The Bartlett


The Bartlett Doctoral Informality Network

The Bartlett Doctoral Informality Network (DIN) brings together people and ideas from across the Bartlett and the wider UCL community around the theme of informality.

The Network has been created to stimulate new ways of engaging with the contexts and processes associated with informality, the everyday struggles that are pursued and/or the structural conditions that are sometimes considered to lie at its core. While it is primarily a network of PhD students, we encourage participation from members of faculty and staff from across UCL. 

It is evident that ‘informality’ relates to many issues and is important in different ways in different contexts. In developing countries, informality is a ‘way of life’ for the majority of the population defining their housing, livelihoods, movement, and governance.

In developed countries, informality takes different forms and sometimes emerges in similar ways to those of developing countries. Despite the centrality of ‘informality’ in everyday life, it is a contested concept and there is merit in sharing conceptualisations, methodologies and theoretical frameworks across different disciplines.


DIN provides spaces and opportunities to explore of concepts of informality, and its utility to activists and researchers involved in interrogating diverse themes, issues and geographies.

We are an inclusive, supportive and non-hierarchical network for the sharing of ideas on informality and encourage encounters that will lead to innovative collaborations across the Bartlett and UCL.


The Informality Network is currently engaged in a Book Project, edited by and with contributions from PhDs involved in research that engages with various conceptions of Informality from across the Bartlett: 

  • PhD seminars where students present on-going research and get feedback from a panel composed of faculty from across the Bartlett.
  • Talks by academics and practitioners from within as well as beyond UCL
  • Reading groups
  • Film and Documentary Screenings
Informality Book Project

Published as part of UCL's Fringe Series, the book 'Urban Informality and the Built Environment' demonstrates the value of greater and more diverse forms of engagement of built environment disciplines in what constitutes urban informality and its politics. It brings a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of informality and the built environment in diverse contexts, drawing on recent research by architects, planners, political scientists, geographers and urban theorists.

Prof. Christoph Lindner, Dean of The Bartlett, UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment said: “Working expertly across multiple disciplines and diverse geographies, this timely collection of essays shows why informality matters in our cities and how it shapes - and has the potential to reshape - everyday urban realities in profound ways." 


The following people contribute to The Bartlett Doctoral Network Informality Network:

  • Adriana Allen
  • Alena Ledeneva
  • Daniel Oviedo Hernandez
  • Julio Davila
  • Georgio Talocci
  • Fulong Wu
  • Michael Walls
  • Kamna Patel
  • Caren Levy
  • Colin Marx
Past events

Transforming Informality Symposium 27 - 28th October 2016

Urban informality continues to fascinate, confound and provoke theorists and practitioners across the Global North and South. The conceptualisation of the informal has morphed and shifted within different registers of meaning, offering distinctly powerful narratives yet falling for the most part within neat disciplinary boundaries.

The Bartlett Doctoral Informality Network invites you to join us in an exploration of eleven interrogations that seek to transform our understanding of informality and its interaction with the built environment. These interrogations draw upon diverse sites and literatures, yet coalesce to respond to notions of transformation, place-making, power relations, infrastructures and exchanges, embedded within the informal. This two-day symposium marks the penultimate stage in a book project, which draws together authors from across the Bartlett and international experts.

We have eleven contributions and two editors from the research student community. The book will have commentaries by globally renowned experts on the topic: Fran Tonkiss (LSE), Swati Chattopadhyay (UC Santa Barbara), Kim Dovey (U of Melbourne) and Catalina Ortiz (UCL).

The conference will take place on the 27th and 28th October at the UCL. It be composed by the book chapters’ presentations by their authors on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning (see schedule bellow) and a public lecture on Thursday evening by Prof Kim Dovey (Melbourne) Prof Swati Chattopadhyay (UC Santa Barbara).

On the 27th

Time                 Room       Event

13.00-16.30        101         Authors Presentations (see schedule below)

16.30-17.30          -           Tea/coffee Break

17.30-19.30        101         Public Lecture (details below)

On the 28th

Time                 Room       Event

9.30-13.00        101         Authors Presentations (see schedule below)

Authors’ presentations

Venue: Room 101, 
Development Planning Unit
34 Tavistock square, WC1H 9EZ, London.

This conference brings a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of informality and the built environment in diverse contexts, drawing on on-going research by architects, planners, political scientists, geographers and urban theorists. The cases studied promote a cross fertilization between disciplines, lenses, geographies and methodologies. They range from the creative place-making of street artists in Accra and the informal architectures of Somali Markets in Cape Town, to the morphological evolution of built form in Tirana, urban agriculture in la Habana and social reproduction in Greece. The volume represents a rich tapestry of intersecting themes, the overarching one being the idea of redefining informality as an ever-changing concept. Informality in the built environment is presented as transformative and interwoven with notions of place-making, power relations, infrastructure and exchange.

