Sie sind auf Seite 1von 83

Sustainable Living Urban Model / Issue 8

Social Design
Public Action

Guest-Edited by Lukas Feireiss

Keep Their
Heads Ringin




Public Action

he globally spread commoditization

of the urban sphere has produced
the same set of solutions that were once
pursued by modernism and have been so
broadly criticised by post-modernism.
It has ultimately divided the city into islands of wealth and ghettos of poverty. As
Giancarlo De Carlo puts it, concentrating on how architects played into the
hands of such power structures is only
half of the problem. In neglecting the
problems of why, we have lost track of
the most important reasons of our social
Presented in this new issue are speculations, works and current ideas on this
commitment. SLUM Lab was created to
start a dialogue between researchers and
city dwellers, to share ideas, practices,
and future avenues of engagement. In
this issue we present a series of tactics to
accompany the on-going development of
social design. We are talking about architectural operations with new stakeholders that deal flexibly with the existing city,
changing it from within. We are talking
about guerrilla strategies in the self-built,
informal settlements of the South and
the well-established conurbations of the
City dwellers in the North are once
again learning to share knowledge and
are reconsidering urban commodification. In times of both ecological and
economic scarcity sharing a spare room,
a parked car, or an untouched toolbox
has become an attractive option. Groups
like AirB&B lead the sharing economy;
converting costs from ownership to usage and turning consumers into service
providers. They tap into under-utilized
assets with peer-to-peer services, social
lending or crowd sourcing, making better use of the resources and expertise at
hand. These new social frameworks allow
for collaborative consumption and take a
pick at the profit made by large firms. It
raises the question of what and why we
want to share, and how we design processes to do so.
The open source movement is a precursor of all this, identifying a need to
make knowledge available to all and free
to re-use and adapt. It promotes universal
access to product designs, enabling distribution and subsequent improvements.

esign is everyday. Design is everywhere. Design is an integral element

of our society. Our lives are embedded
in designwillingly or not. With such
a broad denotation of design, it is naturally impossible to distinguish and formulate a universal language of design
that all disciplines can approve of. However, what can generally be said is that
successful designbeyond its aesthetic,
functional, and economic dimensions
necessitates consideration of the ecologic and sociopolitical dimensions of
both the design object and the design
process. Design thereby always involves
considerable research, thought, modeling, adjustment and last but not least
re-design, as all design needs to adapt
to the changing world we are living in.
This special edition of the SLUm Lab
magazine at handreleased on occasion

Knowledge must be open-source. Architecture, despite its reputation as being a product of the creative whim, is a collective
and collaborative act.
And whereas the sharing economy remains grounded in market exchange, the
open-source movement stands to reclaim
access to the commons. This we believe is
a key premise for effective social design.
Knowledge must be open-source. Architecture, despite its reputation as being
a product of the creative whim, is a collective and collaborative act. By sharing even
the most innocuous of details, an opening is provided for critical insight and
improvement of methodology. At U-TT we
believe in licensing our prototypes under
the Creative Commons, allowing them to
be shared, adapted, and restructured in
an open-ended future. We are creating an
open-source toolbox of social designs, to
be made available to multiple stakeholders.
But to design socially is also to distribute the process of making architecture
and urban environments. This is what
we seek to achieve through our work in
the slums of Petare and Santa Cruz in
Caracas where we are currently completing two vertical gyms. Our designs involve
multitudes of collaborators and integrate
comprehensives attempts to map social

relations in the city. This is the case in

Paraispolis in So Paulo, where our projects are informed by a small army of social
workers from the housing office SEHAB
that share an enormous amount of data
through a web-based GIS system.
Those who have the least, share the
most. The informal settlements we work
in are the forerunners of open source
social design. Sharing is essential to the
incremental growth of the barrio, where
neighbours and friends provide small
loans and pool labour and tools for each
others housing constructions. In the barrio the designer is the producer but also
the end-userwhich takes us a significant step beyond the trend of participatory design. It makes the sharing economy
insignificant in comparison, instead of
collaboratively consuming together and
sharing cars and wifi, the informal communities we work in engage together to
collaboratively and actively in the production of their urban environment. When
city dwellers produce space together,
when they reclaim the commons, and
decide rather that participate, now thats
what we call social design.

However, what can generally be said is that successful

designbeyond its aesthetic, functional, and economic
dimensions necessitates consideration of the ecologic
and sociopolitical dimensions of both the design object
and the design process.

of the international and interdisciplinary

symposium Social Design Public Action
at the University of Applied Arts Vienna
in September 2013now looks into an
emerging cross-disciplinary design discussion, that emphasizes the sociopolitical dimension and responsibility of
design within a collective co-existence.
At the heart of this discourse lies the conviction that design can contribute to positively impacting our world and that social
change can happen through design. By
addressing social design as an essential
element of civic engagement and transcultural interaction in the creation and
re-creation of our living environment,
the publication attempts to interweave
this debate into the very fabric of society.
Regarding the designer as a mediator
between specialists of very different professional backgrounds involved in the
design process, and most importantly

its end users and social participants, The

Social Design Public Action Reader aims
at connecting the abstract and theoretic
sciences with the hands-on practice of
artistic and cultural production. It takes
the form of critical essays, stories, interviews, and practical case-studies that aim
to disseminate knowledge from various
arenas to spur critical thinking and to
rouse to action. The publication thereby
not only provides food for thought but
also deliberately calls for arms. Just like
the symposium, the reader is divided in
four interconnecting thematic clusters
that invite for reciprocal exchange as
they remain essentially open to actively
foster the dialogue of ideas. The first
chapter New Forms of the Social and Political, questions the transformational
power of new forms of the social, political and cultural within the urban realm
worldwide. The second chapter Politics
in the Realm of Things examines new conditions of public representation beyond
the sphere of professional politics and

governance. Contesting the Urban Arena,

the third chapter, tries to understand
critical creative practices as laboratories of civilization and applied societal
design in highly contested contexts of
collective identities. The last chapter,
Community and Co-Existence, re-thinks
architectures of relationships, processes and agencies of the collective and
the individual in the contemporary city.
This said, we hope to provide students and
educators a like with a valuable learning
resource and professionals with a critical
set of tools to apply in their practice. It is
our overall intention to show examples of
how design can be used in thoughtful and
meaningful ways to advance the potential
for deeper design engagements that successfully impact the quality of life in our
built environment.

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design



(Casa do Vapor) 116

Kiran Bir SETHI
Riverside School: Design for Change (139)



Roaming and Rambling: U-TT on Social
design in the Urban Planet (0)

Towards Architectures of Welfare (22)

Design is Everyday (1)

The Rise of Instant Activism, and How its
Transforming Architecture, Urbanism and
the Way Our Cities are Built (24)

Social Design = Public Action
Urbanizing the World (4)

(Skateistan) 28

A Different Angle Can give a Form a New
Function and New Owners (28)
Michael MURPHY
The Architecture of Social Justice (30)


of THINGS (45)
Examining new conditions of public representation beyond the sphere of
professional politics and
Nabeel HAMDI
Design, Emergence and
Somewhere in-between (46)
Marisa Mazria KATZ
Radical Recalibration: Artists Reports (50)
Discussing Aesthetics in The Trans-African
Project. From the Diary of a Border-Being
Anil GUPTA et al.
Landscapes of Love, Sharing,
and Creative Collaboration (55)

NEW FORMS of the

Public Action

Questioning the transformational power of new

forms of the social, political, and cultural within the
urban realm worldwide.
The Global Street: Making the Political (10)
Lieven de CAUTER and Hana Al BAYATY
Behind the Scene of Tahrir Square: A Skype
Conversation with Cairos Hana Al Bayaty
on the logistics and inner workings of the
Arab Awakening (14)

The Silkworm Solution and Other Ways to
Save the World (36)

Mad Housers and the American Definition
of Home (147)
Revolutionary Housing in Argentina (150)


ARENA (81)
Understanding critical
creative practices as laboratories of civilization and
applied societal design in
highly contested contexts
of collective identities.

