Professor Katharine Willis
Professor of Smart Cities and Communities
School of Art, Design and Architecture (Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Business)
- Smart cities
- Digital communities
- Digital connectivity
- Nature and parks
- Green spaces
- Rural communities
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire.
My research expertise includes smart cities, smart villages, digital technologies and the role of space and place. I am co-author with Alex Aurigi of two key Routledge volumes on Smart Cities, and in 2015 published Netspaces: Space and Place in a Networked World. My approach to smart cities is focused on the community in the spaces and the need to build from the ground-up to create inclusive environments. I have published widely on the topic. I am currently working on a range of funded research projects that explore how new technologies can create ways for people and communities to engage with place, with a particular focus on social and digital inclusion.
I was Interim Head of School of Art, Design and Architecture from 2021-2022 and have co-Chaired the School of Art, Design and Architecture Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion Committee(EDIC), the Faculty of Arts and Humanities Ethics and Integrity Committeeand was REF UoA 13 Coordinator in the School of Art, Design and Architecture and Architecture Research Area Lead.
I am a Visiting Research Fellow, The Centre for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP),Kings College London
From January 2024 to January 2025 I will be a Visiting Fellow at the Western Academy for Advanced Researchat Western University, Canada
2008 Dr-Ing (magna cum laude) Bauhaus University Weimar, Germany
2003 DipArch Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL
2000 MArch Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL
1998 BA (Hons) Architecture University of Manchester
Previous employment2008–2011: Research Fellow, Locating Media Graduate School, University of Siegen, Germany
2006–2008: EU Marie Curie Research Fellow and Doctoral Candidate, MEDIACITY Project, Bauhaus University of Weimar, Germany
2005–2006: DAAD Doctoral Scholarship, Spatial Cognition Program, University of Bremen , Germany
Fellow of RSA (Royal Society of Arts)
Roles on external bodies
AHRC Peer Review College (2018–present)
Board Member of Connected Plymouth(2017–2021)
Trustee, Cornwall Museum Partnership (2021-present)
Trustee, Co-Cars (2022-present)
Board member - South West Infrastructure Partnership (SWIP) (2021-present)
Shaping smart cities and communities
Katharine is a leading voice in the exploration of our interactions with and perceptions of our spatial environment and technology, developing innovative ways of creating inclusive urban spaces through new technologies
Helping to design a smarter tomorrow
Katharine has drawn upon her interdisciplinary roots to become one of the country’s leading voices on how people interact with technology and space
Smart Cities should work for everyone
Moving towards creating a more inclusive, diverse and sustainable urban environment
Smart Urban Futures is a unique and innovative new MA programme that will equip you to address design challenges at the boundaries between smart technologies and urban design and planning.
Module Leader - MArch Emerging Research in Architecture 2016
Module Leader - MArch Urban Methodologies 2011-
BA Unit Leader 2011 - 2015
ARCO319 2011 - 2015
Module Leader - COMN201 2011 - 2014
PhD /MPhil supervision
2020- Carlos Paka, DOS
2019 - Shadab Bhareini, Second Supervisor
2016 - Adam Guy, Second Supervisor
2013 - 2019 Pamela Varley DOS
2012 - 2018 Kathrin Schuette Second Supervisor
2014 - 2018 Frank Loesche Third Supervisor
2012 - 2015 Alex Lorimer (MPhil), Second Supervisor
External PhD Supervision
Abril Herrera Chavez, Space Syntax Research Lab, UCL, London - Third Supervisor
Lea Mauz, Pädagogische Hochschule Ludwigsburg, Germany - Third Supervisor
This multi-partner Phase 1 project aims to co-design solutions to address the problems facing coastal communities.
2023 , ESRC/AHRC/UKRI (Value £54,000)
PI – AHRC Design Exchange Partnership - Digital Parks in the Sea
The project takes a co-design approach to design new ways for communities to engage with the sea as a public space focusing on deprived communities in coastal neighbourhoods.
