Professor Cristina Cerulli

Tell us about your contribution that has been recognised through the professorship.

Underpinning my research, learning and teaching and professional practice work is the notion of ethical practice within architecture and urban design. My work over the past 20 years deliberately and explicitly questioned the norms of the production of the built environment, to create a shift towards a fairer society and a more ethical architecture profession through research, pedagogical innovation, knowledge transfer, professional practice, consultancy and mentoring of students and alumni.

I see all aspects of my work as mutually informing and strengthening each other. In my application for professorship, however, whilst demonstrating excellence over a sustained period and significance of contribution and impact across the full range of academic and professional activities, I had to highlight two areas of significant and outstanding contributions. It was not easy to disentangle the interdependencies between all aspects of my work, but I settled for highlighting my contributions to Research and Innovation (R&I) as significant and my contributions to External and Professional Engagement (E&PE) as outstanding – alongside contributions to Academic Citizenship and Leadership (AC&L).

What does it mean personally to you to be a Professor at Sheffield Hallam?

Being a professor at Sheffield Hallam University means a huge deal to me. I have always felt my work is valued here. Since joining Sheffield Hallam I have had nothing but support and I feel inspired to be part of a system that helps others to thrive. My experience is that this is not the case at all universities.

Tell us a bit about your career story so far.

I grew up as a young carer in a small picturesque but provincial town on the Tuscan seaside. I studied architecture in Florence, as a first-generation university student and came to UK with the Erasmus exchange programme, then in its infancy. I stayed in UK to work as researcher and, after completing my PhD, as a lecturer at a Russell Group university, I joined Sheffield Hallam in 2017.

I am also a practitioner at the intersection of architecture, art and design, having qualified as an architect in Italy. I am a founding director of the social enterprise architecture practice Studio Polpo, which I co-founded in 2008 with the explicit aim of testing the viability of a more ethical model of architectural practice.

Throughout my academic and practice work I have tried to push my vision, rooted in social justice, to reshape the architectural profession. I have worked creatively and resiliently to implement this vision across design and practice-based research, research led teaching, scholarship of professional practice, alongside curriculum development and more conventional academic research.

In my 40s, much to my surprise, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Whilst I had been fortunate that I was able to develop coping strategies as I grew up, later in life, with increasing demands on my time, I began to struggle more, and I am still exploring workarounds. I am passionate about normalising conversations about cognitive difficulties amongst academics and as a professor I appreciate that I am in a privileged position to do so.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some career advice, what would it be?

  • Try to understand the rules of the game from day one, especially the unwritten ones. It was only after many years of working in my first job at a UK university, that I began to tune into the power dynamics, the inequalities, and discriminations that many people regularly experience. These inequalities are often incremental and cumulative and not headline grabbing, but nevertheless significantly affect the lives of the people concerned.
  • Find allies and mentors to help you understand the context that you are operating in so that you are not disadvantaged.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask.

What’s next? Tell us about how you want to further develop your contribution.

I am keen to contribute to, and establish, multidisciplinary activity groups developing transformative research to make our cities more inclusive, sustainable, and fair. I am also keen to do more towards meeting the University’s strategic objectives, for instance in the area of institutional strategies to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Civic University agenda.

I also aim to contribute to the University’s research environment by developing ambitious strategies for postgraduate researcher recruitment with regards to equality, diversity, and inclusion.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my academic activity to date has been to mentor and support colleagues and students, including students who eventually became colleagues. I continue to do this at Sheffield Hallam, in a collegial and equal spirit, both informally and formally as an Inclusive Hallam Champion.