Ahmet ght: The Silent University (62)

The Right to the City (82)


The Matter is the Memory,
And the Memory is the Matter (64)

Richard SENNET
The Open City (88)

Thomas LOME
Open Structures (68)
Built on Sand (33)

One of Many Recipes for Socially Engaging
Projects (144)

The Power of Logic Versus the
Logic of Power (71)
Ground Truth Initiative (74)

Afaina de JONG
City of the Young (92)
Marjetica POTR and Andres LEPIK
Cities in Transition (94)
Domicide. Favela Chic.
Oikophagia. A Desired Manifesto (98)

A Greek Reenactment (40)

Abdou Maliq SIMONE

Design Head-On (76)


Smart Options for
the Informal City (101)

(Creative Time Reports) 50

(Luis Berros-Negrn) 64

(Raumlabor Berlin) 36

Ruin Academy: Towards the Third
Generation City (106)
Thorsten DECKLER
Informal Studio: Marlboro South (110)
Alexander RMER and
Bom Dia, Casa do Vapor!
Transforming Space / Open Perspectives /
Common Public Space (116)


APB and the Power of the Popular (152)
Ludwig ENGEL
Social HousingHousing the Social:
Towards a Flexible Utopia (154)

(Giancarlo Mazzanti) 128

Marco CLAUSEN and Kito NEDO

A Garden as the City of Tomorrow (120)

Re-thinking architectures
of relationships, processes
and agencies of the collective and the individual in
the contemporary city.

Giancarlo MAZZANTI
From the Social Design to the Sense
of Community (128)
Jeanne van HEESWIJK
Art and Social Change: Learning
Collectively to Take Responsibility (131)
Knowledge is Prejudice (134)
Project Row House (136)


Public Action

Leonidas MARTIN
Disrupt the Dominant Narrative (18)

Social Design

Social Design


atelier darchitecture AUTOGRE

R-Urban Commons and Resilient Practices


Public Action

hroughout history urban space has

been framing activities, defining territories, forming and transforming communities. Citiesas condensed descriptions
of urban spacebecame the most successful self-generated environments of
mankind. Colonizing the world, contemporary cities are no longer spatial entities.
They behave more like living organisms.
Comparable to amoebas, todays cities
grow under the conditions of continuous
change. Cities and amoebas share the
capacity to establish an ephemeral physical integrity while remaining unstable in
non-physical basic conditions.
Over the last decades, urban agglomerations have been extremely successful in
absorbing population growth and drawing in rural population. As a result, almost
more than half of the worlds population
of today lives in cities (United Nations
While Asia and the Pacific Region are
facing a rapidly escalating megalopolitan
progression, Latin American countries
are suffering from the consequences of
rapid urbanization.
The World Urbanization Prospects published by the United Nations in 2012 is
expecting that in 2050 the worlds urban
population will likely be of the same size
as the worlds total population was in
2002. Urban dwellers will account for
86 percent of the population in the more
developed regions and for 64 percent of
that in the less developed regions. Overall, the world population is expected to
be 67 percent urban in 2050. (United Nations 2012). As a result cities will increasingly be put under pressure due to densification and concentration of population,
economy, capital, and media as well as
culture and knowledge.
In pre-industrial times cityscapes only
gradually changed by marginal transformations of their constituting elements.
They remained practically unchanged
up until the city was confronted with the
drastic consequences of industrialization
(Benevolo 1986).
The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in history. More or less
every aspect of everyday life has been influenced by this development. Modern societies as well as modern cities are rooted
in this period of radical transformation of
work and life.

Fueled by the progression of industrialization, rapid urbanization started

to change the concept of urban environment completely. This caused substantial damages to urban space and broke
apart pre-industrial societal structures
(Kiess 1991). Establishing the production process as a core value empowered
the linearity of processing and unraveled

it became feasible to increase the velocity of movement: the velocity of machinery replaced the velocity of pre-industrial
transportation systems. As a result of industrialization, automobiles appeared on
the urban agenda. Gaining the biggest influence on urban planning to date, they became the driving force of city development.
Streets and public spaces of pre-industrial
cities once populated by a variety of activities now faced the reduction to traffic only.
Depending entirely on car mobility, cities
developed into sprawling urban forms.
This sprawling model of urbanization has
had a big and long lasting impact on urbanas well as societal structures.
During the development of the industrial society, technological progress, and
innovation amplified the production of
wealth. For the first time in history, the
living standards of the masses of ordinary

The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in

history. More or less every aspect of everyday life has been
influenced by this development. Modern societies as well as
modern cities are rooted in this period of radical transformation of work and life.
complexity into a chronological order.
Thus linearity became established as a
fundamental principle and crucial for all
following transformations.
Integrating large-scale technological
innovations into the production chain
like steam-powered enginessignificantly changed the production routine.
As a consequence, spatial concentration
of labor established a new type of urban
structure: the industrial plant.
Site and location advanced as essential criteria. Traditional production techniquesdefined by spatial juxtapositions
of life and workdissolved into concentrations of mono-functional activities.
Executing this strategy on an urban scale
led to a yet unknown and radical segregation of urban life. Thus, isolation and
exclusion advanced to core policies of a
functionalist city. Organized alongside
linear processes, the citys development
followed the path of a solely economical
practice. This successful model gave birth
to one of the main consequences of the
modern world: mobility. (Falkeis 1997)
By means of technological innovations

people have begun to undergo sustained

growth.(Lucas 2002). But, on the other
hand the speed of material processing,
the huge turnover of energy and labor
led to an unbearable decrease in natural
resources. Alongside this development,
new parameters were established to define and measure the changing urban
landscape: the Ecological Footprint and
Carbon Currency. Since the entire process of urbanization is powered by fossil
energy, this 20th century model of greenfields-turned-into-suburbs development
(Lehmann 2012) has to be replaced by a
new and efficient urban model.
At least since Richard Buckminster
Fullers Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (1969) and Viktor Papaneks
Design for the Real World (1971) a critical attitude towards design has become
visible. According to Viktor Papaneks
polemic classification, design ultimately
means to destroy (Papanek 2008). Consequently, design in its underlying meaning of creationGestaltungmight
Gestaltungmight be
defined as creative destruction. Associated with the name of the Austrian-born

