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Architecture and planning education with marginalised communities

Course description

The Course explains how to develop planning, urban and architectural design teaching or training initiatives with an action-oriented approach, by describing the meaning, and possible methods and tools of Action Learning. It focuses specifically on the engagement with vulnerable and marginalised populations.

The Course aims to provide instructors with an analytical framework and practical methods and tools to autonomously develop an Action Learning project in the fields of planning, urban and architectural design.

The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

European Union

Funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union

desinc sheffield asf
polimi housing europe kuleuven

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Demonstrate critical awareness about the role and practice of designers and planners working with communities;
  • Explore a variety of methods and tools for enacting an Action Learning project;
  • Acquire methods and tools which will enable you to design an Action Learning initiative and evaluate its outcomes in relation to both learners and communities.


No prerequisite knowledge is required.


The course includes a forum, which is freely accessible. Participation is not guided; you can use the forum to compare yourself with other participants, or to discuss course contents with them.

Topic outline

  • Before you start

    Not available unless: You are a(n) Student
  • Introduction to the course

    Not available unless: You are a(n) Student
  • Framing Action Learning

    In the first week, learners will understand what are the main features underlying Action Learning approach, in which perspective it can be used, and what are the specific ethical principles you should follow.

    Not available unless: You are a(n) Student
  • Methods I

    In this week, learners will explore different methodologies and tools which can be applied within an Action Learning approach. Each module is dedicated to a thematic set of tools, explored firstly with a theoretical approach and secondly through a case study.

    Not available unless: You are a(n) Student
  • Methods II

    In this week, learners will explore different methodologies and tools which can be applied within an Action Learning approach. Each module is dedicated to a thematic set of tools, explored firstly with a theoretical approach and secondly through a case study.

    Not available unless: You are a(n) Student
  • Conclusion

    In this week, learners will understand why and how to evaluate an Action Learning project and what possible legacy and effects you can witness on learners, institutions and communities involved.

    Not available unless: You are a(n) Student
  • Additional resources


The final grade for the course is based on your results from your responses to the graded quizzes. You will successfully complete the course if you reach 60% (or more) of the total score. The maximum score possible for each quiz is given at the top of the quiz. You can see your score in the quiz on your last attempt or on the 'Grades' page.

Certificate of accomplishment

You must be registered in POK through Politecnico di Milano personal account to obtain the Certificate of Accomplishment. It will be released to anyone who successfully completed the course by achieving at least 60% of the total score in the graded quizzes and filling the final survey. You will be able to download the Certificate of Accomplishment directly from Politecnico di Milano web services. The Certificate of Accomplishment does not confer any academic credit, grade or degree.

Information about fees and access to materials

You can access the course absolutely free of charge and completely online.

Course faculty

Amani Al Shaaban

Amani Al Shaaban is an Architect who works in Jordan as a project manager in an International NGO named AVSI Foundation. Her work focuses mainly on the social and economic inclusion of refugees living in urban areas around the kingdom; through supporting the implementation of Livelihood and cash for work projects toward urban development and social justice. In parallel, she is a member of the board of Directors of Architecture Sans Frontières -International, where she served as Secretary general for three years and currently holding the position of Vice-president.

Alex Apsan Frediani

Alex Apsan Frediani is Senior Lecturer at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London. He co-directs the MSc in Social Development Practice and he is DPU’s Director of Communications. His research interests include the application of Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach in development practice; participatory planning and design; as well as housing and informal settlement upgrading. Alexandre has collaborated with academics and grassroots collectives in Brazil, Ecuador, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya and South Africa. He is a founding and board member of the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre, he is in the board of Habitat International Coalition, and an Associate of Architecture Sans Frontières–UK.

Nishat Awan

Nishat Awan is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Visual Cultures, at Goldsmiths University of London. An architect by training, Nishat’s work focuses on the intersection of geopolitics and space, including questions related to diasporas, migration and border regimes. She is interested in modes of visual and spatial representation and is committed to exploring ethical forms of engagement with places at a distance. In 2015 she received an early career fellowship from the Independent Social Research Foundation for a project entitled, Edges of Europe. Her recent book, Diasporic Agencies (Routledge, 2016) addresses the subject of how architecture and urban design can respond to the consequences of increasing migration. Currently, she leads the ERC funded project, Topological Atlas, which aims to produce visual counter-geographies that might help support the fragile movements of migrants as they encounter the security apparatus of the border.

