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Juan Usubillaga Narvaez  FHEA MSc BArch

Juan Usubillaga Narvaez



Teaching Associate in Urban Design and Planning

Welsh School of Architecture

+44 29225 10943
Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3WA
Bute Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3NB


I am a Colombian Urban Designer and Researcher currently doing a PhD. in Political Activism and Urban Design. I hold a B.Arch. (Hons) Architecture from Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá) and a M.Sc. Building and Urban Design in Development from UCL (London).

My project and research experience span different countries including Colombia, UK, Germany, the US and Myanmar, and various issues related to activism, informality, housing, humanitarian action and refugee integration.

At the moment, I am working as a Teaching Associate at the School of Geography and Planning, teaching across various urban design postgraduate modules (particularly for the MA Urban Design). I have previously worked in various research projects at the Welsh School of Architecture as well as at the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE).

I speak English, Spanish, German and I'm currently learning Welsh and Catalan.












Research interests

Most of my research interests lie at the intersections between urban space and politics. Within this realm, I am particularly interested in the following:

  • Political activism in cities
  • Bottom-up social housing strategies/projects
  • Urban informality

Furthermore, I am currently exploring potential research projects/collaborations on the following:

  • Child protection and urban design


Current research projects

Political Activism as Urban Design: Investigating Activist Practices and their Role in Transforming Urban Space in Bogotá and Berlin between the 1970s and 1990s 

For my PhD research, I am investigating how political activism operated as an urban design practice in Bogotá and Berlin between the 1970s and 1990s. Cases from the two cities are compared to exemplify how activism can go beyond defined political agendas and transform cities at multiple scales. More specifically, the research addresses the following questions:

  • Practices: How were repertoires of political action built through the deployment of tactics and strategies in both cities?
  • Urban Transformation: In what ways did activist practices transform urban space at multiple scales?
  • Visions of Urban Futures: How were activist practices conceived in relation to visions of material and immaterial change in both cities?


Past research projects

Co-Designing Publics Research Network

I was the network administrator for the Co-Designing Publics Research Network, a project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (Grant Ref: AH/V008390/) and hosted by the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University in collaboration with the University of Cambridge.

It brought together a mix of academics, activists and practitioners to discuss and debate discourses from scholarly research, grassroots activism, and design ideas for future action. It was a global network with a sustained focus on the public realm and its production through informal strategies in cities of the global south. The research network integrated discussions of 3 critical and interrelated phenomena: creative ways of mobilising communities around common concerns and desires [co-designing publics], deployment of grassroots tactics and social innovations [informal strategies], and production of spatial networks of public spaces intertwined with their ongoing governance [public realm].


Understanding the Implementation of Children’s Social Care Policy in Wales: a study of the new Child Sexual Exploitation guidance

Principal investigator: Dr Clive Diaz

From 2020 until 2022, I was a Research Assistant for the 'understanding the implementation of children’s social care policy in Wales: a study of the new child sexual exploitation guidance' project in CASCADE with Dr Clive Diaz and Professor Donald Forrester. The project was funded by Health and Care Research Wales. We sought to understand the facilitators and barriers to effective child protection policy implementation by looking in-depth at how the new Welsh Government child sexual exploitation (CSE) guidance is implemented in practice.


The Prismatic City: How Las Vegas Reveals the True Nature of City-Design-and-Building Processes [2017-2020]

Principal investigator: Professor Aseem Inam

Las Vegas has long been portrayed by designers and urbanists as an outlier and exemplar of what urbanism should not be. The book argues otherwise: That the city is not only worthy of serious analysis but also serves as a prism for understanding the true nature of contemporary U.S. American urbanism. The book analyses several phenomena that reflect and refract the U.S. city: how histories of urbanisms reveal ways in which cities are truly shaped, how so-called “public-private partnerships” actually work, how cities change over time in fits and starts, the symbiotic relationships between the “frontstage” and “backstage” of cities, ways in which the public interest is served by labour unions rather than planners, and the surprising ways in which Las Vegas is perhaps the most authentic city in the world. Ultimately, the book sheds light on multiple and complex narratives about cities and argues in favour of urban theory that emerges out of fine-grained empirical analysis.


I currently teach at the MA Urban Design and contribute to the following modules:

  • MAUD Autumn Studio
  • MAUD Spring Studio
  • MAUD Urban Design Research Methods
  • MAUD Urban Design Dissertation

I also contribute to other undergraduate and postgraduate modules in geography and planning.

In previous years I have contributed to the BSc. Architectural Studies and the MA Architectural Design.

I am a Cardiff University Education Fellow and hold a HEA Fellowship.


Current roles

  • 2022-Present: Teaching Associate, School of Geography and Planning (Cardiff)
  • 2019-Present: Ph.D. in Architecture (Cardiff University)

Previous roles

  • 2017-2022: Research Assistant, Welsh School of Architecture / CASCADE (Cardiff)
  • 2017: Urban Response Intern, ALNAP (London)
  • 2016-2017 M.Sc. Building and Urban Design in Development, University College London (London)
  • 2015-2016: Research and Project Assistant, Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá)
  • 2011-2014: Teaching Assistant, Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá)
  • 2010-2015 B.A. (Hons) Architecture, Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá)

Honours and awards

  • Dissertation Fellowship, Save The Children UK & University College London (2017)
  • Colfuturo-UCL Masters Scholarship, Foundation for the Future of Colombia - Colfuturo (2016)
  • Santander Masters Scholarship, University College London (2016)
  • Magna Laude Distinction, Universidad de los Andes (2015)
  • Academic Distinction, Colombian Society of Architects (2015)
  • Ramón de Zubiría Distinction, Universidad de los Andes (2013)
  • Third Place, Architectural Design Contest, Cure MMDG Architects & Universidad de los Andes (2012)

Professional memberships

  • HEA Fellow / Cardiff University Education Fellow
  • Member of the Colombian Society of Architects

Academic positions

  • 2022-Present: Teaching Associate, School of Geography and Planning (Cardiff)
  • 2021-2022: Network Administrator - Co-designing Publics, Welsh School of Architecture (Cardiff)
  • 2020-2022: Research Assistant, CASCADE (Cardiff)
  • 2017-2020: Research Assistant, Welsh School of Architecture (Cardiff)
  • 2017: Urban Response Intern, ALNAP (London)
  • 2015-2016: Research and Project Assistant, Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá)
  • 2011-2014: Teaching Assistant, Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá)

Speaking engagements

  • EuSARF International Conference, University of Sussex [September 14, 2023]
  • Kempe Center International Online Conference on Changing Child Welfare [October 3-6, 2022]
  • RGS Annual International Conference [September 3, 2021]
  • [Keynote] V Semana Internacional de Ingenierías, Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia [May 18, 2021]
  • AHRA PhD Symposium, Sheffield Hallam University [March 31, 2021]
  • 3-Minute Thesis Competition, Cardiff University [June 30, 2020]
  • London Festival of Architecture 2020 [June 30, 2020]
  • RGS Annual International Conference [August 27, 2018]
  • Generosity Conference, Cardiff University [June 27-29, 2018]

Research themes


  • Comparative urbanism
  • Urban design
  • Political theory and political philosophy
  • Informal urbanism
  • Policy implementation