Global Challenges Academy

Staff Profile

Dr Cat Button

Director of Planning and Urban Design



My research focuses on how people and communities cope with having too little (or too much) water. I research water from a social-science perspective within interdisciplinary and international teams, and this has led to funding success on 4 UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) projects so far. My research and teaching fold together a diverse range of topics and approaches springing from an interdisciplinary background in architecture, environmental studies and human geography. 

Roles and Responsibilities

I am the Director of the Department of Planning and Urban Design. I was previously academic lead for equality, diversity and inclusion in the school. I research water and teach about global urbanisms.


  • PhD in Human Geography at Durham University (2014) Domesticating Infrastructure: Mumbai's middle class housing and rainwater harvesting
  • MSc (dist.) in Environmental Technology at Hull University (2008)
  • MA (hons) in Architectural Design at Edinburgh University (2006)

Informal Interests 

Slow travel: I have been half way round the world on trains (and buses and ferries). The Arts: I am particularly interested in contemporary art and photography. I also sometimes play the bassoon.


English; Hindi (Lower-Intermediate); French (ELP: B1).

Office Hours

Tuesdays at 1pm and at 4pm (most weeks during termtime). In my office or email me for online meeting


Research Interests

Water. My research focuses on how people and communities cope with having too little (or too much) water, particularly in Asian cities. This sits within my wider interdisciplinary interests including; urban responses to climate change and environmental issues, housing, infrastructure, the water-energy nexus, and the urban middle classes. I am interested in residents’ access to services and the implications this has for wider infrastructure governance and environmental discourse. I am also exploring the impact of paradigmatic cities on data collection and the ethical implications that high concentrations of researchers may have on urban theory, especially in the global South. I am a member of the Global Urban Research Unit (GURU) and the Global Challenges Academy networks on Sustainable Water and Resilient Cities. I have been part of 4 research teams to have successfully bid for UKRI Global Challenges Research Funding (GCRF). I am increasingly interested in why people do things and how people value water, particularly social, cultural and religous values of water. 

Current Funded Research Projects

UKRI GCRF Water Security and Sustainable Development Hub (Led by Richard Dawson, Newcastle University). This trans-disciplinary hub tackles intractable challenges of water security and addresses the Sustainable Development Goals. The Water Hub has worldwide reach through collaboratories in India, Malaysia, Ethiopia and Colombia to increase dialogue. I am leading Work Stream 4 on Valuing Water with colleagues mainly from social-sciences, humanities and arts disciplines. How do the ways that water is valued affect approaches to water security? I am working with colleagues and partners across all the collaboratories of the hub to consider the multiple ways that water is viewed, valued, and interacted with. The socio-cultural values of water are so important for understanding and building water secutiry. More information: 

UKRI GCRF Living Deltas Hub (Led by Andy Large, Newcastle University). This trans-disciplinary hub aims to safeguard the futures of deltas. Research is in delta regions of Vietnam, India and Bangladesh. I am part of Work Package 1 which focuses on heritage and livelihoods to build shared narratives of pasts, presents and alternative futures in living deltas. I am looking at the creative representations of and from the deltas. I am also interested in bees in the deltas. More information at  

DUO-India Fellowship 2020 Funding to visit IIT Roorkee for one month and for an academic from IIT Roorkee to visit Newcastle University as part of exchange programme. This exchange willl now take place in 2022. See 

Recent Funded Projects

REMATCH: Building REsilience to Multi-source Flooding in South/Southeast Asia Tech-informed Community-based approacH  Funded by NERC Global Challenges Research Fund (PI Prof. Qiuhua Liang). This is an international and interdisciplinary project investigating resilience of communities to multi-source flooding in Vietnam's Mekong Delta and how this type of flooding can be predicted to help increase resilience.

DRIER-China: Drought Resilience In Ecosystem services and Rural communities in China. Funded by NERC Global Challenges Research Fund (PI Dr Rachel Gaulton). This is an international and interdisciplinary project focused on drought resilience in northern China.

Previous Work

My main research focus over the last decade has been housing as a site of environmental response by middle class residents in Mumbai and was the subject of my PhD thesis Domesticating Infrastructure: Mumbai's middle Class Housing and rainwater harvestingThis research has focused predominantly on rainwater harvesting as a key infrastructural response to environmental pressures. There are three aspects and scales to this research that can be categorised as how rainwater harvesting (and other environmental infrastructures) are: governed; assembled; and practiced.  

I have worked as a research associate on a mutli-disciplinary project looking into micro-hydro energy in the North East of England (based at The Durham Energy Institute). The project was entitled Micro-hydro generation on the River Wear: a socio-technical appraisal and was an interdisciplinary project that investigated the impacts and feasibility of microhydro energy generation on the River Wear.

Postgraduate Research Supervision

I welcome applications from potential doctoral candidates who are interested in water; Asian cities; urban infrastructure; housing; or socio-technical responses to environmental issues.

Current PhD candidates: 

  • Jeongeun Chae (with Andrew Donaldson)
  • Elliot Rooney (with Maggie Roe and Jaime Amezaga)

Completed PhDs supervised:

  • Dr Faisal Bin Sulaiman 2017 (with Ali Madanipour) The Role of Urban Form in Sustainability - The case study of a Riyadh city neighbourhood
  • Ang Li (with Suzanne Speak) - The value of Multi-functional Urban Agriculture in Creating Sustainable Chinese cities
  • Thanh Vo (with Tim Townsend) - Improving the production and changing perceptions of public space design in a rapidly developing urban environment: an exploration of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


The teaching I am involved in is tailored to my research interests in the environment, housing, and cities. I contribute to teaching on a range of courses - primarily Urban Planning modules focused on global urbanisms. I have previously taught on human geography subjects and into design studios. I am an Associate Fellow of the UK Higher Education Authority. 

My primary teaching role is lecturing and tutoring on global urbanisms for both undergraduate and postgraduate modules in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (APL).



  • TCP8921 Globalisation and Social Justice
  • TCP8920 Globalisation and Social Justice Project
  • TCP2030 Urban Poverty: A Global Perspective
  • TCP8099 Dissertation
  • I teach into several other modules in APL, both undergraduate and postgraduate. I also teach into a masters module in Civil Engineering. I mentor dissertation students at all levels.

I am personal tutor to several MSc students.