2023 -2024 . AH/Y000390/1 (value FEC £32,481)
CoI - EPSRC ICONIC (Intergenerational COdesign of Novel technologies In Coastal communities)
The project will recruit 80 older (aged 50+) people – including people living at home and those in care homes – and 40 younger (aged 16–20) people, who will work with researchers to co-develop novel technologies. Collectively, the teams will identify what will effectively connect people to the community and cultural landscape in the region. 2022 -2025 . EP/W024357/1(FEC £1,010,000)
CoI – Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities: Community Renewal Fund
The Stonehouse UNION project is led by Nudge Community Builders and is aimed at building a sustainable and resilient community in Stonehouse, Plymouth, a high deprivation neighbourhood.
2021-2022 (value, £51.024 FEC £565,667)
CoI - ESRC Generating Older Active Lives Digitally (GOALD)
The GOALD (Generating Older Active Lives Digitally) project examines how to design and deliver digital resources to provide and engage older people in structured activity programmes and improve health and wellbeing. The project partners with five charity and community groups in the South West (iSight Cornwall, Hearing Loss Cornwall, Cornwall Rural Community Charity, Devon and Cornwall South Asian Society, and Nudge), working with older people and younger participants living in the community, as well as residents from eight care homes in Cornwall. ES/V016113/1
2021-2023 (value, £10,800, FEC) £1,618,597)
CoI – 2019-2022 EU Urban Innovation Actions: Green Minds (2019-2022)
Green Minds is a city-wide partnership approach to rethinking nature - as a solution not a problem. The research uses creative digital technologies to reveal and value nature in the city. Partners: Plymouth City Council Real Ideas Organisation (RIO), the Data Place, National Trust and Plymouth College of Art, 2019-2023. EU Urban Innovation Actions(Value £250,721, FEC £3,463,841)
PI: 2019-2020 UKRI Enhancing place-based partnerships in public engagement: Pop Up Centre for Health Technology in Stonehouse
The pop-up Centre for Health Technology in Stonehouse, Plymouth will aim to address health inequalities and social deprivation using digital technology and eHealth solutions. This includes companion robots as well as apps and internet-based health and welfare resources. The pop-up Centre will also support business start-ups and the thriving regional, digital entrepreneur network through a Crowdfunder collaboration. Partners: Nudge Community Builders, Plymouth City Council, Plymouth Community Homes, Crowdfundready
2019-2020 (value £32,700, FEC £51,311)
PI: 2020 EPSRC Network Grant: Beyond Smart Cities; Breathe
The aim of the project is to understand if we can help people in rural communities breathe more easily, by sharing breathing data in an IOT ‘in the wild’ test bed network. The project takes a partnership approach by working with patient support groups, and SWIN: a low power IoT testbed in isolated rural communities in Cornwall. Partners: Hi9, EPIC project
CoI: 2019-2021 National Trust/Heritage Lottery Fund Future Parks Accelerator
In the first project of its kind in the UK, Future Parks is designed to help councils find sustainable ways to manage and fund parks and open spaces across entire towns and cities. Academics and students in the School of Art, Design and Architecture will work directly on digital and data design projects.Partners: Plymouth City Council, Real Ideas Organisation (RIO), the Data Place, National Trust.
Research Partner: UKRI Innovate/Design for Social Change (D4SC)- Smarter Streets (2017-2018)
This project piloted a participatory app that enabled citizens to comment, propose and respond to issues within the urban streetspace. Partners: D4SC, Amey Ferrovial, Plymouth City Council.
PI - 2016-2018 AHRC International Research Network: Whose Right to the Smart City?
