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 Juan Usubillaga

Juan Usubillaga

Research Assistant

School of Social Sciences

+44 (0)29 2251 0943
1-3 Museum Place, Cathays, Cardiff, CF10 3BD


I am a Colombian Urban Designer and Researcher currently doing a PhD. in Political Activism and Urban Design. I hold a B.A. (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 at the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) in a project understanding the implementation of children's social care policy in Wales, as well as at the Welsh School of Architecture in the AHRC-funded project entitled 'Co-Designing Publics Research Network'. I teach design studio for the MA Urban Design and supervise masters dissertations.

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


Work Experience

  • 2021-Present: Network Administrator - Co-designing Publics, Welsh School of Architecture (Cardiff)
  • 2020-Present: 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)


  • 2019-Present: Ph.D. in Architecture (Cardiff University)
  • 2016-2017 M.Sc. Building and Urban Design in Development, University College London (London)
  • 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 Cum 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

  • Member of the Colombian Society of Architects







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 Research-based Design Project [I supervise 5 MA theses]

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

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 

I am currently 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 brings 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 is 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 integrates 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]. 



I'm 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. The project is funded by Health and Care Research Wales. We are seeking 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.


Past research projects

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.