Carolyn Butterworth

Carolyn Butterworth is Senior University Teacher at the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield and Director of ‘Live Works’, Sheffield School of Architecture’s pioneering public-facing Urban Room that combines live teaching, graduate employment, civic engagement and participatory research. She is a passionate advocate of the value of live projects and of the arts in architectural education and teaches the value of engaging with local communities creatively on site, often in collaboration with artists. She studied architecture at SSoA and UCL, worked in practices in London and Sheffield and taught at SSoA since 2001. She is also Director of Humanities and Chair of the Urban Room Network. In 2017 she was awarded a Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy and in 2016 a University Senate Fellowship for Sustained Excellence in Learning & Teaching.

Lucia Caistor-Arendar

Lucia Caistor-Arendar is a freelance social urbanist working on a portfolio of research and practical projects internationally. Currently she is working as an Associate at Social Life Ltd (UK); as a Design Tutor on the MA in Urban Design, School of Architecture, University of Sheffield; and as an Associate at ASF-UK where she is the convener of the Resilience by Design programme. She is the lead Researcher on Designing Inclusion on behalf of Architecture Sans Frontières-International.

Ida Castelnuovo

Ida Castelnuovo is a postdoctoral research fellow at Politecnico – Polisocial program, and she is part of the action-research group Mapping San Siro. She holds a PhD in Regional Planning and Public Policy from IUAV, Venice. Her research interests concern participatory processes in urban projects and policies, local governance and decision-making processes in urban development, and the role of the university as an actor in urban policies.

Mariana Ciancia

Mariana Ciancia is currently researcher at Design Department, Politecnico di Milano and lecturer at the School of Design, Politecnico di Milano and Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.She holds a PhD in Design from Politecnico di Milano. Her research deals with new media and participatory culture, with the aim of understanding how multichannel phenomena (crossmedia and transmedia) are changing the processes of production, distribution and consumption of narrative environments. National and international publications include articles and book chapters on transmedia phenomena, narrative formats, and audiovisual artefacts.

Francesca Cognetti

Francesca Cognetti is Associate Professor of Territorial and Urban Analysis at the Department of Architecture and Urban Studies and Rector’s Delegate on Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility at Politecnico di Milano. Her teaching and research activities focus on public and social housing, and social inequalities. She is the coordinator of the action-research project Mapping San Siro, an experimental living lab aimed at sharing knowledge between academia and a large-scale public housing neighborhood in Milan.

Viviana d’Auria

Viviana d’Auria is Assistant Professor of International Urbanism at the Department of Architecture, Urbanism and Planning, KU Leuven. Trained as an architect and urbanist at Roma Tre University (Italy), she pursued studies in Human Settlements at the KU Leuven (Belgium) where she also completed her doctoral inquiry. She has been NWO Rubicon fellow at the Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies of the University of Amsterdam. Exploring ‘practiced’ architecture is an integral part of her research within a more general interest in the trans-cultural construction of cities and their contested spaces.

Beatrice De Carli

Beatrice De Carli is an architect specialising in urbanism and international development. She is currently a Lecturer in Urban Design at the University of Sheffield, School of Architecture, where she directs the MA in Urban Design. Her research and teaching explore questions of equity, diversity, and inclusion in urban areas through visual methodologies and participatory action research. Beatrice is an Associate of Architecture Sans Frontières -UK and a Member of the Board of Directors of Architecture Sans Frontières -International.

Abderrahim Khairi

Abderrahim Khairi is Migration & Integration Policy Assistant at Housing Europe, Brussels, managing and contributing to expand Housing Europe’s network of members, while also planning and coordinating events for the Federation. In addition, he is in charge of developing Housing Europe’s work around migration and integration policies.

Francesca Piredda

Francesca Piredda Ph.D, Assistant Professor at Design Department, School of Design, Politecnico di Milano. She is member of Imagis Lab and collaborates with DESIS International Network. Her research and teaching activities deal with communication design, audiovisual language, participatory video, digital media and the narratives. She leads research and educational activities in the field of community TV and social media, world building and storytelling techniques both for social inclusion and brand communication.

Alice Pittini

Alice Pittini is Research Coordinator at Housing Europe, Brussels. Alice leads the daily work of the European Social Housing Observatory, coordinating comparative studies, thematic briefings and articles. As the go-to person for facts and figures around housing in Europe she delivers presentations in various events that try to make a reality check with what happens on the ground. Alice also works closely with the Chair and the Vice-Chair of the Observatory.

Laura Saija

Laura Saija is an Assistant Professor in City and Regional Planning at the Department of City and Regional Planning, University of Memphis, TN. She earned her PhD in City and Regional Planning and Design at the University of Catania, Italy, where she also served as a Marie Curie Research Fellow. Her research focuses on how universities can play an active role in community development. She has worked within long-term community-university partnerships both in Italy and the US, with a recent focus on planning processes inspired by the principles of circular economy and inter- and intra-species solidarity.

Contact details

If you have any enquiries about the course or if you need technical assistance please contact For further information, see FAQ page.