Dr Isis Nunez Ferrera

Isis is an architect and researcher specialising in urban planning, design and international development. Her experience includes 10 years of practice, research and fieldwork on urban design and regeneration schemes, diversity in the built environment, urban transport, slum upgrading and community-led development in Honduras, Brazil, India, Turkey, Kenya, Ecuador, Colombia and the UK. She has collaborated on issues of housing rights and inclusive approaches with UN-Habitat, Practical Action-UK, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), University College London, government agencies and various grassroots organizations in Africa, South-east Asia and Latin America.

For the past six years she has been part of a team developing and coordinating the international programmes at Architecture Sans Frontieres-UK (ASF-UK), where she has developed participatory and action research methodologies focused on slum-upgrading, urban regeneration, urban resilience and interdisciplinary planning and design. As associate at ASF-UK she has experience working with a range of stakeholders and has delivered training for practitioners and government officials, including at the UN-Habitat World Urban Forum 2012.

Working across different scales, from government and third sectors, to academia and grassroots, has encouraged her to experiment with innovative research and planning methods that engage with everyday realities and facilitate co-production between actors. Her interest is currently focused on how to better understand and illustrate complex and interconnected spatial and environmental issues in the built environment as well as how to utilise this data to inform transformative policies, planning and design interventions. For this purpose, her work utilises participatory methodologies for planning and design, systems thinking, visual anthropology and diagrammatic analysis.

Her PhD research was awarded a President’s Award for Research for Outstanding PhD thesis by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), which focused on a diagrammatic and visual analysis of sustainability, resilience and spatial tactics in informal settlements in Quito and Nairobi. In 2014, she was selected as one of 50 UNESCO youth leaders on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) for her capacity-building work with ASF-UK and she is a member of the Global Expert Group for the UN-Habitat initiative on Urban Planning and Design LABs as tools for integrated and participative urban development.

Her current projects include:

Co-Investigator of the ESRC-NRF funded research project (2016-2019) on Urban Transformations in South Africa. This is a multidisciplinary partnership between the University of Westminster, University of KwaZulu-Natal and University College London, with collaborators from uTshani Fund, University of Ibadan in Nigeria and EcoLtd. The project seeks to co-produce an integrated and participatory framework revealing the tools and processes for effective construction and environmental management for the improvement of low-income settlements in Durban and the wider KwaZulu-Natal province.

Co-Investigator in the Futures Cities Africa - Cities Alliance research on urban informality and city growth in Ugandan cities (2016). This research is led by the Max Lock Centre at University of Westminster, in a consortium with the University of Greenwich, Natural Resources Institute UK, and the Research and Training Consultancy Ltd, Uganda.

Researcher on Design Innovation for Climate Change within the Latitudes Network (2015-ongoing). Since 2015, she has been leading research and pedagogic activities in collaboration with partner universities in India, China, Italy, Norway, Finland, Maldives, Malaysia, Brazil, Colombia and the UK. The Latitudes network is a global research and educational network that brings together students and staff to engage in interdisciplinary design research and learning by using virtual learning environments to co-produce innovation across different latitudes and climatic regions.

Coordinator of ASF-UK Resilience by Design programme (2014-ongoing). Resilience by Design is a programme that unites a series of live-projects and international workshops exploring socio-ecological issues in the context of rapid urban change, climate hazards, resource scarcities and depleted ecosystems. It focuses on bridging local with scientific knowledge by utilising an innovative participatory, action-learning and interdisciplinary methodology. With this approach we facilitate the formulation of future scenarios and concrete solutions that can facilitate long-term resilience, while retaining a strong pedagogic focus that allows communities and different stakeholders to understand and reflect on the complex interaction between humans and the ecosystems they inhabit and transform.


  • PhD Architecture, University of Westminster, 2014
  • MSc Building and Urban Design in Development, The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London, 2008
  • Architecture, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, 2005

Contact details


Community-led Upgrading for Self-Reliance in South Africa: Integrated Construction and Environmental Management Systems in Informal Settlements