Arts as
Urban Innovation
in science, technology and innovation
takes the place of industry and agriculture
as a key factor in economical and urban
development. While the physical abilities
of man and animal defined the pace of
the pre-industrial world, and the velocity
of machinery those of the industrialized
world, the absolute speed of electro-magnetic fields now questions the notion of
The concept of knowledge-society emphasizes immateriality and specific intangible features of products and services in
economic progresses, and of innovation
in particular (Hochgerner 2013). Innovation is our best means of successfully
tackling major societal challenges, such
as climate change, energy and resource

scarcity, health and ageing, which are

becoming more urgent by the day (European Commission 2010). Therefore, our
future standard of living depends on our
ability to drive innovation into sustainable products and services, social processes and models. Social Design will be a
means of critical reflection on innovation,
observing the impact of new communication and mobility systems on urban societies, turning post-industrial society into
a knowledge-society. Since the basic function of knowledge is to provide the capability to act (Stehr 1994), the knowledge
society is asking for new conditions of
knowledge production, new channels of
knowledge diffusion, and new methods
of knowledge utilization.
How society perceives the modern
world is increasingly defined by theoretical knowledge. Scientists determine
which answers to follow, regardless,
which questions on the subject of modern
life occurred.
Being aware of this responsibility and
the complexity of todays world, it is obvious that multifaceted problems cannot
be solved from the perspective of a single
academic discipline. Therefore the newly
implemented master programme at the
University of Applied Arts in ViennaSocial Design_Arts as Urban Innovation
focuses on collaborative research and
project structures. It is open to graduates
from diverse fields of study, thereby stipulating work in transdisciplinary teams
as the central teaching and learning approach. On the basis of professional
competences acquired in their respective
previous studies, students become acquainted with transcending disciplinary
codes, and thinking and working in larger
interrelations. Art in synergy with projectrelated scientific methods and knowledge
is applied as a tool for urban innovation.
The academic principle of research-oriented teaching is further enhanced by
cooperations with non-university institutions.
Social Design as an integral element of
communal and transcultural interaction
within the urban environment works as
an instrument of analysis and intervention. It challenges the cross-examination
of our built environment on a transdisciplinary level, integrating even expertise not yet represented in any academic
discipline. It attempts to interweave the
discourse into the very fabric of society. It
aims at connecting artistic research and
the abstract and theoretic sciences with
hands-on practice of spatial and cultural
Acknowledging the global restructuring phenomenon we will have to investigate new strategies operating beyond

technology centered approaches. In order

to enhance the overall process of knowledge production, art based research has
to play an important role. The role of art
within this process is not defined as a
practice of subsequently adding esthetic
value to a given result. To the contrary,
art will be the driving conceptual force,
fueling the process of development from
the very first moment of investigation to
the final conclusion. It has the ability to
formulate new, distinct perspectives on
the inherent logic of cities and the corresponding dynamics of its processes. Art
based research has the capacity to create
strategies for both the spatial and social
fabric of urban agglomerations: Social
Design = Public Action.

Social Design

Social Design


economist Schumpeter, the process of

creative destruction is creating wealth by
destruction, in order to make room for the
new (Reinert 2006).
The destructive nature of some new
technologies and innovative processes
has turned Schumpeters creative destruction into destructive creations
(Soete 2013).
Planned obsolescence forces the demand for the next generation of products
in order to enhance economic growth and
expansion opportunities. This type of innovation directly leads to ecologically unsustainable consumerism. Innovations,
only profitable for innovators, are generating wealth for a particular market and
systematic risk for society, directly leading from financial innovation to systemic
Todays societies are facing an urgent
need to manage such processes by new
and more efficient ways of information
processing and knowledge production.
While the concept of a modern city or society is still rooted in the industrial era, a
globalized economy already demands for
these new strategies.

Benevolo, L. (1986). Die Geschichte der Stadt.
Frankfurt/New York. p. 781
Falkeis, A. (1997) Featureless City / Stadt ohne
Eigenschaften. In: Werk Bauen und Wohnen.
Falkeis; Hochgerner (2013). Social Design = Social
Innovation. Public discussion on Social Design by
Anton Falkeis and Josef Hochgerner moderated
by Gerald Bast. University of Applied Arts Vienna.
April 18, 2013.
Hochgerner, J. (2012). New Combinations of Social
Practices in the Knowledge Society.
In: Franz; Hochgerner; Howalt. Challenge Social
Design. New York

Kiess, W. (1991). Urbanismus im Industriezeitalter.

Lehmann, S. (2012). Urban Metabolism and the
Zero-Waste City: Transforming Cities through
Sustainable Design and Behavior Change. In: Green
Cities. Manila
Lucas, R. (2002). Lectures on Economic Growth.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp.109 10.
Papanek, V. (2008). Design fr die reale Welt.
Anleitung fr eine humane kologie und sozialen
Wandel. Wien
Reinert, H; Reinert, E. (2006). Creative Desttuction
in Economics: Nietzsche, Sombart, Schumpeter.
Soete, L. (2013). Planning Innovation. Public Lecture. Forum Alpach
Stehr, N. (1994). Knowledge Societies. London
United Nations (2012).World Urbanization Prospects. The 20111 Revision. Highlits.

Public Action


Public Action

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design

Public Action

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design




Public Action

his article explores key vectors in the

uprisings of the MENA (Middle East
and North Africa) region from an urban
perspective. The aim is to open up a
larger conceptual field to understand the
complex interactions between power and
powerlessness as they get shaped in urban space. I argue that the city makes visible the limits of superior military power
and, most importantly, that cities enable
powerlessness to become complex, not
simply elementary. In this complexity
lies the possibility of making history and
remaking the political. The question of
public space is central to giving the powerless rhetorical and operational openings. But that public space needs to be
distinguished from the concept of public space in the European tradition. This
leads me to the concept of The Global
Keywords: space, making, political, social, rituals, complexity of powerlessness
Street struggles and demonstrations
are part of our global modernity. The uprisings in the Arab world, the daily neighborhood protests in Chinas major cities,
Latin Americas piqueteros and poor people demonstrating with pots and pans

all are vehicles for making social and political claims. We can add to these the very
familiar anti-gentrification struggles and
demonstrations against police brutality
in US cities during the 1980s and in cities
worldwide in the 1990s and continuing.
Most recently, the over 100,000 people
marching in Tel Aviva first for this city
not to bring down the government, but to
ask for access to housing and jobs; part of
the demonstration is Tel Avivs tent city,
housing mostly impoverished middleclass citizens. The Indignados in Spain
have been demonstrating peacefully in
Madrid and Barcelona for jobs and social
services; they have now become a national
movement with people from through- out
Spain gathering to go on a very long march
to EU headquarters in Brussels. These are
also the claims of the 600,000 who went
to the street in late August in several cities
in Chile. These are among the diverse instances that together make me think of a
concept that takes it beyond the empirics
of each caseThe Global Street.
In each of these cases, I would argue
that the street, the urban street, as public space is to be differentiated from the
classic European notion of the more ritu-

alized spaces for public activity, with the

piazza and the boulevard the emblematic
European instances. I think of the space
of the street, which of course includes
squares and any available open space,
as a rawer and less ritualized space. The
Street can, thus, be conceived as a space
where new forms of the social and the political can be made, rather than a space
for enacting ritualized routines. With
some conceptual stretching, we might
say that politically, street and square
are marked differently from boulevard
and piazza: The first signals action and
the second, rituals.
Seen this way, there is an epochal quality to the current wave of street protests,
no matter their enormous differences, i.e.
from the extraordinary courage and determination of protesters in Syria to the flash
crowds convoked via social media to invade a commercial street block for 10 minutes we have seen in cities in the US, the
UK, and Chile. In this short article, I first
examine some aspects of the uprisings in
MENA. The effort is to situate these specifics in a larger conceptual frame: the focus
is on dimensions of these diverse politics
that have at least one strategic moment

The city is a space where the powerless

can make history. That is not to say it is the
only space, but it is certainly a critical one.
Becoming present, visible, to each other
can alter the character of powerlessness.
I make a distinction (Sassen, 2008, chs. 6
and 8) between different types of powerlessness. Powerlessness is not simply an
absolute condition that can be flattened
into the absence of power. Under certain
conditions, powerlessness can become
complex, by which I mean that it contains
the possibility of making the political,
or making the civic, or making history.
There is a difference between powerlessness and invisibility/impotence. Many
of the protest movements we have seen
in North Africa and the Middle East are
a case in point: these protesters may not
have gained power, they are still powerless, but they are making a history and a
politics. This then leads me to a second
distinction, which contains a critique of
the common notion that if something
good happens to the powerless it signals
empowerment. The notion that powerlessness can become complex can be used
to characterize a condition that is not
quite empowerment. Powerlessness can
be complex even if there is no empowerment.
What is being engendered in the current uprisings in the cities of the MENA
region is quite different from what it
might have been in the medieval city of
Weber. Weber identifies a set of practices
that allowed the burghers to set up systems for owning and protecting property
against more powerful actors, such as the
king and the church, and to implement
various immunities against despots of all
sorts. Todays political practices, I would
argue, have to do with the production of
presence by those without power and
with a politics that claims rights to the

have come to refer to as the Arab spring.