Thursday 27th afternoon :

13.00-13.30: Fani Kostourou and Paul Goodship. Bartlett Architecture // Informality Through The Lens Of The Architect. An Overview Of Informality From The Perspective Of The Mainstream Architectural Press.

13.30-14.00: Juan Pablo Astorga. Bartlett Planning // Urban transformations: towards ordinary cities? 

14.00-14.30: Deena Khalil. Bartlett DPU // Accommodating Informality: Capitalist Accumulation through Water and Electricity in Cairo’s Ashwa’eyat.

14.30-15.00: Huda Tayob. School of Architecture // Opaque Infrastructures: Pan- African markets in Cape Town (1990 – present).

15.00-15.30: General Discussion

Friday 28th morning:

9.30-10.00: Isabel Gutierrez. School of Architecture // Grassroots politics and spatiality of social reproduction in crisis-ridden Athens. 

10.00-10.30: Shabrina Zahratu & Yongping Zhang. Bartlett CASA // Regulating the unregulated: Exploring the Airbnb dynamic using space-time analytic methods.

10.30-11.00: Chin-Wei Chang. Bartlett Architecture // The Death and Life of Jian-Cheng Circle: A negative Lesson to the Built Informality of Urban Places.

11.00-11.30: Claire Tunnacliffe. Bartlett Architecture // Place Making in the informal: Change Maker Painters in Accra, Ghana.

11.30-12.00: Lucia Cerrada Morato. Bartlett Planning // Everyday infrastructures and the sprawled territories. The potential of decentralized infrastructures in the Atlantic Axis Region.

12.00-12.30: General Discussion

Urban informality - public lecture

Date: Thursday 27th October 2016
Time: 17.30-19.00
Venue: Room 822, 
20 Bedford way
London WC1H

Presenters: Prof Kim Dovey (Melbourne) Prof Swati Chattopadhyay (UC Santa Barbara)

Kim Dovey will present how most new urbanization over the past 50 years has emerged outside state control within cities of the global south through informal processes. This presentation explores an assemblage approach to the mapping of cities that are becoming both formalized and informalized. How and where do such settlements emerge and with what morphological patterns and urban codes? What is the relation of such processes and forms to theories and practices of power?

Swati Chattopadhyay will talk to the theme of how the discourse on informality is seemingly caught between the dual problems of hypervisibility and illegibility, of endurance and impermanence.  If modern states can only apprehend the informal within its own logic, how do we, as researchers, apprehend the informal as an object of discourse? How do we locate and represent the time and space of the informal? Focusing on the representation of the Santal Rebellion in mid-nineteenth century India as an historical event, this talk addresses the problem of legibility at the interface between the state and the ungoverned symptoms of the informal.

Kim Dovey is Professor of Architecture and Urban Design in the faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne.

Professor Swati Chattopadhyay is an architect and architectural historian specializing in modern architecture and urbanism, and the cultural landscape of British colonialism in the History of Art and Architecture Department, University of California Santa Barbara.

DIN PhD Seminar on Informality and Methods - Deadline 22nd May 2015 

We invite MPhil/PhDs from any department who would like to present, to send us a 300 word brief on their research by the 22nd of May. Entries are encouraged from students at any stage of the PhD as long as their research looks at or encounters the concept of informality. We are particularly interested in innovative methods of researching the informal.  

Authors of selected entries will be given 15 minutes to present to an audience of PhDs and staff from across the Bartlett and the wider UCL community on the 24th of June 2015. Kindly send your entries to Nikhilesh Sinha.

We will inform all those who send in entries of our decision by the 1st of June. Please do come even if your entry is not selected for presentation, we’re planning more events in future! 

Note: You do not need to be part of the Informality Network to participate, and there will be sign up sheets at the event.

Inaugural PhD Seminar and Networking Event – 3rd December 2014

The inaugural event of the Bartlett Doctoral Informality Network was held on the 3rd of December. It was attended by staff and PhD students from several Departments across the Bartlett and UCL including the School of Planning (BSP), the Development Planning Unit (DPU), the Institute for Sustainable Resources (ISR), Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies and the Department of Geography.

We had brief presentations by three Phd Students: Ben Flower from Geography, Louise Guibrunet from the ISR and Kisnaphol Wattanawanyoo (Keng) from the DPU. Ben's presentation focused informality and land tenure in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Louise talked about the informal economy in Tepito, Mexico City and the concept of urban metabolism, while Keng shared some fascinating insights gained from observing the mobile food markets in Bangkok.   

Prof Adriana Allen of the DPU and Prof Fulong Wu from the BSP then responded with excellent comments, interrogating the ways in which the concept of informality was engaged with in each case, but also reflecting on what it means to research the informal. This then opened into a rich debate with valuable contributions from all present, with the discussion carrying on for a couple of hours over drinks and snacks.

It was an exhilarating launch and this augers well for future events.


Colin Marx