Gemma John

Dr Gemma John

Managing Director, Human City

An anthropologist, Gemma specialises in illuminating the changing ways in which people live and work in cities, and how social value in the built environment can be delivered at a time of technological disruption. Uniquely positioned to conduct academically-rigorous research, she provides clients with strategic advice on spatial design across all sectors. More recently, she has worked on alternative housing ideas – and, in particular, the development of co-living spaces. In 2015, she was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and British Council Fellowship to research the design and use of public libraries.


Listen to Gemma talk about the work Human City does with asset management companies and local authorities, her experiences of interdisciplinarity and collaboration, and the ways in which anthropologists add value to the design of buildings and the built environment. Or read the conversation here.

Ep7: Delivering Social Value in the Built Environment with Gemma John


Digital technology enables us to work, live and play virtually, which has thrown into question the value of physical spaces. However, digital technology is still very much part of the creation of a physical space. Rather than considering digital platforms and social media engagement as an additional offering for customers only once a physical space has been designed and delivered, I’ll be exploring how digital technology is seamlessly interwoven into the design of physical spaces.

My talk will focus on how the physical and digital come together and are co-created in the context of real estate projects as a way of thinking about smart cities in general. The examples I draw on will include: the development and management of coworking and coliving spaces as well as the design of shopping centres and public libraries. By developing a deeper understanding of the dynamic between physical and virtual spaces, and indeed, challenging the boundary between them, I argue that we can use AI in a more socially responsible way in relation to city-making.

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