KelvinCampbel_GREY CROPPED
Kelvin Campbell BArch RIBA MRTPI FRSA 
Chairman and Founder: SMART URBANISM [London]
Fellowship in Built Environment: Royal Commission 1851
Visiting Professor: CASA@Bartlett, University College London
Writer and Publisher: Massive Small [Urban Exchange]

Kelvin was the founder of Urban Initiatives, an internationally recognised urban design practice based in London. Formerly Visiting Professor in Urban Design at the University of Westminster and now a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at the Bartlett, University College London, he is known as one of the leading figures in his field.

“To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist. There is no decent or charted way of making a living at it. It is something you are, and not something you do.” Christopher Hitchens, “Letters to a Young Contrarian,” 2001

He has written government policy on urban design, published numerous books and articles on the subject, regularly speaks at conferences and has advised a number of cities on design matters.

He has passionate interest in the future of cities and towns, in particular the development of new thinking and processes which unlock good urbanism and effective civic leadership. In 2013 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Urban Design Awards for his contribution to the profession and was later awarded the 1851 Royal Commission Fellowship in the Built Environment.


Kelvin Campbell has over 35 years experience in urban design theory and practice in the United Kingdom and abroad. Trained as an architect/planner, he is a committed urbanist – working primarily in complex urban environments as an urban designer for the majority of his professional life. His early career was in the research and development of squatter settlements and third world housing programmes. He went on to develop his expertise and experience in self-build housing, new town planning and community development programmes, working for a range of social change organisations and public and private development sectors in South Africa and South America. This experience has always influenced him in his urban design thinking, where he saw the rapid effect small changes made on delivering successful outcomes.

Kelvin moved to London in 1986 and, after a short stint working with housing practice, went on to head up the housing and renewal consultancy arm for an international construction company. In 1989 he founded Urban Initiatives, an interdisciplinary urban design, development planning and transportation practice, which was well recognised throughout the world as being at the forefront of delivering good urbanism. Under his leadership, the practice was the recipient of numerous awards for innovation, consultancy and projects. He continues to act as a consultant director to Urban Initiatives Studio, providing an advisory role to the practice.

Kelvin was the lead author of ‘By Design’ (CABE) 2000, the national policy document on urban design, and the recent Mayor of London’s ‘Housing Design Guide’. He has published, edited and written numerous books and articles on urban design, including ‘Re:Urbanism: A Challenge to the Urban Summit’ (co-written with Rob Cowan), which pointed the way to his latest book ‘MASSIVE SMALL: The Operating System for Smart Urbanism’ (published in April 2011). He is also the author of the ‘London Popular Home Initiative: Towards a New Urban Vernacular’ published in 2012.


Kelvin is a seasoned contrarian but a rational optimist, always taking the view that we can do better in our pursuit of resilient cities and towns capable of responding to the ‘new normal’. In all instances, his work is driven by social and environmental concerns, by delivering effective economic change and by building cultural capital as prerequisite for delivering viable urbanism.


Kelvin has lectured extensively at leading universities and institutions; has led seminars throughout the world; and, has had a wide-ranging involvement in urban design education as an external examiner, course validator, studio master and lecturer. He is an articulate communicator and mentor and enjoys working with people in large groups, public speaking and in consensus building. Kelvin voices strong opinions and welcomes debate. He a good conceptual thinker and enjoys strategising, always cherishing innovation.

“Urban design is in danger of becoming a technocratic exercise where we fall back on dumbed-down solutions to deal with complex issues. This has not worked in an environment where top-down, central state-led, command-and-control is the prevailing norm, and where we can throw money at the problem. Our methods definitely do not work in an increasingly bottom-up world where more emphasis is placed on enabling and we have to do more with less. The trouble is that we think we will get back to the good old days so we can do what we have always done. The paradigm has shifted!  I believe that we need to seriously challenge ourselves as a profession. We need more thinkers, more theorists, more dreamers. If not, those with simplistic new models and partial theories will be designing our towns and cities.”

His key concern lies in the quality of urban design education in the UK, where he believes that post-graduate courses in the UK fail to offer prospective students an alternative and relevant view. This is largely because of the lack of new thinking to solve the problems of the world today. Much theory relies on outdated concepts that are well recognised to have little value in today’s world yet continue to underpin much policy development and practice. Also good thinking in sustainability is failing to make an impact because it does not connect directly with other theories of urban planning and development. As a result the argument for sustainable urban development is being diminished by the system that is reluctant to change.

This is a challenge that Kelvin is looking to address in working with University College London’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), through his two-year Fellowship in the Built Environment, on a research project supported by the 1851 Royal Commission. The subject of this project is ‘MASSIVE SMALL: Smart Urbanism in an Upside Down World’, which looks to reconcile the conflicts and potentials between top down and bottom up processes in urban planning in order to create the conditions for a viable human habitat.

Link to ‘Portrait of a Collaborative Urbanist’

June 2014


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