Yet in all these cases the overcoming of
conflicts has become the source for an expanded civicness. This is not urban per se,
but the conflicts and the civicness assume
particularly strong and legible forms in
major cities. Further, we see an enabling
of the powerless: urban space makes their
powerlessness complex, and in that complexity lies the possibility of making the
political, making the civic.
Other cases in the region augment
these features and add yet another dimension: the limits of superior military
force. The rebels in Benghazi took full
possession of the territory of the city and
launched a veritable experiment in civicness. The superior military power of the
Gaddafi regime could not prevent this
even before NATOs intervention. As I discuss later, Israels superior military power
has not achieved what it wants from Gaza.
Nor has Syrias massive military deployment stopped the unarmed protesters.
These diverse cases point to the capacities
of the city to function as a sort of weak regime: it cannot destroy superior military
force but it can obstruct it. People versus
armed gunmen in an open field are a different condition from people in a dense
urban setting versus such gunmen.
These are issues I examine in the next
two sections.


The City: Its Return as a

Lens onto Major World
In the global era, the city has emerged
as a strategic site for understanding some
of the major new trends reconfiguring the
social order. The city and the metropolitan region are one of the locations where
major macro and global trends, even
when not urban, materialize; it is, then,
a space that can give us knowledge about
developments that are not urban per se.
The city might be just one moment in
what can be complex multi-sited trajectories, but it is a strategic moment. The
city has long been a site for the exploration of many major subjects confronting
society. But it has not always been a heuristic spacea space capable of producing knowledge about some of the major
transformations of an epoch. In the first
half of the twentieth century, the study of
cities was at the heart of sociology. This
is evident in the work of Simmel, Weber,
Benjamin, Lefebvre, and most prominently the Chicago School, especially
Park and Wirth, both deeply influenced
by German thinkers. They all confronted

Public Action

Social Design

Becomes Complex

city and to the country rather than protection of property. What the two situations
share is the notion that through these
practices new forms of the political (for
Weber, citizenship) are being constituted
and that the city is a key site for this type
of political work. The city is, in turn, partly
constituted through these dynamics. Far
more so than a peaceful and harmonious
suburb, the contested city is where the
civic is made.
We see this potential for the making of
the civic across the centuries. Historically
the overcoming of urban conflicts has often been the source for an expanded civicness. The cases that have become iconic
in Western historiography are Augsburg
and Moorish Spain. In both, a genuinely
enlightened leadership and citizenry
worked at constituting a shared civicness.
But there are many other both old and
new cases. Old Jerusalems bazaar was a
space of commercial and religious coexistence for long periods of time. Modern
Baghdad, under the brutal leadership of
Saddam Hussein, was a city where religious minorities (though not necessarily the majority, always a threat), such as
Christian and Jews, lived in more relative
peace than they do today. Outsiders in
Europes cities, notably immigrants, have
experienced persecution for centuries;
yet in many a case their successful claims
for inclusion had the effect of expanding
and strengthening the rights of citizens
as well.
We see some of this capacity to override
old hatreds, in its own specific forms, in
Cairos Tahrir Square. But also in Yemens
Saana, where once conflicting tribes have
found a way to coalesce with each other
and with the protesters against the existing regime. Tahrir Square has become the
iconic case, partly because key features
of the process became visible as they
stretched over time: the discipline of the
protesters, the mechanisms for communicating, the vast diversity of ages, politics,
religions, cultures, and the struggles extraordinary trajectory. But in fact we now
know that these features are also at work
in other sites. Yemens protest movements have been intent on being peaceful
and unarmed, and indeed many members expressed distress when one tribea
long-standing enemy of the regime for political and economic reasonslaunched
an armed attack. In a matter of weeks, the
ethics of the protest movement and the
complexity of the situation ensured a situation that allowed enemy tribes to find a
system of trust in the city, for sharing the
struggle against the regime. This was not a
minor achievement.
The conditions and the mechanisms
are specific to each of the several cases we

Social Design

in the space that is the streetthe urban

street, not the rural or suburban street.
The city is the larger space that enables
some of this and also the lens that allows
us to capture the history making qualities of these protests, subjects I explore in
the second and third section. The larger
background for these protests is a sharp
slide into inequalities, expulsions from
places and livelihoods, corrupt political
classes, unfettered greed, and in the most
significant of these struggles, extreme oppression.1

Cities have long been sites of conflictsracisms, religious hatreds, expulsions of the poor. At the same time, cities
have historically evinced a capacity to triage conflict through commerce and civic
activity; this contrasts with the history of
the modern national state, which has historically tended to militarize conflict.
Major developments in the current
global era are making cities the sites for
a whole range of new types of conflicts.
Religion is one such critical vector for
conflicts in citiesboth as a cause and
as a consequence. These are not urban

causes horror, or, an ontological insecurity, that people dying from malaria does
not. The mix of people and buildingsin
a way, the social physics of the cityhas
acquired the capacity to temper destruction, not to stop it, but to temper it. What
makes this possible? It is the combination of non-urban deaths in a city and
a sticky web of constraints consisting of
a mix of law, reciprocal agreements, and
the informal global court of public opinion (Sassen, 2010). And it is the collective
making that is a city, especially in its civic
components. Ontological insecurity was
also part of the response to the bombings
in New York, Mumbai, Madrid, London,
and other cities
Again and again, history points to the
limits of power. Unilateral decisions by
the greater power are not the only source
of restraint. Multiple interdependencies
act as restraints. To this, I add the city as
a weak regime that can obstruct and temper the destructive capacity of the superior military power, yet another component
for systemic survival in a world where
several countries have the capacity to destroy the planet (Sassen, 2010 and Sassen,
2008, ch. 8).
Under these conditions the city is both
a technology for containing conventional
military powers and a technology of resistance for armed insurgencies. The social
physics of the city, its material and human
features, are an obstacle for conventional
armiesan obstacle wired into urban
space itself. Would Gaza have been completely, rather than partially, destroyed if
it was not densely populated, but was occupied only by Palestinian-owned factories and warehouses?

