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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


The Ties That (un)Bind: Affect and Organisation in the Bosnia-Herzegovina Protests, 2014

By ucfugca, on 11 December 2015

In this post, I discuss the preliminary results of my ongoing research on the 2014 mass protests in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). Overall, I am interested in the production and articulation of these spaces of rebellion by considering their ‘affective atmospheres’, which means that I am curious about the effects that affect have in the production of socio-spatial relations. In particular, I look at rage, anger, but especially hope as a way to understand how spaces of “togetherness” came to be created during the protests in a country where both “being together” and “occupying public spaces” represent major political and social issues in their own right.

1: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

1: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

When the protests started in Tuzla, in February 2014 international media and journalists wrote extensively about hope and anger as unifying forces leading toward a potential future of peaceful coexistence among divided communities, and thus hinting at the power of these affects to create new spaces of political engagement. According to such accounts, people temporarily overcame established patterns of hatred for the “ethnic other” due to an affective displacement created by the much stronger hatred they shared for the corrupt political class. Although this is a simplistic and problematic view, particularly the erroneous – though widespread – assumption that territorial segregation and social divisions are the result of citizens’ ‘eternal hatred’ of ‘the other’ (rather than the result of specific political and economic conflicts among a range of national and international actors) it is nevertheless true that the atmosphere of political, economic and social instability that permeates the country facilitates a sense of disengagement and fear that are not conducive to revolt but rather invite conditions of stasis as a means of preservation or survival (see my article on the struggles of youth activists in Mostar here). And yet, the protests brought about a new sense of hope and euphoria that made it possible to take the risk of being together against the government’s inability to take care of its citizens’ needs and aspirations. Crucially, this movement toward togetherness materialised in public spaces – squares, streets, and parks – that saw the reclaiming of these spaces as a place of community, rather than politically imposed division.

2: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

2: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by abzur licensed under CC BY 2.0

I have spent the first two months of my fellowship travelling across BiH to interview activists and actors of civil society who were involved in the 2014 protests. I listened to them re-enacting the confrontations in the street, discussing the challenges of coordinating large numbers of people in the plenums, and their personal and collective struggles to imagine how the future of BiH could be radically different from its problematic present. For this post, I will focus on the importance of reflecting on how “becoming hopeful” moved bodies and created spaces for political encounters.

According my respondents, it was hope that brought people in the streets because hope allowed them to believe that change was possible. The protesting bodies, becoming hopeful, became also a visible presence in the city: impossible to ignore and hard to silence. And it was this very process of becoming hopeful and invading the streets to protest that is in itself an extraordinary event. As one interviewee in Sarajevo explained to me:

“here we have been deprived of the luxury of being political… I mean it’s a luxury because you need to work, to take care of your kids, you struggle all the time and you have no energy for struggle more for politics…”

Yet becoming hopeful is also a reason for disappointment, discontent and for the creation of fractures within the movement. As another respondent reported, it was the fact that people put too much hope in what this grassroots movement could do that, when it ended without a revolution, new disappointment and anger arise.

3: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by Kumjana Novakova licensed under CC BY 2.0

3: Protests in Sarajevo, February 2014 by Kumjana Novakova licensed under CC BY 2.0

I believe that there is great potential of looking at hope to account for and explore grassroots protests, how they come into being, how they become movements for creating new spaces of togetherness, but also divisions and fractures; to create and sustain, but also destroy infrastructures of togetherness. Hope begins from encounters and it brings about the question of how new possibilities can be born from these encounters, which involve multiple processes of mediation, negotiation, explanation. And yet, these sites of hope, such as the protests in Bosnia, are the potential signposts that an alternative exists. As Helena Flam argues, we should pay attention to the ways in which protest movements attempt to re-socialise people through (subversive) emotions in order to show that to be angry and to voice concerns is fair and legitimate.

Giulia Carabelli joined the Centre for Advanced Studies – South East Europe (CAS SEE) at the University of Rijeka in October 2015. This is an international research centre that seeks to support, guide, and encourage early career scholars to produce critical and innovative works on topics related to the region of South-Eastern Europe. Prior to joining CAS SEE, Giulia worked in the Development Planning Unit as the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development Graduate Teaching Assistant.


