Toma' Berlanda

Professore Ordinario
Dipartimento Interateneo di Scienze, Progetto e Politiche del Territorio (DIST)


Interessi di ricerca

Archeologia dell'architettura
Environmental technology
Global south
Post colonial


Born in Venice, Tomà Berlanda is an architect with extensive international academic and professional experience. He joins the Politecnico as Professor of Architecture and Technology, after having served as Professor of Architecture at the University of Cape Town since 2015. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the African Futures Institute (2020-) and an Editorial Contributor to the Architectural Review (2020-). His research interests are focused on the implications that can be drawn from a non stereotypical reading of the African city and the practice of architecture in non-Western urban settings and landscapes, which build on his experience as co-founder of ASA studio in Kigali, Rwanda (2012-14), and his current position as co-founder of a in Cape Town (2018-). He is the author, amongst many articles and chapters in books, of "Architectural Topographies" (Routledge, 2014) and, together with Korydon H. Smith, of "Interpreting Kigali, Rwanda. Architectural Inquiries and Prospects for a Developing African City" (University of Arkansas Press, 2018).

Settore scientifico discliplinare

(Area 0008 - Ingegneria civile ed architettura)


Settori ERC

SH7_7 - Cities; urban, regional and rural studies
SH6_10 - Colonial and post-colonial history
SH7_6 - Environmental and climate change, societal impact and policy
SH5_6 - History of art and architecture, arts-based research
SH7_8 - Land use and planning
SH7_3 - Population dynamics: households, family and fertility
SH7_5 - Sustainability sciences, environment and resources


Goal 4: Quality education
Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation
Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities
Goal 15: Life on land
Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Partecipazioni scientifiche

Comitati editoriali

  • THE JOURNAL OF ARCHITECTURE (2022-), Membro del Comitato Editoriale
  • FOLIO (2018-), Membro del Comitato Editoriale

Altri incarichi di ricerca o didattica esterni

  • Professore a contratto, presso University of Cape Town
  • Professore a contratto, presso Cornell University (1/1/2012-31/5/2012)
  • Professore a contratto, presso Kigali Institute of Science and Technology - KIST (1/1/2011-30/5/2013)
  • Professore a contratto, presso Syracuse University (15/8/2009-14/5/2010)


Collegi dei Corsi di Studio


Corso di laurea magistrale

Corso di laurea di 1° livello

Altre attività e progetti di didattica

I believe that preparing architects with the conceptual skills and technical know-how to intervene meaningfully in space will have a profound impact on the continuous transition of our societies. Early on, I realized that the most effective way to achieve this is through an experiential learning process that is contextually appropriate and theoretically rigorous.

Two dimensions inform my teaching approach. The first focuses on curriculum content that is conceptually rich and explicitly pluralistic. The second dimension is a stimulating learning environment, through the use of the case study method and interactive use of mixed media in course delivery. Throughout my teaching, students are guided to interrogate commonly held believes about their work and the design disciplines and develop lenses that enable innovation and creativity.

Developing education in, and for, conditions of scarce and limited resources has pushed me to expose students to investigate topics which have general theoretical relevance, but also still managed to develop proposals which are strongly tied to local landscapes. The underlying urgency is also to ensure that the efforts of society and taxpayers are paid back with excellence, across the entire spectrum. Particularly working in public institutions of higher education is a huge responsibility, that needs to be constantly upheld in order to ensure its relevance and the ability to influence transformation and change well beyond the national or continental arena.

In general, I take a “design research” approach to teaching, based on the idea that both teacher and student are participants in an enquiry. The emphasis of my model is on creativity with methodology design and rigor in thinking, with design forming a background of lateral thinking and inventiveness for all topics, and design language/representation allowing such topics to be “opened up”. In design studio I set briefs I do not know the answer to and that I regard myself as a participant in. This leads to a level of discomfort but also to honesty, and means that all student criticism can be drawn back to the research question and away from the individual.


Altre attività e progetti di ricerca

I am an architect, urbanist and scholar working at the intersection between topography, social activism, and building with communities. As my research outputs take the form of published scholarly pieces, exhibition installations, and built design artefacts, reflecting separately on research, artistic and teaching activity is a challenge that inevitably leads to some overlaps.

The opportunity to live and operate in a few Sub-Saharan African countries over the last decade has allowed me to develop the generative lines of multiple research projects on settlement models. I published in, and was member of the editorial board for, the only issue ever of the KIST Journal of Science and Technology, and co- writer for two successful (DAAD and European Union, 2013) research grant applications together with colleagues from Europe and East Africa.

My expertise in Rwanda’s urban development led to the appointment as Visiting Critic at Cornell University (2012), to the invitation as external reviewer in international workshops and projects (such as University of Arkansas, 2011, Aalto University, 2014-18), and to lecture widely. Culminating this work, the 2018 book Interpreting Kigali, Rwanda: Architectural Inquiries and Prospects for a Developing African City, co-authored with Korydon Smith, has become the first book written in English on Kigali’s urban history and future, and recognised by the Environmental Design Research Association with the 2019 Great Places Award Book Category Honourable Mention ( for filling “a major research gap and provid[ing] a bridge toward implementing sustainable solutions to neighbourhood planning and housing design in a rapidly growing African city.”

In recent years, since my appointment at the University of Cape Town (2015-), I have operated at the intersection between theory and practice. My intention is to privilege design explorations and studies that are formed out of, and responsive to, their sites and environments, as means to resist the global project of inequality and injustice, by locating and surfacing new urban voices and ideas from and about the global south. The challenge is one that pivots around recognising what the common ground is, and how the Anthropocene has further amplified the understanding of the impact of spatial disciplines, within and across different cultures and societies, on the urbanising environment.


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