The network examines how and why cities and people are shaping technologies to suit their needs and the role of civic inclusiveness in this process, and draws on knowledge and perspectives from marginalised city contexts at a range of geographical levels including UK, Brazil and India. It involves academics working at the boundary between the disciplines of architecture, urban planning, urban studies and ubiquitous computing and comprises partners from Plymouth University (UK), University College London (UK), Universidade Federale de Minais Gerais (Brazil) and Transparent Chennai (India). The AHRC Network will run through four meetings hosted by the network partners in India, Brazil and UK in 2016 and 2017. AH/N004264/1
CoI- Seal Hayne Educational Trust: Natural Connections (2016-2017)
This project field-trials the Landscape Connect mobile application in order to create methods to better measure and record the stakeholder values that enhance the management of landscape change through the involvement of key partnership organisations
PI - 2012- 2015 Digital Neighbourhoods
EU Marie Curie Integration Grant
BT Superfast Cornwall Research Labs
This project investigates how the implementation of superfast broadband access can be designed to support transformational impact on deprived neighbourhoods in Cornwall. The project studies the impact of access to broadband on how people interact and use semi-public spaces in their neighbourhood and the consequential effect on social inclusion. It will deliver recommendations for significant improvement for integration of online social networks with place-based communities in order to overcome digital divides at a neighbourhood level.
The project is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund bringing greater connectivity to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (Superfast Cornwall). Partners: Superfast Cornwall, Cornwall Rural Community Charity, BT/Openreach
Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) Community and Wellbeing awards 2021 – shortlisted for the UKRI Pop Up Centre for Health Technology
Research degrees awarded to supervised students
Sustainable Digital Neighbourhoods: A case study of people, place and technology under the rural village condition Frank Loesche PhD, 2018
Unconscious creativity: Investigating the Moment when Solutions emerge in Problem Solving
Kathrin Schuette, 2018
MPhil - The role of virtual imaging in building conservation
Alex Lorimer, 2015
MPhil - Mass Participation Architecture: Social media and the decentralisation of architectural agencies as a commercial imperative
Grants & contracts
2021-2022: CoI DLUHC Community Renewal Fund (value £63K)
2021-2024: CoI ESRC Generating Older Active Lives Digitally (GOALD) ES/V016113/1
2019-2022: CoI EU Urban Innovation Actions Green Minds (Value £250,700)
2019-2020: PI UKRI UKRI Enhancing place-based partnerships in public engagement: Pop Up Centre for Health Technology in Stonehouse (value £32,000)
PI: 2020: EPSRC Network Grant: Beyond Smart Cities; Breathe (value £14,400)
2019-2021: CoI National Trust/Heritage Lottery Fund Future Parks Accelerator (value £4,000)
2016-2018: PI AHRC International Research Network: Whose Right to the Smart City? AH/N004264/1 (Value £35,276K)
2016 CoI: Seal Hayne Educational Trust (Value £7.5K)
2016 PI: Newton CONFAP Researcher Mobility (with UFMG, Brazil) (Value £4.5K)
2012-2016 PI: EU Marie Curie Integration Grant (Value €100K)
2012-2016 Superfast Cornwall PhD Programme (Value £40K)
2012-2013: Akademie Schloss Solitude Scholarship (value €14.2K)
2012-2013: Plymouth University Teaching Fellowship
2006-2008: EU Marie Curie Research Fellow
2005: DAAD Individual Doctoral Scholarship
Willis, K, Aurigi, A (2017). Digital and Smart Cities. Oxford: Routledge
Willis, K (2016). Netspaces: Space and Place in a Networked World, Ashgate Press, Abingdon/ Routledge
Willis, K., Aurigi, A. (2020 in press). The Routledge Companion to Smart Cities. Abingdon, Routledge.
Buschauer, R., Willis, K.(Eds) (2013). Locative Media. Bielefeld: Transcript.
Willis, K./Chorianopoulos, K./Struppek, M./Roussos, G. (Eds) (2010). Shared Encounters. New York u.a.: Springer.
Eckhardt, F./Geelhaar, J./Colini, L./ Willis, K./ Chorianopoulos, K./ Hennig, R. (2009). MEDIACITY. Berlin: Frank & Timme.