Street Messages and Creative Placemaking

By ucfucmt, on 17 November 2015

“Unfold a street map of London, place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle, keeping close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photograph, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets; the graffiti, the branded litter, the snatches of conversation. Cut for sign. Log the data-stream. Be alert to the happenstance of metaphors, watch for visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, family resemblances, the changing moods of the street. Complete the circle, and the record ends. Walking makes for content; footage for footage”

Robert MacFarlane, a Road of One’s Own

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London


In July 2015, I received a grant from the Academy of Urbanism to explore street messages and creative placemaking within rapidly changing urban spaces. Broadly, my research has explored the encounter with artistic interventions within the urban environment and how they interact with our everyday lives. Within this project more specifically I wanted to go to the encounter of urban street art in four neighbourhoods of London which were all going through processes of change: Brixton, Peckham, Brockley & Shoreditch. This sought to do three things:


  1. Collect images to refer back to and see if themes would become apparent,
  2. Create a working definition of creative place making in terms of street art, and,
  3. Understand where street art fits into narratives of rapidly changing spaces.


What is urban street art and/or street messages?

I was about half way through the project that I stopped referring to the art I was encountering in the street as urban street art, but as street messages. I was rather confusingly for others, and myself, either interchangeably using the words or just saying street messages.

Street art is, basically, art in the street.

But, the reason why I decide to move away from calling it street art is because it did not encompass everything I began to encounter in the street. I wanted it to include, yes, what we understand as street art, but also graffiti (from the italian graffiare, to scratch), tagging (writing one’s name or symbol), feel good stuff, retorts, hactivism (to distort the original meaning of something, like road signs, to create new meaning), calligraffiti, portrait pieces, community murals, inspirational quotes, etc.

I’m personally, drawn to seeking out what seems to be the more impulsive act of grabbing a pen or a spray can and writing on the walls or surfaces. It comes from an individualistic desire but connects to others because it comes from a personal place, connecting empathically.

I guess the difference I am trying to make here is that there were some encounters with street art or street messages that can be immediately understood. You do not have to go away and do some research to understand what that particular piece is trying to do, and you do not need to be in the street art or graffiti world to understand it. I understand it because the message is clear, and I connect to it as a person.

Providing context to the images changes how we engage with it, and therefore how we respond to it. This came up during various points of the project. Because the project was taking place in the street and at the point of encounter with urban street art, I could not assume that people who pass by it go or would go home to research. I wanted to understand their view of the art as they saw and understood it in the very real here and now.


What about the process?

Walking & Filming

Over the months of July & August I set out on a series of walks with different people. I don’t know how you experience the city, but I’ve walked a lot across it. Walking is something that I think in a place like London that is so busy and stressful and where we all lead these very full lives, slowing down is not something that comes quite as naturally anymore. So part of what I wanted to do to understand different areas was to go out there and get a bit – well – lost. And it was in that process of unknowing, the destination, the people we would meet, the conversations that we would have, without having an agenda, which proved to be very exciting. By slowing down, we were able to tap into the pulse of the place, and at the same time open ourselves up to encounter.

During the course of the project I was lucky to meet Jayni Gudka, a filmmaker who wanted to do a short film around the experience of the project. Creating a film was never something I thought of doing, but is a really lovely way to showcase what and how the project was undertaken.


Neighbourhoods & Talking to People.

London is a constantly changing city, but Brixton, Peckham, Brockley & Shoreditch were interesting in the way street art was framed in each context – part of it’s identity, sometimes to raise awareness, part of regeneration projects, and sometimes to argue the appropriation and use of space. When I was doing my background research on the areas, all had the word gentrification as part of their descriptions, and I wanted to explore how street art and messages fit within those processes.

It was during these walks that I had young urbanists, urban planners, academics, artists, photographers, a filmmaker, strangers, coerced friends, an accountant, an art psychotherapist, a wide range of people that responded to the call out for walkers. I was never lonely on my walks. This response I think is indicative of how many people connected to the project aims.

Photography & Mapping.

I wanted to incorporate an element of mapping into the process. While walking in an area, I would take pictures and locate these images onto a map. By creating a virtual map that could be referred to, I wanted to see what themes would immediately jump out.

