UCL Giving


UCL East: Professor Ben Campkin, The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment

From historic neighbourhoods to thriving nightlife hotspots, cities are made by the communities that live, work, rest and play in them. The Bartlett at UCL East puts them at the heart of urban change.

Professor Ben Campkin standing against a pillar in the Urban Room at UCL East.

16 November 2023

While change is inevitable, gentrification – a term coined by sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964, in a publication produced by the Centre for Urban Studies which she had co-founded at UCL – often threatens social diversity. The concept refers to the displacement of working-class people and cultures. The manifold ways that such displacements happen is a primary concern for The Bartlett at UCL East, where UCL’s Faculty of the Built Environment are dedicated to putting communities at the heart of positive change.

Through its presence at UCL East, The Bartlett has the opportunity to extend its impact through working with a diversity of partners and communities. “We now have more hands-on and collaborative learning spaces, and places where we can work with local residents and organisations,” says Professor Ben Campkin, Vice-Dean Public and City Engagement. “For the university to actively encourage the public and a variety of organisations to use our spaces and resources, in a setting where their knowledge and expertise are valued, is really important for researchers in The Bartlett. Undoubtedly, opening at UCL East is a really exciting moment for the faculty.” 

Radical research for new urban futures

The Bartlett at UCL East has the concept of community built into its very fabric. From the groundbreaking Urban Lab – which specialises in addressing society's most pressing problems in built environments, through deploying creative and experimental methods from across different fields of research – to the Urban Room as a new venue established to foster publicly engaged, collaborative urbanism and public history; the innovative citizen science approaches of the Institute for Global Prosperity; and the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis’ new Connected Environments Lab, which pioneers uses of digital technology to understand complex built and natural environments.

It’s the first time that UCL has set up a board of community organisations, bringing them into strategic conversations so that we can shape activities together

Ben says: “The nature of our work is trans-disciplinary, which requires in-depth and reciprocal relationships with grassroots organisations and a variety of public sector partners, driven by their expertise and priorities.

“UCL East provides space and resources to do that more effectively than we've been able to do in a more traditional campus and university governance structure. Take our UCL East Community Board – it’s the first time that UCL has set up a board of community organisations, bringing them into strategic conversations so that we can shape activities together, and providing a structure for doing that within the broader governance of UCL. 

A long-standing relationship

Ben has been involved with conversations about UCL East for nearly 10 years, but his journey with UCL began much earlier, in 1994, when he came to study a combined degree of Medieval Archaeology and History of Art. He says: “UCL’s History of Art department and Institute of Archaeology were dynamic places to study. At the time, there were lively discussions which were shaking up these disciplines. I benefited a lot from that.”

After graduating in 1997, and working in the insurance and higher education sectors, Ben returned to UCL and was appointed to professional services roles in The Bartlett Schools of Planning, Construction and Architecture, which he undertook while studying for a master's in the Built Environment, specialising in Architectural History, and then a PhD on urban regeneration, between The Bartlett and Geography. “My PhD focused on urban decline and renewal, specifically around the area of King’s Cross, " says Ben. “At the time, industry had vacated lots of spaces and buildings, and these were being used as affordable premises by different cultural and community groups, but at the same time, there was an increasing government drive to revalue them, led by infrastructure redevelopment.

“This helped to refine my view of urbanism – thinking about the value of different kinds of knowledge, not just academic but community-based, the need to think about different urban experiences in diverse cities and to understand them in relation to technical knowledge, policy and other professional and academic discourses.” 

Helping to protect queer spaces

A significant focus of Ben’s work more recently has been LGBTQ+ populations’ experiences in urban change and their neighbourhoods and social infrastructure – their importance and future trajectories.

“There’s been work on gender, sexuality and cities since the 1960s, with strong synergies between scholarly research and activism around LGBTQ+ spaces,’ says Ben.

“My recent work fits into that longer tradition. There’s been a need to make formerly hidden spaces more visible because of the threats to these spaces in contexts of redevelopment and gentrification. Working with the GLA and campaign groups, at UCL Urban Lab we’ve been mapping these spaces and trying to understand the multiple purposes they have. For example, if you look at night-time spaces, they’re not just about leisure, but they have embedded in them a history of social life, activism around human rights and other cultural aspects that give them present-day and future value for new generations.”

There’s been a need to make formerly hidden spaces more visible because of the threats to these spaces in contexts of redevelopment and gentrification.

Community-based organisations, policymakers, activists, and planners are all collaborating on LGBTQ+ heritage issues, and have engaged with Urban Lab’s research. With these modes of collaboration in mind, Ben was a proponent for the new Urban Room at UCL East – a space designed specifically for events and conversation with local communities, and which sees Urban Lab partnering with the UCL School for Creative and Cultural Industries, whose Director Professor Haidy Geismar and collaborators had imagined a ‘memory workshop’ to further participatory approaches to public history. “It’s really exciting to see how the Urban Room’s curator Dr Kara Blackmore has been working with different groups to develop a dynamic programme, bringing in multiple communities to shape conversations on the most pressing urban challenges.”

Along with his work at UCL East, Ben has been collaborating with an international team of researchers. The EU-funded Project NITE has focused on the documentation of night-spaces, migration, culture and social integration across eight European locations, looking from East London to many other cities, reinforcing the founding ethos of the campus in addressing both the local and global, and seeing these as intertwined. 

Looking to the future

As The Bartlett continues to expand its partnership-based activities, Ben has been appointed to the position of Vice-Dean of Public and City Engagement, a role he’s excited about. “This role reflects our faculty’s focus on enhancing the ways we work with and support external organisations to mutual benefit, sharing expertise to address complex, multi-scalar challenges.”

It is work that is central to the spirit and mission of UCL East, and its ambitions to make a positive contribution to the lives of east Londoners. 


UCL Giving
UCL Giving - Support UCL East
Project NITE
UCL Urban Laboratory
The Bartlett, UCL’s Faculty of the Built Environment
'Queer Premises' by Ben Campkin (via Bloomsbury Publishing)
'Remaking London' by Ben Campkin (via Bloomsbury Publishing)


Image by John Moloney.