Willis, K. (2019) Strive City. In Graham, M., Kitchin, R., Mattern, S. and Shaw, J. (eds) How to Run a City Like a Corporation, and Other Fables. Meatspace, Oxford
Willis, K. (2017). Digital Neighbourhoods in Bullivant , L. 4D Hyperlocal: A Cultural Toolkit for the Open-Source City. Architectural Design, Volume 87, Issue 1
Willis, K (2016). Netspaces. in Pop, S., Toft, T., Calvillo, N., Wright, M. (Eds) What Urban Media Art Can Do:Why When Where and How? Berlin: Avedition
Melagaco, L., Willis, K (2015). ICTs and Technical Agency: A Case Study of a Rural Brazilian Community. Foth, M., Brynskov, M., Ojala, T. Citizen’s Right to the Digital City.New York: Springer.
Willis, K., Struppek, M., Frosch, K. (2014). Replacing Food: Place, Embededness and Local Food. In Choi, J., Foth, M. (Eds) Eat, Cook, Grow: Mixing Human-Computer Interactions with Human-Food Interactions. MIT Press, Mass.
Willis, K., (2012). Being in Two Places at Once: The Experience of Proximity with Locative Media. In: Abend, P., Haupts, T, Croos-Mueller, C., (Eds). Medialität der Nähe: Situationen - Praktiken - Diskurse. Transcript, Germany.
Willis, Katharine/ Melgacao, Lorena (2012). Long Distance Voodoo – Embodied presence and urban media in public space In: Pop, Susa et al. (Eds) Urban Media Cultures. Avedition, Berlin.
Willis, K./O’Hara, K./Giles, T./Marienek, M. (2010). Sharing Knowledge about Places as Community Building. In: Willis, K./Chorianopoulos, K./Struppek, M./Roussos, G. (Eds). Shared Encounters. New York u.a.: Springer, pp. 291 – 308.
Willis, K., Hoelscher, C., Wilbertz, G. (2009). Understanding Mobile Spatial Interaction in Urban Environments. In: Minker, W., Weber, M., Kameas, A., Hagras, H./Callaghan, V. (Eds). Advanced Intelligent Environments. Dodrecht/London: Springer 2009, pp. 61-68.
Willis, K. (2008). Spaces, Settings and Connections. In: Aurigi, A./De Cindio, F. (Eds). Augmented Urban Spaces: Articulating the Physical and Electronic City. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Press, pp. 9-27.
Willis, K. (2008). Information Places: Interfaces Between Physical and Digital Space. In: Foth, M. (Ed). Urban Informatics. Baltimore: ICS Global, pp. 206-218
Struppek, M./Willis, K. (2007c). Botfighter: A Game that Surrounds You. In: Borries, v. F./Walz, S.P./Böttger, M. (Eds). Space Time Play. Basel: Birkhaeuser, pp. 226-227Willis,
Willis, K. (2007b). Sensing Place: Mobile and Wireless Technologies and Urban Space. In: Frers, L./Meier, L. (Eds). Encountering Urban Places − Visual and Material Performances in the City. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, pp. 155-170.
Fathullah, A.; Willis, K.S. (2018) Engaging the Senses: The Potential of Emotional Data for Participation in Urban Planning. Urban Science. 2018, 2, 98.
Willis, K. (2010). Hidden Treasure: Sharing Local Information. In: Aether Journal of Media Theory.
Willis, K./Hoelscher, C./Wilbertz, G./Li, C. (2009). A Comparison of Spatial Knowledge Acquisition with Maps and Mobile Maps. In: Special Issue of Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 33 (2), pp. 100-110.
Willis, K. (2018) Policy brief: Cornwall- Steps toward a digital region.European Network for Regional Development. December 2018
Fathullah, A.; Willis, K.S. (2017). Humans as Sensors: Emotions as New Information Layers Within Urban Planning. Sharing Cities, Shaping Cities Conference, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, 5-6 March 2018
Aurigi A, Willis K, Melgaco L (2016). From 'digital' to 'smart': upgrading the city. In Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Media Architecture Biennale. Editors: Tomitsch M, Haeusler M . ACM, New York, USA 01 Jun 2016
T Willis, K, Corino, G (2014). Web Site or Building Site? Testing the benefits of situated learning with ubiquitous computing for design. Interaction and Architectural Space Workshop, CHI2014, April 26th - 27th in Toronto, Canada.