There were several problematics with this though. Firstly, I realised that I was taking pictures very much from my lived experience, what was making ME stop and making ME think and making ME want to take a picture – it could have been a different interpretation by someone else. Lesson learnt, I need to involve more people at this stage. Secondly, these pictures are not exhaustive and I have simply taken into account a tiny percentage of what’s out there.


As the walks came to a close and I now wanted to understand the outcomes of it, I organised a workshop to answer some of the aims I had initially set out with. It was also really important involve others in this process, as I wanted to dilute my interpretation of things from my own experience – and a wide range of people were invited to take part. As a group we set about figuring out themes. This involved using the same map you can see over there, and placing images that were taken on the walks around it. By first separating them into neighbourhoods, and then into categories, themes began to emerge.


What happened?

Over the course of the walks, and during a workshop that took place back in September, themes started to become apparent. Such as:

  1.     Against the system/Critiques of Technology.
  2.     Instructions & Street Philosophy.
  3.     Aesthetic – images that possibly needed more of a context and background to them to undertand.
  4.     Animals/Nature.
  5.     Gentrification.
  6.     Love.

But what do these themes mean in the context of these neighbourhoods?



Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brixton, London


Brixton is a bustling area, a transportation and market hub. It’s very diverse. It’s also rapidly changing. Earlier this year, network rail began evicting some 30 local independent businesses from within the arches running along Atlantic Road and Station Road, some of which have been in the area for around 40 years. Together with the market, they constitute what is largely considered the heart of Brixton.

The Save the Arches petition began as a response to that, and part of it was also a movement started by local street artist PINS. Initially contacted by a local business to paint their shutters in response to the eviction, PINS then contacted some of his artist friends, spoke to other businesses, and organised more shutters to be painted, helping to raise awareness of the situation. This image is now iconic of the struggle happening in Brixton.

Walking around Brixton was a lot of fun and we met and spoke to many people. The importance of community – through the Save Brixton Arches Campaign shutters, but also to the responses around them – the writings I miss my Brixton, F*%& your new flats, and others – were indicative of feelings around the changes taking place in the area.

We met Phil, Amara & Aleksi from Small World Urbanism, an organisation that uses gardening and art with a community focus. On the day we were walking they were painting bees and planting on beehive place – this small oasis of plants and animals in an urban environment felt like a haven, particularly against the new Brixton Pop structure. Lining the walls were also portraits by James Pearson, an Australian artist who had done the portraits of characters of this particular stretch. We met a few of them, particularly John who spent a long time telling us about growing up in Brixton, the businesses lining the road. There was a great energy about the place, people stopping and chatting and adding their own thoughts to the changes in Brixton.


Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Peckham, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Peckham, London

I don’t really know Peckham. Before the walks, I’d been there once or twice over the last couple of years. Coming out of the station, you’re fed out of small tunnels and into a bustling high street of stalls piled high with yam and cassava, fishmongers and butchers, and music blasting in the street. Peckham is one of the most diverse communities in London, which also plays home to many of its best art schools. It is an area that’s undergone changes in the last few years, with the influx of cafes, wine bars, niche shops and artists studios. One of my favourite pieces that we came across during those walks was a David de Brito (São Paolo) painting that originally read “I love Peckham” and where someone had come by and written over it – I hate the new Peckham.

Just off Rye Lane, walking past vegetable stalls, you come into a parking area with lots of cars, a restaurant, and a lot of graffiti, tags and street art. We also spoke to a man in his fifty’s sitting on a chair. I asked him about the street art and graffiti. He says he started it all. One day a girl came and did it, took a couple of pictures, but the next day he got there and someone had written all over it. He rang her up and she said that was just the way of the street – open to response, to be defaced, to be altered to be hated or loved. I think this touches on how street art, graffiti occupies such a different space in our visual culture. With advertising we aren’t allowed to respond, if we do it is vandalism, but with street art and messages you can. It becomes a really fluid space for dialogue, even if it’s just to swear.



Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brockley, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Brockley, London


Brockley was an interesting walk as it was so different from Brixton & Peckham. It didn’t have the same activity, hustle and bustle, there were less people milling around, it had a much more suburban feel to it. As an area it deserved more walks at various times during the week. It didn’t quite work as a space to just go and see what happens.

