Urban Research Lab: WATERSHED Africa

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This output comprises and connects internationally excellent and potentially global-leading work and case studies for impact. WATERSHED Africa builds from projects developed through Golden’s Urban Research Lab, a collective trademarked with the UK Intellectual Property Office for Class 42 Services relating to architecture; research relating to design; and research on building construction or city planning (UK00003171005). URL applies transdisciplinary and performative tactics and methodologies to shape and co-construct meaning in shared urban spaces, at different scales, and across related global contexts from urban centres in the UK, Europe and the Americas to more marginalised rural settlements and developing countries of the Global South. WATERSHED Africa extends and focuses URL's urban shared space and public engagement methodologies to directly address UN SDGs and global challenges with the engagement of peri-urban to rural communities marginalised by the impacts of resource stress and cultural structures in informal and more isolated environments. It examines and shares knowledge on individual and community livelihood and quality of life inequalities including economic, health, education, and gender equality deprivation often linked to access and quality of clean water and energy resources. Researching water and the built environment holistically, for the benefit of urban-rural liveability is at the heart of this body of work. The collective research aims to benefit wider groups of all genders and ages as well for whom poor water resources combined with climate change can reduce health, wellbeing, and economic opportunity. The impetus for URL derives from Golden’s PhD research and publications establishing new paradigms for architecture and urban-focused critical spatial practice including peer reviewed conference papers that have been influential on other researchers and which will be updated for peer-reviewed journal publication in 2021-2022. Other completed projects and publications linked to the long-term case for impact for URL include research focusing on shared urban space, place-making, and public engagement in regeneration policies/projects for urban development. Key rainwater harvesting (RWH)-architecture research work to date includes Golden’s PI role for 2017-18 GCRF Pump-Prime Funded collaborations in Ghana, Sustainable Design + Shared Space (SDSS); a 2021 commissioned RWH installation for sculptural-didactic artefacts to be exhibited at the prestigious Italian Pavilion Venice Architectural Biennale 2021 and in travelling exhibitions following the Biennale in Italy, Turkey, Northern Ireland and Africa during 2021-22.


Methodological innovations linking URL and WATERSHED Africa include co-design and co-constructed research and pilot interventions with key local public-private stakeholders. Methods and approaches frame UN SDG and Wicked Problems beyond technology to build capacity in local institutions and communities and foster wider Pan-African and Global networks for integrated architecture water research. Urban Research Lab and WATERSHED Africa also serve to extend Dr Golden’s unique career trajectory within and without Ulster as an architect bridging engineering, social sciences, arts, and business models established in his wider research and civic roles. Golden’s central role as initiator and PI for the 2017-18 SDSS project established his expertise in leading integrated architecture-water-energy teams to research basic survival needs and inequality in Ghana with partners from the Ghana Council for Scientific and Industrial Research: Institute for Industrial Research, Mustard Architecture, NGO Just Ghana, and The Cooper Union in New York. This work and the resulting internationally authored Funders Report includes an original Habitable Index (HI) for evaluating levels of poor-quality water, electricity, sanitation, and housing provision in developing countries; it has been updated for journal submission in 2021. SDSS also established key community, charity, industry, and Government contacts and formalised research collaboration between Golden and Turnbull (including joint civic outreach events in Ghana and Belfast) for more focused water-architecture research and pilot project development from 2018-2021 that directly connects co-investigations in Ghana with Ulster-led GCRF funded SAFEWATER and Horizon 2020 WATERSPOUTT teams, and to the commissioned site-specific installation at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale Italian Pavilion. Future project proposals set in Africa with UK, Africa, and US partners will bridge from these previous internationally significant works, with potential for global leading outcomes evidenced by resilient partnerships established since 2018 with CSIR-IIR, Ghana, and with new partners in Botswana, Malawi and South Africa as well in the USA (Jefferson University, Philadelphia) who have provided Golden with written letters of support including £156k of in-kind contribution for a 4-year UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship in Ghana, Botswana, and Malawi under the WATERSHED Africa umbrella, submitted in January 2021.

The depth of support validates Golden’s objectives for this body of work to develop a unique contribution to applied knowledge through lab and field work, community engagement, data sharing, and in-country adapted co-design as vehicles for deeper understanding of social interactions with technology, spatial design, and wider political and economic factors. Urban Research Lab: WATERSHED Africa research will also track and evaluate the impacts of outcomes and protocols for sustainable building and urban-rural best practice in developing countries that include capacity building and investment priorities for better hygiene, health and education provision. In the longer-term this body of work will expand through other projects and funded global research collaborations to scale-up academic, industry, and NGO partnerships for quality of life in water-stressed regions worldwide; it will influence environmental-developmental policy, and seek to establish new global Centres of Excellence at Ulster University to engage further across global networks.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 8 Jun 2021
EventItalian Pavilion: Resilient Communities: Biennale Architettura 2021: How Will We Live Together? - Tese delle Vergini, Arsenale, Venice, Italy
Duration: 22 May 202111 Nov 2021


  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Clean water
  • sustainability
  • Resilient Communities
  • infrastructure
  • Architecture
  • artefacts
  • Social Sciences
  • Exhibition
  • Engineering
  • Climate change
  • Global Challenges
  • Partnerships
  • Africa
  • Ghana
  • Malawi
  • Botswana
  • South Africa
  • Economics
  • Empowerment
  • Gender equality
  • Groundwater
  • Potable
  • Transdisciplinary
  • Applied Knowledge
  • critical spatial practice


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