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Dr Jonathan Orlek BA (Hons), MArch, PhD

Lecturer in Architecture


I am an architectural researcher and practitioner, interested in the intersections between art, architecture, and ethnographic research. My research is concerned with artist-led organisations and spaces, critical spatial practices, embedded research methods, and collective forms of housing.

I lead the MArch Praxis 1 and 2 modules at Sheffield Hallam University, contribute to MArch design studio teaching, and lecture and tutor on undergraduate Cultural Context modules. Before joining SHU, I taught on modules throughout the MA Urban Design at Sheffield School of Architecture, including as a design studio lead tutor. 


In 2021 I completed a collaborative PhD between East Street Arts and the University of Huddersfield, which explored the provision of housing by artist-led organisations. My thesis developed embedded ethnography as a critical spatial practice, to investigate artist-led approaches to housing and live/work space.

I am currently a researcher on several interdisciplinary projects exploring care, high streets, and activist spatial practices. This includes Caring—with Cities (Senior Research Assistant) and Sonic Acts of Noticing.

I am a director of Studio Polpo, a social enterprise architecture collective based in Sheffield. With Studio Polpo I have undertaken several projects investigating shared living and alternative models for housing. This includes initiating OPERA sleepover performances, designing and delivering co-housing workshops, and co-authoring the Experimental Residential newspaper. I have also worked on commissions for The Hepworth (Wakefield), The Tetley (Leeds), and Bloc Projects (Sheffield), which playfully explore the connections between art and architecture. I have recently worked on designs for The High Street of Exchanges, an immersive installation for the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, curated by Unscene Architecture. This project combines design and research to explore the future of the British High Street.


Department of the Natural and Built Environment

Courses Taught

MArch Architecture (Full-time, part-time and Degree Apprenticeship routes)
BSc Architecture  

Modules Taught

MArch Design Studio 4
MArch Design Studio 5
MArch Praxis 1
MArch Praxis 2
BSc Cultural Context 2
BSc Cultural Context 3


Researcher on ‘Sonic Acts of Noticing: Listening with the High Street.’ Awarded a fellowship of the Future Architecture Platform, 2021. Funded and supported by: Sheffield Hallam University; Future Architecture Platform; Driving the Human; BINA Belgrade; Forecast, Berlin.
Sonic Acts of Noticing is an interdisciplinary investigation spanning sound studies and architecture. The project proposes different ways of occupying high streets and participating in their design through engaged, situated and spatial practices of listening. We propose careful listening as a way to (re)think and (re)make the spaces of the high street in ways that draw attention to forms of collectivity, and support productive and agonistic relations, intensities and concerns.

Senior Research Assistant on ‘Caring—with Cities’ project, funded by the British Academy.
Caring—with Cities aims to understand how care is embedded into community-led and policy-led urban development; the interface between the two; and the potential for designing care—with into future urban policy at a systemic level. With ‘participant-researchers’ embedded within 3-5 UK case studies, I am helping to undertake organisational and community archival research; in-depth interviews and facilitated group conversations; and a preliminary system mapping of the interface with policy to identify soft infrastructures of care.

Commissioned by East Street Arts to edit a publication on artist-led housing. (Publication date 2022)

Research Assistant on ‘Footprints of urban activism: mapping narratives of success and failure in post-industrial development’ project, funded by the British Academy.

Research Assistant on ‘Mapping the High Streets Research Field’ project, funded by Sheffield Hallam University

Director, social enterprise architecture practice Studio Polpo.
Studio Polpo use situated and collaborative approaches to create objects, structures, initiatives and research-led resources that enable transformative social change. Projects by Studio Polpo are underpinned by a genuine desire to work towards social, environmental and economic justice. To this end we self-initiate projects to support diverse economies of participation and exchange through spatial intervention. 


Journal articles

Cathryn, K., & Orlek, J. (2021). Open Letter as reparative interior: expanding, making, participating. Idea Journal, 18, 223-236.

Orlek, J. (2020). Commoning Artist-led Housing. Sluice Magazine.

Jonathan Orlek, , Cristina Cerulli, , & Mark Parsons, (2016). Prototyping Shared Living: Collective Residential Experiments. BDC (Bollettino Del Centro Calza Bini), 16 (2), 251-264.

Book chapters

Jones, H., McKenna, N., Delaney McNulty, R., Nickols, P., Orlek, J., & Wolfe, B. (2021). Planning and Designing Decent Homes and Liveable Places for All in West Yorkshire. In Wilson, A. (Ed.) AMPlify West Yorkshire: An Alternative Manifesto Process. (pp. 9-12). Huddersfield: Same Skies

Vodicka, G. (2018). Voices in my research. In Orlek, J. (Ed.) Multivoices A Script by Researchers. Spirit Duplicator

Orlek, J., Bruno, A., Aun de Azevedo Nascimento, E., Milic, P., Théréné, M., Thielemans, F., ... Van Ngoc, H. (2018). Médecins du Monde Collective health. In Berger, M., Moritz, B., Carlier, L., & Ranzato, M. (Eds.) Designing urban inclusion. Université Catholique de Louvain/ Université Libre de Bruxelles

Orlek, J. (2018). Between Utility and Uselessness. In Space, Place, Action. Huddersfield, Temporary Contemporary

Orlek, J. (2017). Sharing the domestic through "residential performance". In Cairns, G., Artopoulos, G., & Day, K. (Eds.) From Conflict to Inclusion in Housing: Interaction of Communities, Residents and Activists. (pp. 180-198). London: UCL Press

Orlek, J. (2017). An archaeology of a contemporary construction. In Gavin, H., & Kaasa, A. (Eds.) Uncommon building. London: Spirit Duplicator


Orlek, J. (Ed.). (2018). Multivoices: A Script by Researchers. London: Spirit Duplicator.


Cerulli, C., Udall, J., Wakeford Holder, A., Orlek, J., & Parsons, M. (2020). The High Street of Exchanges (part of the British Pavillion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2020). [Interactive installation]. Venice.

Orlek, J., & Vodicka, G. (2019). P.S. A Postscript Before Concluding, From Brooklyn Works to Brooklynism exhibition. [Film]. Kelham Island Museum, Sheffield, UK.

Other publications

Orlek, J. (2017). Degree show review: Sheffield School of Architecture. Architects' Journal

Quinn, K., Orlek, J., & Cornish, B. (n.d.). Writing Alone Together: Making Sense of Lockdown Through Hundreds. Sociological Review Foundation:

Other activities

Co-founder of 'Plant: Embedded Research Network'
Part of the organising committee for 'Researching (in) the City: Embeddedness, Relations and Collaborations' AHRA PhD Symposium 2021, hosted by Sheffield Hallam University School of Architecture.


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