The Limits of the Powerful

Beyond complex questions of norms,
the city also makes visible the limits and
unrealized potential of communication
technologies such as Facebook.2 Much has
been written and debated about its role in
the Egyptian mobilizing and protest organizing. In the US, there was much debate
on the notion of a Facewbook revolution
signaling that the protest movement was
at the limit, a function of communication
technologies, notably social media.
It seems to me a common type of conflation of a technologys capacities with
a massive on the ground process which
used the technology. In my research,I
have found (Sassen, 2008, ch. 7; Latham
and Sassen, 2005) that this type of confla-

tion results from a confusion between the

logics of the technology as designed by
the engineer and the logics of the users.
The two are not one and the same. The
technical properties of electronic interactive domains deliver their utility through
complex ecologies that include (a) nontechnological variables (the social, the
subjective, the political, material topographies), and (b) the particular cultures of
use of different actors.
Thus, Facebook can be a factor in very
diverse collective eventsa flash mob,
a friends party, the uprising at Tahrir
Square. But that is not the same as saying
they all are achieved through Facebook.
As we now know, if anything Al Jazeera
was a more significant medium, and the
network of mosques was the foundational communication network in the case of
the Tahrir Square Friday mobilizations.
One synthetic image we can use is that
these ecologies are partly shaped by the
particular logics embedded in diverse
domains (Latham and Sassen, 2005).
Thus a Facebook group of friends doing financial investment aims at getting
something through using the technical
capability underlying Facebook that is
quite different from the Cairo protestors
organizing the next demonstration after
Fridays mosque services. This difference
is there even when the same technical capabilities are used by both, notably rapid
communication to mobilize around one
aimgoing for an investment or going to
Tahrir Square.
When we look at electronic interactive
domains as part of these larger ecologies,
rather than as a purely technical condition, we make conceptual and empirical
room for the broad range of social logics
driving users and the diverse cultures of
use through which these technologies are
used. Each of these logics and cultures
of use activates an ecology (the typical
Facebook subscriber letting friends
know she will be at a new restaurant or
party) or is activated by it (the protesters
struggle, which included as one element
using Facebook to signal an upcoming action). The effect of taking this perspective
is to position Facebook in a much larger
world than the thing itself (Sassen, 2011).
In this way, we focus on the minimalist version of Facebooknot the internal
world of Facebook with its vast numbers
of subscribers, a billion and growing
fast, but the larger ecology within which
a Facebook action is situated. The protest
movement in Tahrir Square also had the
power to bring a new ecology into the use
of Facebook and thereby showed both
the limits of the current format and the
capacity of collective action in the city to
inscribe a technology.

Facebook space itself is today mostly

described by experts as part of social life
for a large majority of its subscribers. But
the network capability involved clearly
cannot be confined to this function. The
shifts that become visible when we take
into account the types of ecologies mobilized, rather point to a far larger range
of uses/practices. The Tahrir Square protest move- ment embodies these shifts
and relations. In Tahrir Square, Facebook
space is not social life. Rather, it is more
akin to a tool. Social thickness can come
about from this as well, but it is likely that
in many cases it will not. Toolness rules.
And what stands out, what gives us the
dramatic entry of Facebook as actant, is
the larger ecology that shapes the use of
F-space in these cases.
The potential of digital media for
immobile or place-centered activists
concerned with local, not global, issues
points to the making of larger ecologies
that will be different from the ecologies
of globally oriented users. For instance,
the fact that specific types of local issues (jobs, oppression) recur in localities
across the world engaging local, immobile activists in each place, can engender
a kind of globality that does not depend
on them communicating. This is also a
feature of the current Arab springa recurrence of protests in very diverse places
in the region that do not depend on direct
communication across these different
places, and yet, all together make for a
larger and more complex formation than
each individual struggle.
This points to a kind of imaginary
where the actual communications are a
third point in a trianglethey are part of
the enabling ecology of conditions but
that ecology is not simply about communication among participants. This does
invite us to ask: How can the new social
media add to functions that go beyond
mere communication and thereby contribute to a more complex and powerful

larger transformations of our times that

may not be urban per se but find one strategic moment in cities, this is also the moment that makes these transformations
visible. In this regard, I focused on two
key features of the current period where
cities are such a lens that helps us situate
a larger process. One of these was what
urban uprisings tell us about the limits of
superior military force; I argued that the
social physics of the city can obstruct,
though not destroy, superior armed power. Similarly, and on a very different subject, these urban uprisings show us both
the limits and the potential of the new
communications technologies, especially
social media. The uprisings, particularly
in Egypt where there was full access to
these media, show both their limitsthe
mosques and Al Jazeera were more important in Cairo than Facebookand, I
argue, also their unrealized potential.
Some of the key features of a broad
range of struggles happening in the MENA
region but also, with their own specific
features, in places as diverse as cities in
China, Israel, Chile, Greece, Spain, the UK,
and the US lead me to argue that the question of public space is central to giving
the powerless rhetorical and operational
openings. But this public space needs to
be distinguished from the concept of public space in the European tradition. This
leads me to the concept of The Global
Street, a contrast to the piazza and the
boulevard of the European tradition.
First published in Globalizations (2011),
Special Forum on the Arab Revolution,
Volume 8, Issue 5.



This article explored a few of the vectors at work in the uprisings of the MENA
region, with the aim of opening up a larger
conceptual field to understand the complex interactions between power and powerlessness. This exploration makes it possible to examine the heuristic potential of
these events, in that they tell a larger story.
It situates this discussion in the larger
question of the return of the city as a site
for the making of political and civic changes, but also as a lens for understanding


Globalizations. 2010. Globalization and the
financial crisis. Globalization, 7(12)
Latham, R. and Sassen, S. 2005. Digital Formations: IT and the New Architectures in the
Global Realm, New York: Princeton University
Sassen, S. 2008. Territory, Authority, Rights:
From Medieval to Global Assemblages, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sassen, S. 2010. When the city itself becomes
a technology of war. Theory, Culture & Society,
27(6): 3350. [CrossRef]
Sassen, S. 2011. The minimalist Facebook:
Network capability within large ecologies. In
The Facebook Reader, Edited by: Rhle, T. and
Leistert, O. Berlin: Transcript.

Public Action

Social Design
Public Action

The Social Physics of the

City: Making Visible the
Limits of Military Force

conflicts per se, even though the city is a

key site for the materializing of religious
sentiment into actual conflict.
This raises a question as to whether cities are losing this capacity to triage conflict through commerce and the civic and
to avoid militarizing conflict. Large cities at the intersection of vast migrations
and expulsions often were the spaces that
could accommodate enormous diver- sity
of religions, ethnicities, cultures, and
income. These cities were also spaces of
a kind of peaceful coexistence for long
stretches of times.
Hence, conflict does not inhere in these
differences as such but rather in a larger
systemic con- dition, within which the city
can then switch from a space that makes
possible fruitful coexistence to a space
that contributes to conflict and hatreds.
In both cases specific capabilities of the
city get mobilized: being neighbors can go
in both directions, and so can the fact of
neighborhood life. The same individuals
can experience both conditions and even
enact that switch. Dense urban spaces can
deliver a sort of collective learning about
diversity, or they can become the sites of
murderous attacks. The city as complex
system could lead to the trans- formation
of a disease into an epidemic, or it could
generate positive epidemics as became
evident in the so-called 2011 Arab spring.
Here we can see a critical dimension
that shows us that cities can function as a
type of weak regime: killing civilians in a
city is a different type of horror from killing peoplefar more peoplein the jungle and in villages. In that sense, the urbanizing of war and armed conflict points
to the limits of superior armed power and,
perhaps, the weight of weak orders such
as the human rights regime.
The countries with the most powerful
conventional armies today cannot afford
to repeat Dresden with firebombs or Hiroshima with an atomic bombwhether
in Baghdad, Gaza, or the Swat valley. They
could engage in a series of activities, such
as rendition, torture, assassina- tions of
leaders they find problematic, excessive
bombing of civilian areas, and so on, in
a history of brutality that can no longer
be hidden and seems to have escalated
the violence against civilian populations.
Yet, superior military powers stop from
pulverizing a city, even when they have
the weapons to do so. The US could have
pulverized Baghdad, and Israel could
have pulverized Gaza. But they did not. It
seems to me that the reason was not respect for life or the fact that killing civilians is illegal according to international
lawthey do this all the time.
Rather, I would posit that pulverizing a
city is a specific type of crime, one which