Here, the walks actually followed the Brockley Street Art Festival that took place earlier in the summer. These paintings are legal, having sought the OK of the local council to paint on walls and hoardings. The catalyst for the festival was actually because just outside Brockley Station a Bob Marley Mural was removed to build new flats. The community was upset as it had been around for forty years. So, it set out to recreate it and then some.

The festival itself aimed to improve the appearance of the Brockley Corridor and its surrounding neighbourhood through a showcase of murals by local, national, and international artists. I was personally really interested in some writing on hoardings, actually on the outside of this new building going up which has three white women shopping for cacti (who knew it was a thing?) and someone has taken a pen and responded with “the mortgages are like so affordable” but also “Brockley is on the down turn, like the rest of UK”.

I did speak to a few people, and everyone found them quite beautiful. But it remained at that. So, Brockley primarily seemed more aesthetic in its use of street art, but also had some retort in the form of these scribblings on hoardings. I left feeling like Brockley was at the beginning of certain change.


Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Shoreditch, London

Picture taken by Claire M. Tunnacliffe in Shoreditch, London

Shoreditch needs no introduction. Because it’s such a vibrant space for street art, I initially didn’t want to go there as I thought that whatever ‘messages’ I was hoping for wouldn’t be there – too consumeristic, I thought. Intrinsically, this is the space that revealed the most pieces against the system. During the final walk in Shoreditch, the term “post-gentrification” was used, and it came up again in the workshop. Though there are several problematics with using phrases like this, I believe it helped to understand that a change has occurred so fundamentally that it now did not look like anything it once was.

As the last area to go walking in, it was easier to look back on the four neighbourhoods as different moments in a process of change. The themes revealed a narrative around changing spaces, and in Brockley-Brixton-Peckham & Shoreditch street art becomes embroiled in processes of change.

The other neighbourhoods seemed to fit into different stages of change with Brixton, Peckham, Brockley and Shoreditch all sitting on some spectrum of change, and with urban street art framing some of the narratives of that change. I think something to tease out of this project is to focus more on what those phases would be.

What is Creative Placemaking?

I became aware that I hadn’t really given a definition of what this means. That’s predominantly because throughout the project, I’ve been trying to define it. I obviously had some notions of what it did mean to me, but again in the same way with just going for a walk, I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t try to shove my preconceived idea of what it had to mean without interacting with it in the first place.

It was during the workshop that we began deconstruct and then reconstruct each word. What this meant was that when we recombined them they revealed new understandings. So for example, creative place making also became: innovative environment building, or; chance transcient curating, or; ephemeral attachment consciousness.

In a nutshell, this is what Creative Placemaking has come to mean to me: the act of creating something that connects you to a physical space for a moment. In that moment, that space is yours and forms your identity.

Is there a single definition? Absolutely not. I believe that Creative Placemaking can be very different things depending on intent of the maker – Indeed, I would argue that creative place making can only be experienced by the maker. Is it a working definition? Yes. Creative place making, is also not a process with an end point, but the constant transforming, defining and re-defining, and curating of public spaces. Street art and street messages exist in an interesting space. By straddling legal and illegal divides, by being driven by different needs – community, individualistic, ego, aesthetic – it is a very active process.

Finally, I believe that street art creates narratives, allowing us to understand changing spaces. In order to understand a community, we should look at its walls.



Claire is a DPU MSc Environment & Sustainable Development Alumni. Since graduating in 2012, she continues to research the role of urban street art in re-naturing urban imaginations and experiences. She is a PhD student at the Bartlett School of Architecture exploring street messages in West African urbanism. However, her interests are interdisciplinary; community engagement, urban street art, public interest design, sustainable development, town planning, creative cities, art psychotherapy, mental health, the psychodynamics of public spaces, and their impact on place making in the city. Her project Street Messages & Creative Place Making was funded by the Academy of Urbanism Young Urbanist Small Grants Scheme.


Urban street trading: tailored thinking for the Global South

By ucfulor, on 17 April 2015

On the 25th of March we ran a one-day seminar on street trading in the cities in the Global South. Prominent researchers from different parts of the world mixed with young PhDs to share their research and reflections on the topic.

During the reception after the seminar one of the speakers remarked: ‘I feel people in this room are talking on the same language and sharing similar questions; an exciting feeling’.

