UCL Urban Laboratory


Clone of Research

Our research explores a wide range of subject areas across disciplinary and geographical boundaries, using experimental, collaborative, and participatory methods.

Annual theme (2019-20): Waste

UCL Urban Laboratory and the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies are collaborating during the 2019-20 academic year on a shared research theme, Waste. Find out more here.

Priority areas

Commencing in the 2019-20 academic year, UCL Urban Laboratory's work will be explored through the prism of eight priority areas, each led by one of our Co-Directors or Director. Further information will be made available in the coming months.

Feminist cities

Led by Dr Ellie Cosgrave

A feminist city is more than a city free from sexual violence: it is the fundamental freedom to access the opportunities and resources of the city regardless of any protected characteristic such as gender, race, class, physical ability, sexuality. Because, while the city is a place of opportunity and liberation - offering a range of employment types, exposure to diverse cultural experiences and education- it is unequally accessible depending on categories of gender, race, class and physical ability. But interpreting this philosophy in terms of physical infrastructure design and public policy is an ongoing endeavor, which we will explore through this theme. 

Globalising urbanisms

Led by Prof Jennifer Robinson

Urban theory has historically been dominated by European and American perspectives, but the ‘southern turn’ has opened up discussion around a range of disciplinary and practice-based approaches to undertanding the processes, impacts and representations of urbanisation and urban experience in, and from, different regional contexts. This priority theme focuses on developing frameworks for engagements and dialogue with urban scholarship globally, across a diversity of urban experiences, and on building comparative, cross-regional, insights into urban experiences through grounded, collaborative, and community-led research and practices.

Housing urbanism

Led by Prof Camillo Boano

Housing urbanism seek to unpack, problematise and construct a critical inquiry into housing, as noun and verb, as product and process, and as one of the most powerful agents of urban transformations. It frames housing as city-making and highlights its political parameters, at a time when bordering, exclusion, and violence are permeating the quotidian, and when bodies are frequently detained or under threat of having their rights of mobility severely infringed. Against the backdrop of surging racisms and populisms, whilst so many are abandoned to live and/or travel in highly precarious and often inhumane conditions, there is a heightened necessity to scrutinize what housing means today as an urbanism of inhabiting within different latitudes and epistemic frameworks. 

Queer infrastructure

Led by Prof Ben Campkin

Infrastructures are symbolically highly charged networks, bringing people and services together, as well as allowing possibilities for different ways of being in the future. This activity stream accommodates research and other activities on the networks of people and sites that historically, and in the present, have helped to support communities with non-normative sexualities and genders. It brings insights from queer theory into the domain of urban theory, and vice versa. Building on concepts of social and cultural infrastructure in academic and policy debates, we aim to move beyond essentialist readings of queer space, and better understand the inter-relationality of subjectivities and space. Our work is international, transdisciplinary, intersectional and multi-media.

Urban heritage

Led by Dr Clare Melhuish

Heritage is often seen as the preserve of conservationists and historians, but for urbanists the ways in which architectural, cultural and social heritage narratives frame urban experience and identity, and shape the urban environment, are critical to understanding urban futures. This theme links to the work of the Curating the City research cluster led by Urban Lab and the Institute of Archaeology in the Centre for Critical Heritage Studies at UCL. It promotes critical, transdisciplinary, and participatory approaches to the definition and evaluation of urban heritage, and engages particularly with heritage research in complex, cosmopolitan and postcolonial cities. 

Urban nights

Led by Prof Matthew Beaumont

The appointment of Amy Lamé as London’s Night Czar in 2016 has focused the attention of policy-makers, politicians and academics, among others, not only on the significance of the night-time economy, in the 24/7 society we are said to inhabit, but on the politics of the city, and its commercial and non-commercial spaces, after dark. This research strand brings together all those with an interest in the distinct ecology of cities at night, in order to explore from a historically informed perspective, as well as one shaped by a comparative geography, the various ways in which, after nightfall, we use and abuse the urban environment.  

