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Learning from ‘intentional communities’: alternative pathways to spatial production in the face of the climate emergency (Advert Reference: RDF22/EE/ABE/BERTOLINO)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Nadia Bertolino  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The project has been inspired by a recent article on The Guardian reporting that, during the pandemic, intentional communities have been “inundated by new applicants driven by the Extinction Rebellion movement and the glimpse that lockdown has offered of simpler, less consumption driven lifestyles”. Most of these communities flourished in the 1960s and ‘70s echoing the back-to-the-land movement and claiming a greater degree of autonomy and inclusion than is found in the predominant high-tech post-war society (Martell, 2015). The generation of “diggers” (named after the 17th-century English communards) challenged social rules and constructs, opting out of “the grab-game of straight society”, as Richard Neville wrote on Oz magazine (February 1968, p. 8) about the first London digger commune, the ‘Love Commune In Full Flower’. Some of these intentional communities survived until today, standing opposite to centralised political systems and biased social constructs by proposing socially inclusive, resilient and low-impact ways of living. Interestingly, the lockdown seems to have shone a light on the alternative choices that intentional communities can offer in terms of lifestyle and human connections. As Jarvis noted, this can be seen as a recognition that mainstream contemporary society and lifestyle of the past are permanently broken (2017). All this interweaves with key issues in the current architectural debate: there is an increasingly urgent demand to conceive other ways of doing architecture in the face of the current climate emergency and pandemic, avoiding further forms of environmental and social depletion in favour of integration, circularity, durability and social resilience (Belenky, 2021).

Drawing on these premises, the project questions: what can we learn from intentional communities to envision and eventually co-produce spaces in the face of today’s environmental and societal challenges?

The project aims to identify:

  1. whether the space produced by the intentional communities supports alternative forms of human relations and networks of mutual care
  2. whether such space evolved across different times to accommodate insurgent needs and aspirations, up to the recent pressures imposed by the pandemic and climate crisis
  3. whether there are shared socio-spatial configurations that architectural practice can embody and replicate to provide grassroots responses to the climate emergency.

This research aims to bridge a gap in the current academic research culture about intentional communities. In fact, while there are previous studies conducted in the field of Social Geography (mainly by Jarvis and Chatterton) and Sociology (Markell’s research about ‘alternative societies’), such communities have not yet been investigated from an architectural perspective and therefore social sciences aspects have not yet been overlapped with their spatial implications. The need of such interdisciplinary connection becomes even more relevant in the current social and environmental scenario, when unexpected socio-political dynamics have challenged conventional modes of spatial production.

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr. Nadia Bertolino.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters in Architecture or related fields (Human Geography, Urban Sociology, Architectural Theory, Architectural Design, Urban Studies, etc.)(preference for Merit or above) with a strong interest in community-led processes or spatial production and alternative pathways to tackle climate emergency; or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Ideally you should have previous experience or an interest in developing mixed research methods, combining architectural and social sciences methods with an emphasis on visual methods.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Bertolino, N. (Accepted/In press). Architects of the “Silent Revolution”: Empowering Local Communities through Commons-Based Resilience Strategies. In M. Mahdavi, & L. Wang (Eds.), New Geographies: Commons (Vol. 12). (New Geographies). Harvard University Press.
Costa Santos, S., Bertolino, N., Hicks, S., Lewis, C., & May, V. (2018). Home and Community: Lessons from a Modernist Housing Scheme. Taylor & Francis.
Bertolino, N., & Delsante, I. (2018). Spatial practices, commoning and the peer production of culture: Struggles and asprirations of grassroots groups in Eastern Milan. Journal of Peer Production, (11).
Lewis, C., May, V., Hicks, S., Costa Santos, S., & Bertolino, N. (2018). Researching the home using architectural and social science methods. Methodological Innovations, 11(2), [205979911879600].
Bertolino, N., & Costa Santos, S. (2017). Testing the theory of ‘planned communities’: an exploration of the link between community design and everyday life through a participatory approach. Paper presented at Cities, Communities and Homes: Is the Urban Future Livable?
Delsante, I., & Bertolino, N. (2017). Urban spaces’ commoning and its impact on planning: a case study of the former slaughterhouse exchange building in Milan. Der öffentliche Sektor - The Public Sector, 43(1), 45-56.
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