I really sympathised with that comment: to connect disconnected research and people was one of the key motivations behind the event. In fact, street trading as a tool to understand cities is currently disconnected from major debates, despite their widespread presence in cities in the Global South.

Street trading_web

The seminar looked at street trading on two levels: On a practical level about the difficulties encountered with regards to implementing city policies; and another more theoretical level using street trading as a conceptual tool to understand (and challenge understandings) of cities, and city-making processes.

The conceptual problem of street trading

The exercise really started long before the seminar, when we had to choose a title that accurately framed the subject and our objectives. I first proposed the title ‘Street traders and the cities in the Global South’.

This was quickly changed to specify ‘street trading’ as we acknowledged that the commercial system (traders, organisations, marketplaces, local and transnational commercial connections) is far more complex than only street traders, which only considers people and not wider spatial, political and economic contexts.

Looking for a more appealing title, Yves Cabannes and I proposed ‘Street trading: the privatisation of public space’.

However, we realised that that we were getting trapped by the very same conceptual-box that we were trying to escape and challenge: the modern paradigm of cities.

In fact, the definition of ‘public space’ and ‘privatisation’ fail to adequately explain how streets in the Global South work. In this context, the appropriation of the streets and open spaces by street traders, without formal permission from the municipality, is already a current, and to a certain extent, legitimate practice. In other words, to have informal street trading in the streets is normal.

Our discussion on the title illustrates a conceptual problem with street trading: as researchers, we lack theoretical frameworks that fit properly to explain how cities and streets work and the conditions that make them suitable places for street trading. After this discussion we settled on the title Street trading in the Global South: Practical and theoretical challenges.

Informality is never black and white

Among the different discussions held during the seminar, I have chosen three that show how the current theoretical frameworks fail to address street trading.

The first of these discussions was on the concept of informality. It was quickly agreed by participants that while this concept seems to propose a black and white understanding of the phenomenon, the reality that we observe is actually somewhere in-between – different shades of gray.

Is this concept useful to understand how street trading works? Are the street traders doing wrong by operating outside the law, or rather have cities been unable to offer them a dignified role in the city-making process?

Contested urban spaces and city-making

The second discussion related with the claims of vendors to urban space and the legal systems that regulate the activity. Traders have been facing evictions in many locations and some of them start mobilisations to protect their places on the streets. Most of these evictions occur when groups of the urban elite, supported by city authorities, ‘clean’ the streets to re-appropriate spaces used by them in the past such as the city centres.

The contestation of urban space is an interesting angle to see how the city is made and for who. This perspective shows that street traders are not often seen as having a voice in the making of their own cities.

Urban streets are more than mere thoroughfares

We also discussed the need to move to a new paradigm of space that integrates the richness of the streets as vibrant places where many things happen throughout the day. In the past, streets were conceptualised mainly as a ‘road’, a space of transit, where separation of uses and users was optimal to fulfill this function.

This idea still predominates in the way we think about a street and the way city authorities expect it to work. Street trading hardly finds a space in this functionalist conception of space.

Street trading can only find a proper space in the cities if we start thinking about the streets as a different kind of ‘object’, one that understands the vitality, dynamism, polyvalence that streets in the Global South have.

Lastly, I want to thanks to all the participants for making this seminar an exciting space for exchange, and specially to Yves for the enriching discussions we had.

Lila Oriard has recently completed her PhD at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Her doctorate explores street vending and its ability to produce space, through an examination of  the Tepito market in Mexico City downtown area.

“Social Design” creeps into the mainstream: Is it here to stay and in what way?

By William N Hunter, on 19 March 2012

If the two recent exhibitions held in New York are part of any confirming indication that a legitimate shift in socially responsive architecture and design has indeed arrived, then it is by time the professional and academic community at large begin engaging in a critical discourse in relation to the practices and products of this movement. The Museum of Modern Art’s Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement and the Cooper Hewitt-produced Design with the Other 90%: CITIES at the United Nations highlighted an array of projects, practices, designers, and organizations that are seemingly appearing and operating outside the usual mainstream avenues of delivery. Likewise the recently published Spatial Agency project led by Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till attempts to uncover another way of doing architecture, one that eschews the image of architect as individual hero, replacing it with an idea of architect as agent, acting and collaborating with, and on behalf of, others. These happenings represent a larger buzz gripping architectural reporting and discourse.