T Willis, K. Corino, G. (2014). Shifting contexts: investigating the role of context in the use of ubiquitous computing for design-based learning. Proceedings of Mobile Learning 2014, 28th February – 2nd March 2014, Madrid, Spain. IADIS Press.
Willis K, Aurigi, Varley (2013). Linking Public Spaces and Online Networks: A Case Study of a Regional Neighbourhood. In Digital Cities 8: Communities and Technologies 2013, Munich, 29 Jun 2013 - 03 Jul 2013.
Willis, K, Aurigi, A (2013). Beyond the digital city - Remediating space at a regional scale. Media City 2013, 3-5 May 2013, Buffalo, NY.
Willis, K, Corino, G., Martin, K., Aurigi, A (2012). Developing a Locative Engagement Toolkit. In Proceedings of Media Architecture Biennale, Denmark 2012.
Willis, K, Aurigi, A (2011). Hybrid Spaces: Presence, Rhythms and Performativity. In Proceedings 7th International Conference on Intelligent Environments (IE 2011), Nottingham, UK, 24-27 July 2011
Willis, K., Mody, M, Pawak, P (2010). Seeing the City in a Different Way: Sharing Feelings About Places with Emotional Tags. In Proc. Communities and Technologies 2011, Brisbane, Australia June 20th 2011.
Mody, R., Willis, K., Kerstein, R.(2009). WiMo: Location-based Emotion Tagging. In: Proceedings of the 8th international Conference on Mobile and Ubiquitous Multimedia, Cambridge, United Kingdom, November 22 - 25, 2009. ACM, New York, NY, pp. 1-4.
Willis, K., Cheverst, K., Mueller, C., Abend, P., Neufeldt, C. (2009). Community Practices and Locative Media. In: Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services. Bonn, Germany. New York: ACM, pp. 1 -4.
Willis, K. (2009). Information Places: Defining Settings for Locative Media. In: Proceedings of Intelligent Environments, Barcelona, Spain. IOS Press, Amsterdam, Netherlands, pp. 349-354.
Willis, K., Hoelscher, C., Li, C. (2007b). Differences in Spatial Knowledge for Maps and Mobile Maps. In: Frings, C. et al. (Eds). Proceedings of Cognitively Adequate navigation Systems Workshop, KogWis 07, Saarbrucken, Germany.
Willis, K., Chorianopoulos, K., Struppek, M., Roussos, G. (2007). Shared Encounters. In: CHI '07 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, San Jose, CA, New York: ACM, pp. 2881-2884.
Willis, K., Holescher, C., Wilbertz, G. (2007). Understanding Mobile Spatial Interaction in Urban Environments. In: Proceedings of 3rd IET International Conference on Intelligent Environments (IE07), Ulm, Germany, pp. 61-68.
Willis, K. (2006). Identity in Spatial Settings as Mediated by Mobile and Wireless Technologies. EASST Conference, Lausanne, Switzerland.
Chorianopoulos, K., Willis, K., Colini, L., Teran, M. (2006). Dousing for Dummies: Methods for Raising Public Awareness of Invisible Communication Networks. In: Adjunct Proceedings of British Human Computer Interaction conference 2006, 11-15 September 2006, London.
Li, C., Willis, K. (2006). Modeling Context Aware Interaction for Wayfinding Using Mobile Devices. In: Proceedings of the Eighth Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, Helsinki, Finland, Vol. 159. New York: ACM Press, pp. 97-100.
Willis, K. (2005a). Space, Place: Urban Public Space and New Media Technologies. International Conference: Technisierung, Ästhetisierung - Technological and Aesthetic (Trans)Formations of Society, 12 – 14 October 2005, Darmstadt, Germany.