Urban verticality

Led by Dr Andrew Harris

Urban scholars are increasingly questioning the flat and horizontal way that cities have historically tended to be represented and understood. This greater recognition of the inherent  vertical dimensions of urban life has been accentuated by a recent rapid three-dimensional growth of many cities around the world through high-rise construction, new forms of vertical mobility as well as greater interest in underground sites and spaces. This strand of Urban Lab activity develops new cross-disciplinary, comparative and creative engagement with ideas and issues associated with urban verticality, recognizing in particular how processes and patterns of urban investment, inequality and identity are increasingly shaped by the relationship between above and below.


Led by Dr Pushpa Arabindoo

Wasteland encompasses a sublime imaginary of a waste-dominated landscape to a utilitarian valorisation of land within the production of the urban. It offers the possibility of bringing in multidisciplinary analytical tools from archaeology, anthropology, geography/remote sensing, architecture/planning, anthropology, literary and cultural studies, etc., opening up new analytical possibilities to theoretically and empirically understand the emerging geographies of urbanisation relationally across the global North and South.

Activity areas

Our activities currently focus on six key areas: housing and dishousing; ecology and metabolism; change and crisis; imagination and design; data and place; and citizenship and cosmopolitanism. You can find case studies under each theme below. 

Housing & Dishousing

Housing and dishousing
We explore diverse kinds of human shelter and settlement, aiming to improve housing for lower income city dwellers, and to understand and contest the evictions that have accompanied many contemporary and historical forms of urbanization. 
Ecology & Metabolism

We tackle urgent questions regarding political ecology, urban nature, and public health, re-conceiving relationships between cities, environments, people and infrastructure. 

Change & Crisis

We study urbanization and the restructuring of cities from varied perspectives, analysing the effects of cycles of investment and disinvestment, and the mobilization of citizens and built environment professionals in response to instability and critical situations.

Imagination & Design

We have a strong focus on urban culture, design and aesthetics, the representation of cities of the past, present, and future – as well as their challenges to representability – and the relations between different urban imaginaries and material conditions.

Data & Place

We study emerging digital technologies interwoven in the city fabric, in order to understand how they are changing everyday urban life, enabling new models of production and consumption, and redefining citizens’ relationships with one another as well as the cities they live in. These activities include work on physical ‘Internet of Things’ devices being embedded in buildings, transports, objects, and the like, as well as new virtual (or online) services, as exemplified by the collaborative economy wave. The digital footprint – data – that these new technologies create afford us the ability to systematically study the impact they have on our daily lives, the way we interact with one another, and with the space we live in. 

Data and place
Citizenship & Cosmopolitanism

Cities are now the focus for contemporary debates over citizenship in the face of new kinds of religiosity and ethnic identification that challenge secular conceptions of the modern metropolis and individual identity. 

Citizenship & Cosmopolitanism

The erosion of the nation state has also fostered different kinds of relationships between place, locality and the global economy that are manifest in widening disparities in wealth and quality of life.

The location of power in the contemporary city has increasingly shifted from concentrated and visible manifestations of state power (governmental bureaucracies, police services and so on) to a more diffuse set of networks dominated by capital (corporate lobbies, financial derivatives and other dispersed and ultra mobile elements) and also new forms of social and political organization and mobilization.

Cross- and interdisciplinary methods

We build across the full range of urban disciplines, practices and professions at UCL, providing a laboratory for the invention of cross- and interdisciplinary methods, because difficult urban challenges demand new modes of working.

Collaboration and experimentation

In order to address the most challenging urban complexities, knowledge about cities, and methods of urban research, need to be produced collaboratively and publicly, with the participation of citizens as well as those excluded from citizenship.

Internationalisation and comparison

In order to address conditions of globalisation, and challenge epistemological and geographical hierarchies in urban studies, we prioritise the internationalization of urban theory, research and practice, and the development of innovative comparative frameworks.

Image of cracked orange parking restriction markings on a road

Cities Imaginaries

Broad public programme of events that curate and create cultural representations of cities and urban life

Installation shot of a studio in the Cities Methodologies exhibition in autumn 2014. Credit: Max Colson.

Cities Methodologies

An eclectic exhibition and events programme showcasing innovative urban research methodologies

Street scene in Gothenburg with a car passing and posters stuck to a piece of street furniture

Research projects

Our research covers a wide range of topics, from university-led urban regeneration to LGBTQ+ nightlife