Perspectives on Architecture: (Re)constructing the City, Integrating Urban Design Tools into Humanitarian Practices


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How can relevant urban design practices be incorporated into the work of aid agencies working towards the reconstruction of urban areas in the recovery phase of a humanitarian response, as part of the process of achieving durable shelter solutions for the population affected by the disaster?

The rapid growth of cities has led to an urbanisation of vulnerability and a corresponding increase in urban disasters. Humanitarian agencies' experience over the past decades has been overwhelmingly rural, so that approaches to shelter and reconstruction and the tools and guidance which help to shape a response are rooted in a rural context. These rural approaches have too often proved to be inadequate to the challenges of cities, where humanitarians have been confronted by high population densities, a shortage of land and a complex and delicate economic and social ecosystem, a context for which their rural ‘toolkits’, assumptions and experiences have left them poorly equipped.

Decisions about land use which sit at the heart of planning are inherently political, while humanitarian agencies are sworn to principles of neutrality and impartiality, which preclude involvement in political processes. Urban planning also necessarily deals with people as a collective, while humanitarian agencies mandates insist on dealing only with individuals as a way to promote equity. Both sides can see the need for the other's skills in reconstruction after a disaster and yet, deep (professional) cultural differences prevent their working together. Alison Killing and Kate Crawford will discuss how urban design tools can be integrated into humanitarian practice in a way that does not compromise principles, or require a total overhaul of working methods.


Kate Crawford and Alison Killing have been working on urban issues and humanitarianism for the past ten years.

Kate Crawford has worked in a variety of private and not-for-profit organisations, most recently as the Shelter Field Advisor for an international non-governmental organisation supporting the emergency shelter programme in Haiti. Kate’s PhD research at UCL looked at sustainable urban infrastructure in Peru and her research interests are now centred on how we share risk through infrastructure. Kate is a Chartered Building Services Engineer.

Alison Killing is an architect and urbanist based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where she runs her own design practice, Killing Architects. Before starting her own studio Alison worked for a number of international offices in the fields of architecture and urban design. Her Master's thesis, at the Centre for Development and Emergency Practice, Oxford Brookes, focused on responses to humanitarian emergencies in cities and the ways in which urban design and urban planning tools could strengthen an emergency response.



Free event. Advance booking is essential. Please e-mail Hayley Russell to reserve a place.



Hayley Russell
020 7307 3678 

Perspectives on Architecture talks series