Social Design


urbanization, alienation, a new cultural
formation they called urbanity. Studying the city was not simply studying the
urban. It was about studying the major
social processes of an era. Since then the
study of the city gradually lost this privileged role as a lens for the discipline and
as producer of key analytic categories.
There are many reasons for this, most
important among which are questions of
the particular developments of method
and data in the social sciences. Critical
was the fact that the city ceased being the
fulcrum for epochal transformations and
hence a strategic site for research about
non-urban processes. The study of the
city became increasingly the study of what
came to be called social problems. Todays resurgence of the city as a site for research on major contemporary dynamics
is evident in multiple disciplinessociology, anthropology, economic geography,
cultural studies, and literary criticism. In
the global era, economists have begun to
address the urban and regional economy
in their analyses in ways that go beyond
older forms of urban economics. Globalization has given rise to new information
technologies, the intensifying of transnational and translocal dynamics, and
the strengthening presence and voice of
sociocultural diversity. All of these are at
the cutting edge of change. These trends
do not encompass the majority of social
conditions; on the contrary, most social
reality probably corresponds to older continuing and familiar trends. Yet, although
these trends involve only parts of the urban condition and cannot be confined to
the urban, they are strategic in that they
mark the urban condition in novel ways
and make it, in turn, a key research site for
major urban and non-urban trends.

Social Design

HANA: We cannot study Tahrir Square from

Hana Al


Public Action

an urbanist point of view without trying

to see what it looked like over a longer period. It changed everyday, it was attacked
by different forces, and it was reorganized
at every moment. It took a new shape every half day. I give you one example, after
February 2nd, when state security was attacking Tahrir with motorcycles. On that
day the demonstrators had to break up
the pavement of Tahrir to create stones
to defend themselves. So the entire pavement was cut up to create piles of stones
for defensive purposes and then there was
a frontline, which did not disappear for
days, with barricades, that were set up organically at night. While half of the square
is busy making the stones, the others are
fighting the secret services on the other
side of the barricade. And there is a system of supplying the frontline: each time
there is an injured person he is taken back
behind the barricade to the clinic and
another volunteer is replacing him. Or if
people are tired, they are also replaced.
From that day onwards civilian check
points were set up to protect Tahrir. These
were manned by demonstrators, and they
extended to the other Squares. Tahrir has
many arteries that go to Tahrir and they
all lead to smaller squares. At these civilian checkpoints you were searched, your
bag was searched, around seven times
before you actually entered the square.
They checked that you have no knife, no
Molotov cocktails, nothing that could be
considered a weapon and especially no
bomb. They were afraid that the state security would create some sort of terrorist
attack. Every ID was controlled. Egyptian
ID cards tell who employs you. So they
knew who was who. The entire workforce
is affiliated to a trade union or government. If it was written that you work for
the ministry of interior you were not allowed to reach the square.

You say two things: you have to look at Tahrir in a
time line and on a bigger scale.

From the 3rd of February in the

morning there was an entire security
machine created by the demonstrators.
When you see for example the main stage,
it served also as a control centre to warn
demonstrators, for instance that one of
the entrances to the square was under attack. There was a code of knocking with
stone on metal. One rhythm meant that
the eastern entrance was under attack,
so you had two hundred volunteers running to the eastern entrance. Another
code would be that the Northern entrance
was under attack, and you had two hundred volunteers running up to defend the
Northern entrance, and so on.
Children played an important part.
The largest part of the children were street
kids, orphans, who are fearless, have little
to loose, could defend the square, know
the city backwards, and who set up immediately an informal economy.

Lieven:How did people manage when all the networks were

down, when internet was down, when Al Jazeera was down,
when mobile telephone communication was down?

The telephone system was down on

the 28th at night. There was a 12 hours battle across the town, across the country. But
in Cairo it was most fierce, in every neighborhood. And people were on their way to
reach Tahrir. Many people died that night.
The next morning nobody knew who survived, who was injured, who was arrested.
You could see hundreds of injured on the
streets and all of us were trying to find
out what happened. And the state television was only showing the square that is
next to its own building. It did not show
anything else. We had landlines phones,
but we could not call each other because
we are so used to call each other on cell
phones. Sometimes we had to call Europe
to have the numbers of our friends or have
them call our Egyptian friends.

Lieven: How was the atmosphere on Tahrir Square?

HANA: Once it was taken over by the crowd,

Tahrir Square became the safest place

in the city. The surroundings were more
volatile. As said, Tahrir changed shape
everyday. As soon there was violence, a
field hospital was made in a side street.
The second hospital was a Kentucky Fried
Chicken fast food restaurant at the side of
Tahrir Square. As there were many injuries, it was transformed into a emergency
hospital. The free medicine didnt come
from official hospitals but were donations
from doctors.
The people radicalized because of the
violence of the State. Tahrir was a charivari, a mixture of young and old, men
and women, rich and poor, religious and

secular, the entire society met on Tahrir

Square, quite unique in itself. The amazing thing of the revolution was that it
was all generations, all classes. It was really cross-generational, cross class. It was
peaceful till the very end, from the side of
the protesters, I mean. That was one of the
strengths. The People had just been waiting for this for 40 years.

Lieven: This was very clearly voiced by writer Nawal al

Saadawi, feminst/marxist writer of 80 who has been in jail
several times. When interviewed on the Belgian television,
she said her friends told her not to go to Tahrir square because it is too dangerous, but she said she had been waiting
all her life for this moment, she could not be absent, she
could not not be there.

Social Design

n my philosophy class in Leuven we

started from a PowerPoint presentation
of the logistics of Tahrir Square, prepared
by a Mexican student, Jimena Garcia
Galindo. Based on internet photographs,
she gave a sort of urbanist view on the
events, with photographs indicating how
the space of Tahrir square was organized.
She showed how it became it instant city
in itself with two clinics, a pharmacy, a
kindergarten, a press wall, a central stage,
a wall for martyrs, an art space, and even
dust collecting and toilets; with an informal economy, and of course in the central
green of the round about, the tents. In a
Skype interview with Cairo Hana Al Bayaty, a Iraqi-French political activist who
was participating in the events in Cairo,
commented passionately.


My father, deep in his seventies,

shares this sentiment. His generation can
now relax.They say:

We can now die in

peace because there
is a new generation
that has taken up the
struggle and was victorious.

The people of 40 to 50 smile less, for

they are worried on how to defend the
revolution, on how to proceed.
Here an Iranian student, Payam, steps
in and asks whether it could not happen
like with the Iranian revolution: after a
few months the outing of the Shah was
fully recuperated by the theocratic power
of Ayatollah Khomeini.


PAYAM: How can you know this cannot turn

into a new dictatorship or even a fundamentalist dictatorship?

Lieven: I understand that you, as an Iranian, are sceptical, Pajam. But, the first reactions are telling: Kahmenei
said it would be an Islamist revolution, Netanyahu said it,
and Cameron and the Dutch prime minister Rutte. It is all
wishful thinking: Khamenei hopes it will be turned into a
Islamist revolution, for a democratic revolution is a nightmare to him, Netanyahu doesnt want a democracy at his
back door, for it is obvious it will not help in the blockade
of Gaza as the Mubarak regime did, and Cameron and Rutte
ventilate this typical right wing European vision that Islam
deeply equals fundamentalism. But, Hana, tell us about the
Muslim Brotherhood?