MoMA’s Small Scale, Big Change exhibit (image by provisions)

Cooper Hewitt / United Nations Design for the Other 90% (image by James Emery)

For all the merit and overdue satisfaction of this exposure and coverage, significant questions should be raised in regards to the resulting implications on mainstream and outsider practices as well as the perception of them. Without a doubt, MoMA by its very nature and established status is targeting architects, enthusiasts and an interested, arguably cultured public. The content is tightly edited, brief, intimate, and yet richly displayed through large format pictures, drawings, and models which is no departure from how the majority of architectural projects are processed, delivered and curated, accompanied by no less than a visually abundant streamlined website. If this is indeed a representation of a different kind of architecture, a different kind of practice, it may require a rethinking of the message. This is not meant to be a critique of the show in of itself, but rather a general determining point.  The exhibition catalogue would lead one to believe that these projects entailed a challenging re-assessment of approach and process, based on geographical situation, cultural protocol, and/or the characters of end users. These are not or at least are not meant to be perceived as typical projects. In fact the website claims that:

“These projects have been selected from an increasingly large number of similar initiatives around the world because they exemplify the degree to which architects can orchestrate change, prioritizing work that has social impact but also balances very real concerns of cost, program, and aesthetics. They succeed in providing communities not only with physical spaces but with opportunities for self-determination and an enhanced sense of identity. As a result, these architects are both designers of buildings and moderators of change. Their integrative methodologies could serve as models for the profession at large”

There is again no argument that the projects represented are operating in some different parallel to mainstream practices, some more than others. Though perhaps more unsettling is the fact that there are only eleven projects and half of them are coming from the tried and tested likes of Rural Studio (Auburn University), Elemental, and Urban Think Tank, entities which also all show up in the Cooper Hewitt’s UN-based exhibit. The exhibition at the UN is part of a larger and broader initiative and arguably more thorough in terms of data and information, but also in many cases still offers an objectified aestheticizing of the subject(s). While the details of the chosen few are not necessary here, the point to be made is that darlings of social design are emerging and beginning to monopolize the conversation in the same manner that so-called starchitects garnered all our attention over the last decade or so. It is not a case of judgement on the part of these established names and practices, but more a general caution on the criticality of who comes to represent this new movement towards socially responsive architecture and design. Furthermore, is it even necessary to put a name behind a work in the same heroic manner as before? What are the consequences if this happens? A possible co-opting of the outsider activists and true agency of architecture by the object-driven mentality of the mainstream protocols is a threat to pure potential.

METI-Handmade School, Bangladesh by Anna Heringer and Eike Roswag (image by Anna Heringer)

Medellin Metro Cable (image by Omar Uran)

The Spatial Agency project, publication, and database also sheds light on practices and people, whether of historical significance or emerging interest and whether by holistic studio vision or one off project, that are concerned as they enter into socially embedded networks, in which the consequences of architecture are of much more significance than the objects of architecture. On the list exists some of the same figures and names already mentioned in the other exhibitions as well as some suspect crossover practices, usually championed for their avant garde responses to architectural problems. Now, debating lists may very well be a waste of precious time, though the effect of such lists is without much doubt. The choices made by editors and curators and then the act of publicising them as brass is problematic on the one hand because it limits the field and on the other because it assumes both internally within the profession and externally in public that those practices and individuals are doing something genuinely different. It implies that they are thinking and acting differently. And in a subconscious way one could or would assume that they are taught differently.

Elemental’s profile on the Spatial Agency online database (image by William Hunter)

Architectural production is a process, and though this process may have become saturated as an ideology, working in less-formalized arenas or situations has its own unique challenges. These situations require new skillsets, qualitative social understanding, and more importantly, new perceptions of what it means to be a practitioner. The role of professional must be internally rethought and if not, it is far reaching that someone should claim that they have the capacity to operate in these contested urbanisms. Architecture and design most certainly has a responsibility to re-establish its worth in future development, in formalized Western settings and especially in more informal settings of the Global South. But this repositioning needs to be led by individuals who are critically and ethically up to the task.

