Ornella Selvafolta holds a degree in architecture from the Politecnico (Milan) and completes her education at the Pennsylvania State University thanks to a Fulbright scholarship for advanced research. Since 1987 she has taught at the Politenico of Milan, where she was Full Professor of History of Architecture. She is a member of Collegio docenti of the Ph.D. course in Conservation of cultural heritage in the same university. She has taught History of modern architecture in Italian universities such as the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and the University of Genoa. She conducted researches financed by the Ministero della Università e della Ricerca Scientifica such as: La cultura architettonica nel regno Lombardo-Veneto (1814-1859) e il dibattito europeo; Progettare la memoria. Architettura e monumento in Italia tra secondo Settecento e primo Novecento.
Her main fields of research are history of architecture and engineering, applied arts, landscape architecture during the centuries of modern history (XVIII-XX c.) with special regards on Milan and Lombardy. On these issues she has published many scientific articles and books, she has organized exhibitions and she has participated in numerous national and international conferences.