They are definitely an important social force in Egyptian society. They didnt
back the revolution until very late. There is
a split into many different constituencies.
Since the success of the revolution they
are split into various factions. The young
ones have spend 18 days of struggle on the
square with all other strands of society.

Public Action

PAYAM: I feel a contradiction: you said it was

across classes and believes, but I know

muslim people believe that everything
in their lives is organized by Islam. I assume that some people listened to their
religious leaders and did not partake in
the revolution, and that could weaken the
outcome of the revolution, because it is a
bifurcation in society, between those who
were part of it and those who abstained.


Public Action

Islam is a not only a religion, but a

civilization. Most Muslims dont want an
Islamist state. Also some Copts are very
fundamentalist, but the majority of both
communities is moderate, and have other
political affiliations. The state gave, via
Al-Azar, the order not to partake in the
demonstrations. They were amazed by the
scale of the demonstrations on the 25th of
January and from 26th onwards they started to go on television to give orders not to
participate. But the call of the organizers
was to go on Friday 28th to the Mosque
and to try and go from everywhere in the
city to Tahrir Square and occupy it. The
Christians went in front of the mosques
to protect the people while praying and
to make sure they could come out of the
Mosques unhindered afterwards, and go
together to Tahrir. They came out in the
thousands, probably 400.000. And from
the 28th till the 11th of February it just
kept growing. By the end there were three
million, just on the Square! And everyday
they organized prayers. I have friends
who are completely secular, who would
go on purpose to Tahrir to pray together.
For it was a great strength, this spiritual
bonding together. It is not religious in the
sense of bigotry.


The revolution is not

over, the Tahrir Square
moment is more or less
over, but the revolution
has been taken everywhere; there is an
incredible trade union
movement coming up.
There is an attempt to
purge every institution of corruption,
whether it is the Press,
the ministry of education or the ministry of
Health. The revolution
is taking hold of the
institutions; it is from
within the institutions
that you have a revolutionary purge. This
revolution is about
social justice.

The fundamentalists never had a political program that was clear about social justice. They were willing to make
deals with capitalist countries that do not
benefit the people. The people now are
very aware of what is just, what is real development, what is a real health system,
what is a real education system, what are
union rights, etc. I hope the fundamentalists will be discredited because they have
no real program. And whether people
are deeply religious or not; whether they
take of their headscarves or not, is not my
problem In fact, the girls in Tahrir square
might not have taken of their veils yet, but
their bodies have changed, their relation

to males have changed, their relation to

public space has changed.
A crucial point is that the people who
called for demonstrations via Facebook,
Twitter, and via texting on 25 and 26th,
dont have a base, they dont represent
any one. There are no leaders to the revolution. The activists themselves have been
amazed by the massive response and the
scale of the demonstrations. It is truly a
popular revolution.

Lieven: I heard peopled started preparing this a year ago.

Is it true?

Since many years for the last six

years I have seen activists questioning
the legitimacy of the regime, trying to organize strikes, demonstrations, demonstrating against torture, blogging on the
secret service. Those are the people behind the revolution. They are behind it in
the sense that they were very courageous
and outspoken, much earlier than the rest
of society. But if there hadnt been Tunisia, and if there hadnt been the day of the
police just a few days earlier there would
have been much smaller demonstrations.
The overturning of the regime would have
happened eventually but maybe not at
this specific historical moment.

Lieven:The day of the police?


The 25th is the national day of the

police. That is the day we are supposed to
celebrate the police, but it is the force that
uses systematic torture, bribes, humiliation, etc. So, it turned into big demonstrations against the police. The police could
not take their day off, because there were
so many people protesting. [Laughter in
the room]

Lieven:So that was the first day of anger. Thats interesting. How important was the trigger effect of Tunisia?

It was very important. It is very important for all the Arabs. It was a youth
movement that was later joined by the
workers and the middle class, that actually was able to put down such a well established dictator and client regime of
the West. Of course this has given hope to
every other client state that had a dictator
and was based on police repression.

In a sense it all started after the

elections of Achmadinejad in 2008. It was
all triggered form there, the use of the internet, Twitter, etc. I honestly believe that
was the first twitter revolution, even if it
didnt succeed.
We all agreed on this. Then I shout:

Last questions!
Last questions!

Question from another, unidentified

STUDENT: What happened ever since Tahrir
square? How to purge the system that was
in power for so long time.


I told you already about the trade

unions. And currently there are trials
against several officials for corruptions.
The ministry of justice was somehow
independent from the regime. It always
took very patriotic decisions, but its decisions were never implemented by the executive branch.

Lieven: There was a remnant of the partition of power, of

the state of law?

Yes. And now there is the will to

implement its decisions. For example the
minister of interior who was responsible
for sectarian violence in Egypt and for
systematic torture, and who opened common law prisons and released prisoners
on the 28th at night, is currently in front
of the court. Even the presidential family
is now being interrogated. Business men
are interrogated for corruption. So, there
is a movement of accountability. And then
there is a proposal for amendments of the
constitution, to change the electoral process. There is a referendum that will take
place next Saturday (March 19th) and
people are discussing publically whether
they agree with the amendments or not,
elections in six months or not. There is a
very rich political process going on. There
are workers actions, civil service actions,
They dismantled yesterday (March 15th
that is) the security forces, which was the
most feared, this kind of dark, underground force that was the backbone of
the regime. So a lot is going on. I dont
say everything is positive, there are many
draw backs, but it is ongoing. Tahrir remains the point of reference: every time
there is a request that is not met, or when
people fear the reforms are stalled and the
revolution it derailing, they take to Tahrir


Lieven: With these words we can finish. Now it is for all the
Muslim migrant neighborhoods and for all the youngsters
in fact elsewhere in the world, in Brussels, London, Paris,
etc, to learn from Tahrir. My slogan these days is: Everywhere Tahrir Square! Lets give Hana a hand. [applause].

And no scepticism!

Public Action

Social Design

Payam again, from the back of the


Lieven: For me the period after 9/11 was dark, but now I am
in a period of optimism, of wishful thinking even. I believe
that project of theocracy, both in Islam, Judaism and Christianity (think of the born again Christians in America, who
were a very important political force in the Bush years and
are now united in the tea party), as an alternative for all
the western, modern political projects, like Marxism, Nasserism, other globalismthat this project, is over. That is
the world historical significance of the Arab Awakening.
The youngsters said in Tunis and Egypt: we dont want
Sharia, we want freedom, democracy and social justice.
And that is why in Iran the leaders are so scared (Payam
nods in agreement.) Even in China they are scared: as you
know they censured the word jasmine on the internet and
are arresting all sorts of activists and personalities like Ai
Wei Wei.

Social Design

Through this experience, the absolutism

of Islam, with Sharia etc, was destroyed.
They understood that pluralism was their
strength. So the leadership of the Muslim
Brothers will ridicule themselves if they
stick to theocracy. There is already a quarrel over the party to be formed. So we are
not talking about a homogeneous force
that could take over society. And the army
is an important force, that is extremely
secular, so I dont think they would actually let it happen.

Social Design

A physical space in Barcelona, an artists collective, an action group? What exactly is Enmedio?

The name says a lot (En medio

means in the midst of in Spanish). Enmedio is the result of a rupture. All of us
are professional image-makers (designers, filmmakers, artists, etc.) who broke
away from our usual field of work. We
failed to find meaning in the places that
were set aside for us: art academies, advertising agencies, production companies
So we left and decided to start a new space
of our own, where we could do whatever
we wanted. A slightly awkward, difficult
space, in a no-mans land.