Smart Cities Podcast nr 12 (2018). Who are Smart Cities For?
Invited presentation -Digital Engagement Learning Day, Department of Work and Pensions, London, UK, May 2016
Invited evidence -Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Research Working Group (Digital Inclusion), London, UK, March 2016
TEDx talk, Get Lost! , Munich 2015
AHRC Design ‘Research for Change’ Showcase, London Design Festival, 19-23 September 2018
‘Hack the City’ exhibition and workshops at Digital Design Weekend, Victoria & Albert Museum, 6-7 September 2017
Reports & invited lectures
Invited speaker - ‘The Digital World in 2030 – What place for Smart Cities and Digital Regions’. The European Committee for the Regions, Brussels, September 2019
Willis, K (2018). The Right to the Smart City – Learning from India Smart City Mission. In Learning from Small Cities; Governing Imagined Futures and the Dynamics of Change in India’s Smart Urban Age, Kings College London, 1 August 2018
Invited Presentation- Willis, K (2017). Civic Participation, Urban Commons, Co-Creation and Citizenship. Maynooth University, Ireland, 5-7 September 2017
Workshop co-organiser- Willis, K, Stein, J. (2017). OPEN city: Co Creation and design toolkits for smart cities. AHRC Connected Communities and Urban Living Summer Event. Watershed, Bristol, 12-13 July 2017.
Invited presentation - Willis, K (2017). Open City. at Hyperlocal: A Cultural Toolkit for the Open-Source City, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 6th May 2017
Invited presentation - Willis, K. (2016). Data and Citizenship. ESRC Strategic Network: Data and Cities as Complex Adaptive Systems (DACAS), University of Manchester, 12th September 2016.
Workshop co-organiser- Speed, C., Amaroso, N., Willis, K (2016). Landscapes of information/coded landscapes. Digital Landscape Architecture Conference 6–8 June 2016, Bernburg, Germany
Panel Chair, Mediacities 2013. Buffalo, NY 2-6 May 2013Invited Lecture, DACAS Research Network, University of Manchester, UK, September 2016
Invited Lecture, Faculty of Architecture, UFMG, Brazil, 2016, August 2016
Invited Speaker, Digital Leaders Salon, Aberdeen, UK, March 2016
Invited Speaker, TEDX Muenchen, Germany, September 2015
Invited Speaker, Neighborhood Technologies(Blankensee Kolloquium), Berlin, 30 August-2 September 2012
Panel Chair, Media and Metapolis. Bauhaus University Weimar 24-26 May 2012
Invited Presentation, Datapolis Symoposium, ENTER art | sci | tech biennale, Prague, Czech Republic, April 2011
Invited Presentation, Vermessung des Urbanen 3.0, Ev Akademie Tutzing, Germany, 14 January 2011Invited Presentation, Shift Festival, Graz, 27 October 2007
Invited Presentation, Branded Meeting Places Symposium, University of Edinburgh, 25-26 June 2007
Conference and Workshop Organisation
Co-organiser - Whose Right to the Smart City? Conference 2017 (co-located with Data Ache), University of Plymouth
Chair of Doctoral Consortium, Media Architecture Biennale, Sydney, Australia, 2016
Co-organiser Mediacity 5: Social Smart Cities, 1-3 May 2015, Plymouth, UK
Co-organiser, Remediating Urban Space: Exploring Design Responses, 6th June 2012, University of Plymouth, UK
Moderator Mediacity 2010, Bauhaus University of Weimar, Germany, 28-30 October 2010
Organiser Performing Places workshop at EASST 2010, September 2010, Trento, Italy
Organiser Locative Media and Community Practices Workshop, MobileHCI09, Bonn, Germany, 15 September 2009
Co-organiser MEDIACITY Conference, University of Weimar, January 2008
Organiser Shared Encounters Workshop, CHI2007, April 28 – May 3, 2007, San Jose, USA