If the buzz surrounding social design and the staging of major exhibitions and research projects are actually confirming that a true paradigm shift is happening within architecture, design, and their related disciplines, we must be aware of what it means to practice differently. The fact is that when practitioners enter into different and unfamiliar arenas, the political landscape of design changes. This change as well as the individuals they work for and with has a huge impact on the methodology of practice. If the differences are not acknowledged and the same approach unfolds, the results will be misdirected and unintentionally non-productive for those individuals they serve. In addition, if the representations and viral publicising of this movement is lazily glorified sans the critical rigor they deserve, then the larger cause of shifting an agency for practice will be lost.


Möbius Strip, Borders and Frontiers: Jerusalem’s urbanism revisited

By Camillo Boano, on 10 December 2010

Some years have passed since my last visit to Jerusalem. At Tel Aviv airport, the usual aesthetic rituals of control formally welcome me in a sophisticated landscape of conflicts, borders, fences and checkpoints where everyday life is fragmented in what Wendy Pullan recently called a “frontier urbanism”.

Before returning to London following a brief period of research and analysis of the Security Barrier (the wall) and Palestinian Refugee Camps, I captured an image that has been used to introduce lectures at UCL on contested urbanism and the critical dimensions of architecture and design, and later forcefully relegated to my desktop.

Paradoxical landscape, At Tur, Jerusalem, @Boano 2008

Conflicting emotions touch me when looking at it, as the production and reproduction of Jerusalem, and possibly all of the West Bank landscape, is for me emblematic of a magnificent and paradoxical post-modern urban present. The complexly layered narratives and plethora of contested spaces and territories has resulted in an urban archipelago that is simultaneously fascinating and frightening, clear in its vision yet obscure in its pattern, rich and wretched, beautiful and revolting.

Last week I attended Wendy Pullan’s Lecture at City University in London, when she and Mike Dumper discussed some findings from their ongoing research on Conflict in Cities. It was very interesting, longitudinal, interdisciplinary and comparative research, well positioned in the current academic and policy debate over the need for a more comparative urban perspective.

Though the debate was centred on a quest for confirming the validity of the notion of frontier urbanism and what differentiates the “frontier” from a “border”, the central ideas were well presented around urban space and its structures employed to promote contestations and asymmetries, dichotomies and oppositions in the vertical as well as the horizontal dimensions.

The debate was unpacked around borders and boundary-making processes grounded in the general theories of social and symbolic boundaries, urban sociology, theories of the social construction of urban space and its representational force and cultural significance. In the specific case of Jerusalem, contests over space are not merely conflicts between exchange value and use value, productive capital and collective consumption, but rather are a paradoxical quest over ethno-national identity, sovereignty and the sacred. It is a contestation on the recognition of the “Other” in a Foucaultian sense. Or, as Nir Gazit points out in his article on Divided Cities in the Middle East in a special issue of City and Community, boundaries simultaneously include and exclude.

Boundary-making is a dialectical process between self and other, not only based on a continuous process of reclaiming natural and altered landscapes, but also entailing a reorganisation of the discursive field according to the imperative or normalization: as Samman (2006:213) posits, “The Wall that runs through Jerusalem is not simply erected on a naturally marked border, but is itself constructed in order to naturalize an otherwise artificial division”.

It depicts the essence of an overall system comprising a dispersal of fortress‐like spatialities, enormous concrete barriers guarded by watchtowers manned by machine‐gun crews, connected by special routes and bypass roads, military convoys, patrols and checkpoints, all forming a complex multiple space of “hollow lands and vertical geopolitics” (Weizman 2007). The latter is a quotation that I found strangely absent from all the detailed literature and research in Conflict in Cities as it stands in a very interesting stream of research on architectural/political relations and the  “arena of speculation” that incorporates varied cultural and political perspectives on space and architecture in West Bank.

The Separation Barrier, Abu Dis, Jerusalem, @Boano 2008

To me this presumes, from an architectural perspective, a bio-political practice in which the territories are inscribed. However all of the thoughts above, and specifically the City University in London lecture, seems to me incomplete without touching and recognising the theses on biopolitics outlined by Michael Foucault (2007) which have profound architectural significance as they revolve around the notion of cultural representation.

