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Informal City. Reflections on Self-Construction and City Making

Event Dates:
28 November 2023 , 9.00-10.30 hrs. Chile|12.00-13.30 hrs. UK|14.00-15.30 hrs. Lebanon|15.00-16.30 hrs. Turkey
Felipe Hernández (Cambridge University)
Mona Fawaz (American University of Beirut)
Miguel Pérez (Diego Portales University)
Kristen Biehl (Sabancı University)

Informal City. Reflections on Self-Construction and City Making will bring together architects, urbanists, anthropologists, and historians to share different views and their current research on the processes or urban and housing production in informal settlements.

By 2050, nearly 70% of the world’s population will be urban, but much of this growth will be unplanned. Today, urban growth involves formal and informal processes that complement each other. While the formal system is top-down, policy-driven, and follows planning standards, the informal system is bottom-up, needs-driven, and initiated by residents without necessarily following standards. The informal system is inevitable in its evolution, especially in developing countries. Therefore, understanding informal cities is fundamental for future development, but also a major challenge that requires knowledge and collaboration across disciplines. This seminar aims to discuss different views and perspectives on the informal city in different parts of the world, and the processes that have led the inhabitants of these cities to construct by themselves and take a role in city-making.


The session will consist of short 15-minute presentations followed by a roundtable discussion and an open Q&A session.


Dr. Felipe Hernández is an architect, Director of the MPhil in Architecture and Urban Studies and former Director of the Centre for Latin American Studies (CLAS) at the University of Cambridge. He has worked and published extensively on Latin America and other areas of the developing world, including Africa and South-East Asia. He chairs Cities South of Cancer (CSC), an interdisciplinary research group working on a wide range of urban issues in Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. He is the author of Bhabha for Architects (Routledge 2010) and Beyond Modernist Masters: Contemporary Architecture in Latin America (Birkhauser 2009). He is also co-editor of Marginal Urbanisms: Informal and Formal Development in Cities of Latin America (CSP 2017), Rethinking the Informal City: Critical Perspectives from Latin America (Berghahn 2009) and Transculturation: Cities, Spaces and Architectures in Latin America (Rodopi 2005).

Dr. Mona Fawaz is Professor in Urban Studies and Planning at the American University of Beirut, where she co-founded the Beirut Urban Lab, a regional research centre working towards more inclusive, just, and viable cities. Her research spans across urban history and historiography, social and spatial justice, informality and the law, land, housing, property, and space. She is the author of over 60 academic articles, book sections, and reports in Arabic, French and English. Mona holds a BArch from the American University of Beirut, a MCP and Ph.D. in Urban Studies and Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is currently an Honorary Professor at UCL’s Bartlett School, co-editor of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research and member of the editorial boards of the journals Planning Theory, City and Society, and Progress in Planning.

Dr. Miguel Pérez is Director of the School of Anthropology at the Universidad Diego Portales and Associate Researcher at the Centre for the Study of Conflict and Social Cohesion. His research has explored the relationship between the formation of citizenship, the production of residential spaces, ordinary ethics, and claims to dignity in Santiago, Chile. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of several articles and two books: The Right to Dignity: Housing Struggles, City Making, and Citizenship in Urban Chile (Stanford University Press, 2022) and Casa y Dignidad: El movimiento de pobladores en Chile (Ediciones Alberto Hurtado, 2023). He is also co-editor, with Nicolás Angelcos, of Vivir con dignidad: transformaciones sociales y políticas de los sectores populares en Chile (Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2023).

Dr. Kristen Biehl is an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Sabanci University and was a researcher at the Women and Gender Studies Centre of Excellence at the same university. She holds a BA in Social Anthropology and Development Studies from the University of London, an MA in Sociology from Bogazici University and a D.Phil in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oxford. She has conducted extensive research on migration and asylum in Turkey, working with a wide range of international, national, and local actors in different migrant and refugee communities. She is the coordinator in Turkey of two international projects exploring the implications of migration after 2015: ReROOT (2021-2025) and Whole-COMM (2021-2024). In recent years, she has also begun to research various issues related to the environment and climate change.  


Dr. Elizabeth Wagemann is the director of the City and Territory Lab (LCT) at Universidad Diego Portales, Chile. Her research focuses on post-disaster housing, resilience, and sustainable development. Her presentations include the TEDx “From Shelter to Home after Disasters” (2018) and “Living with Uncertainty” at Congreso Futuro (2019). She has published several articles and is co-author of Disaster Risk Reduction Including Adaptation to Climate Change for Housing and Settlements (2017) and Resilience, Reconstruction and Sustainable Development in Chile (2019). She is an architect and holds an MPhil and PhD in architecture from the University of Cambridge. She has been a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, CEDEUS and CIGIDEN (Chile), professor at Universidad Católica (Chile), Universidad Mayor (Chile), Universidad de Concepción (Chile), and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE).

Dr. Manuel Vicuña is currently the director of the Centre for the Humanities UDP at the Universidad Diego Portales. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge and has written several essays on cultural and intellectual history. He is the author of La belle époque chilena (2001), Hombres de palabras: Oradores, tribunos y predicadores (2003), Voces de ultratumba: Historia del espiritismo en Chile (2006), Un juez en los infiernos: Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna (2009), Fuera de campo: Retratos de escritores chilenos (2014), Reconstitución de escena (2016) and Barridos por el viento, Stories from the End of the World (2020). He has twice won the National Book and Reading Council Prize for the best essay of the year. He has also worked as a scriptwriter, consultant, and presenter in historical series for Televisión Nacional de Chile.