a solution for private interior spaces, promises to be explored as a remedy for urban complexity, aiming to enhance the aesthetic quality of outdoor public spaces and pursue sustainable development.

Minimalism is often referred to as a design style characterised by extreme simplicity in form, materials and means of production. The concept of minimalism is widely used in art, architecture, interior design and, more recently, as a fashionable lifestyle. However, the concept and philosophy of minimalism remains unexplored in the field of urban design. This study therefore seeks to find a link between minimalism and urban design in order to explore the potentials of future public space design.

To explore the potential of minimalism in both public space design thinking and practice, this research addresses three questions. 1) which minimalist principles are appropriate to be used in public space design; 2) how can the principles of minimalism be applied in public space; and 3) what are the implications of minimalist public space design. A mixed methodology was adopted to include site analysis, observation, interviews, surveys and walking group experiences. The findings are expected to provide a new way of thinking and a practical toolkit for future public space to achieve aesthetic, sustainable and resilient goals in the complex world.


Zhaoxi is currently a PhD student at UCL Bartlett School of Planning. Before pursuing her PhD, Zhaoxi completed both her Bachelor’s degree (BSc Urban Planning, Design and Management) and a taught Master’s degree (MSc Urban Design and City Planning) at UCL. She then went on to train her research skills and obtained a research-based Master’s degree (MPhil Architecture and Urban Studies) at the University of Cambridge, focusing on outdoor thermal comfort and public space design. Her recent research interests lie in the fields of public space design, urban aesthetics, and sustainable development.