In that respect biopower and biopolitics are categories by which Foucault characterises security as a dimension of governmentality, where population or the statistical description of population is an object from which technological and administrative protocols are extrapolated. Stemming from this specific point of view, the paradigmatic case of Jerusalem could also be instructive if read through the lenses of Giorgio Agamben (1998). His theorization of topologies of exception, if conceived as open and closed and at the same time producing not only a rational management of the population or instrument of corporeal punishment (the camp), but a diagram of inclusive exclusion (or exclusive inclusion) producing and reproducing an ever-moving state of fluidity and contingent spatial arrangements.

Excep­tion has transcended the camp as a paradigmatic notion, and following its own principle of operation, has extract­ed itself out into the open landscape (Agamben, 2005:18). This rupture of clear limits in favor of a blurry, continuous state of lines in movement works by grabbing the entirety of space, “ruling over what it is capable of interiorizing” (Deleuze and Guattari, cited in Agamben, 1998:18). A brief detour to Deleuze and Guattari might be also useful as they consider this spatial tension as a struggle between smooth and striated space (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). The transition between one and the other occurs through a cycle of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation; spatial meanings are destroyed or emptied and then substituted.

Such a vision is thus consolidated in an uncharted geography, as once the notion of the territory ceases to be a bounded location, “the dialectic of inside and outside has been replaced by a play of degrees and intensities, of hybridity and artificiality” (Hardt and Negri, 2000:187-188).

While surely all of this literature and the Jerusalem case do need to be checked with cautions, it seems to me that the frontier is the antithetical political space and could be conceived as a space of flow in its elastic and shifting geography, a boundless border zone that could never be represented by drawing static lines at the risk of simplifying its spatiality and its “thickness” – Attempts that Petti, Hilal and Weizman recently made in a highly provocative and interesting manner their recent exhibition “The red Castle and the Lawless Line”, which I think complements very well the debate enriching an architectural political vision.

Like the two sides of a Möbius strip, in any point along its length what seems to be happening is that both the camp and the Utopia become visible poles of antinomy where the ambivalent logic of inclusive, biopolitical exclusion portrait a “neither leave nor enter” logic. As biopolitics begins its work of normalisation, the Utopia and the Camp align and the no-man’s land that separates them disappears.

But the wall, as an apparatus of division is conflictive with itself as an object that solidifies an otherwise fluid barrier. The fluidity of the line (materialised with the wall) is actually it is strongest and most lethal characteristic. As the wall clearly marks the physical limit of one country and the beginning of “another”, it simultaneously plays against Israel’s most sacred military tool: the lack of transparency and clarity about what constitutes the boundaries and precision of the law- it clearly maps where the white, grey and black zones are.

The frontier and the barbed wire, or the Wall in its manifestated thickness is then internalised, materialising the Mumford prophecy of being the earliest manifestations of cities as well as one of the most prominent features of the city” (Mumford, 1961, p. 63). The fence/wall/frontier is now everywhere, forcing us to think urbanism where the “paradigm is not the city —not even the exclusionary neo-liberal city— but rather the state of exception” (AlSayaad & Roy, 2006:18).

AlSayaad, N., Roy, A. (2006). Medieval modernity: On citizenship and urbanism in a global era. Space and Polity , 10 (1), 1-20.
Agamben, G. (1998) Homo Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life, translated by Daniel Heller‐Roazen, Stanford, CA Stanford University Press.
Agamben, G. (2005) State of Exception. K. Attell, Trans. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Deleuze, G., Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus. New York: Continuum.
Foucault, M. (2007) Security, Territory and Population, Lectures at the College de France, 1977‐1978. Trans. Graham Burchell, ed Michael Senellart, New York: Palgrave McMillan.
Gazit N. (2010) Boundaries in Interaction: The Cultural Fabrication of Social Boundaries in West Jerusalem, City & Community , Vol.9(4), pp: 390-413.
Hardt, M., Negri, A. (2000) Empire. Cambridge: Har­vard University Press.
Mumford, L. (1961) The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. Orlando: Harcourt.
Samman, K. (2006) Cities of God and Nationalism: Mecca, Jerusalem, and Rome as Contested World Cities. Boulder: Paradigm.
Weber, M. (1978) Economy and Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Weizman, E. (2007) Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. London, Verso.