Art centres tend to stay away from

politics (at most they engage in politicking!), and political spaces are uninterested in aesthetics, so we found ourselves in
a situation that drove us to invent a third
space. To get into the midst of art and
MARIO: Images have a power that we want to

Public Action

continue to explore, because images are

our field. Its what were good at, its how
we interact with the world. But we need to
take them into new ground and mix them
with other things. Enmedio evokes that
mysterious place that we want to work
from, which has to do with photography
and video but isnt just that, although it is
that, if you get my drift.
ORIANA: Weve been exploring this territory
for ten or twelve years. Some of us were
previously in collectives such as Las Agencias, Yomango, V de Vivienda, etc. Some
of us were in squatters, anti-globalisation
or Latin American movements such as Zapatismo, while others dont have a political background or have started out with
recent movements such as V de Vivienda,
15-M, etc. This mix of different creative
and political backgrounds allows us to
shed our roles when we work together,
and leads to unpredictable effects. That
may be the key to the power of what we do.

Whats the use of political intervention in the symbolic

sphere at a time like this, in the midst of a crisis that
touches on and affects the most physical, real aspects of
our lives (housing, wages, and so on)?

and this suffering. It is a great storyteller,

with an enormous capacity to seduce.
Many people took out mortgages because
they believed the story that the banks and
ads told us on a daily basis, through discourse and images. Advertising creates
images of desirable worlds, and this imaginary then generates financial paradigms
and social situations.
LEO: Its not as we have fiction on one side,

and reality on the other: fiction is the very

core of reality. Everything from a demonstration (theatrical action on the streets)
to the writing of a political speech (drawing on images and the imaginary), all of
it is fiction. What matters are the effects
of the fictions, whether or not we are able
to reappropriate them, whether or not we
believe them, whether they make us feel
empowered or impotent. The basis for
social change is cultural: the stories that
give meaning to our lives and to the world
we live in.
MARIO: This is why we work along two lines.

On one hand, we disrupt the dominant

narrativethe official explanation of the
worldby means of guerrilla communication tactics: posters, slogans, messages,
and so on. And on the other, we contribute
to the autonomous production of imaginaries. Not by dismantling existing narratives, but by creating alternative ones.
This is the most important and most
difficult task: self-representation, creating our own story, our own explanation
of what is happening. A narrative that we
can live in.

Lets go into this in detail by looking at the actions youve

been carrying out. If you like, we can start with the INEM
(unemployment office) party that you organised in 2009.

The most interesting thing about

this action may have been the timing: the
crisis strikes, but nothing is happening
on the streets. People are afraid, incapable of acting. So we decided to find a place
that encapsulated and represented this
fear. We chose an unemployment office,
and what better way to fight fear than by
holding a party!

of hits when we posted it online. I think

we touched on a kind of shared affect: if
you start with something that affects you
personally, you can communicate with
others. The most intimate things are also
the most common.

We try to make our actions inspiring and catchy. We conceive and design
them like seeds, which can scatter and
germinate elsewhere. After the 15-M mobilisations there was a party in an unemployment office in the Canary Islands and
other similar actions. First we define a
framework (aesthetic, political, theoretical) and from there we seek participation
and reappropriation.

What are The Reflectors?

LEO: The Reflectors is an action group that

emerged from a creative activism conference that we called How to End Evil,
which revolved around the idea of transmitting creative activism practices and
experiences to younger people who were
being politicised by the 15-M and similar movements at the time. It ties into a
long history of fictional characters who
become active in spaces of protest, from
Prt a Revolter to the New Kids on the
Black Block, which offer different ways of
being on the streets, brimming with joy,
colour and creativity.
The Reflectors have a lot to do with
the moment when they arose, around the
first anniversary of the 15-M mobilisations. By then, governments and police
had activated channels for repression and
criminalisation in order to put an end to
street protests. Once these kinds of dynamics come into play, the streets lose
their plurality and protest is de-democratised. All that remains are small, highly
homogenous groups that can be easily
codified and identified. Thats where The
Reflectors came in, declaring: Were not
going to play this game. Were going to
blow open the codes

Enmedio works through self-representation. In other words, it wasnt a

party for the unemployed. Were also unemployed, we live precariously, etc. Were
not out to teach lessons: we begin with
ourselves and invite everybody else to join
in. In the video you can see people smiling, participating, clapping, telling us
youve brightened up my day. We reach
out to others in this way based on our own
concerns, problems, and malaise.

ORIANA: Many people joined The Reflectors


CAMPA: Capitalism uses images and stories

to lead us into this poverty, these evictions

That video got an amazing number



: The Reflectors play with the imaginary of superheroes and fan culture. They
are ordinary people with a series of tools
that allow them to fight Evil: blow-up
cubes to stop police charging, mirrors to
confuse the surveillance helicopters, costumes to break the expected codes, etc.
They add drama, but at the same time they
make the protest less dramatic: through
humour, by generating other affects, by
making it desirable to be on the streets
again and at the same time, bringing real
elements into play so as to redirect the
moments of tension and violence.


Social Design

issatisfied with the lack of connections between art and political action, Campa, Leo, Mario, and Oriana,
along with four others, set up the collective Enmedio (Barcelona), which explores
the transformative potential of images
and stories. We talked to them about the
real and potential power of this thing we
call art to have a political effect on the

Public Action



What about the Bankia Party?



We rounded up a series of like-minded people and brainstormed ways of damaging Bankias image. We thought that
the only way to affect a bank, and to show
that we were against the bailout, was by
encouraging people to close their bank
accounts. And that the best way to do this
was to organise a party (as you see, we
love organising parties).

Public Action

So one day, a group of us went to a

Bankia branch and crouched down, hiding, until a customer walked in and closed
her account. Then we ran inside and celebrated it with a party. She couldnt believe her eyes. We were in the bank for
about 4 minutes, the duration of the song
we played. We picked up the customer
and carried her out the way we had come.
We edited the action into a video that
had 100,000 hits within 24 hours, and
the numbers are still rising. The Youtube
page is full of comments. The video was
shown on several television stations and
more Close Bankia parties were held in
other cities around Spain.

The idea was to show that something as personal and private as a bank
account can be used politically, and that
closing it can be a public action, and
above allgreat fun!

What was the Discongreso?

MARIO: As Enmedio, we joined the 25-S mo-

bilisation: the Occupy Congress cam-


And the dots ended up becoming

flying Frisbees, on which people wrote
down their demands, and which we then
sent flying into Congress, sailing over the
police barrier that was stationed there on
September 25. There was no way to get
into congress by land and make ourselves
heard, so we took the option of trying by

Tell me a bit about the We are not numbers TAF! workshop.


The campaign we designed was

very simple. We swapped occupy congress for surround congress, because
we didnt see the mobilisation as an attempt to seize power, but rather to depose
power. We also added: On 25-S we will
surround congress until they stand down
from office. Period. The poster consisted
of many multicoloured dots, representing
the diversity of society, arranged around a
central point.

We worked with photography, in

collaboration with the PAH, to reverse the
usual media representations that dehumanise people affected by the mortgage
crisis and portray them as powerless victims. We took photographs of people who
were about to be evicted, or who had already been evicted, and pasted blow-ups
of these portraits on the faades of the
banks responsible for their plight, showing that they are not simply statistics, but
people with faces and lives. We also used
these portraits on a series of postcards
that tell the stories of the people being
evicted, and sent them first to the banks,
and then (during the escraches), to politicians.



individual faces to the entities that are

responsible for the evictions (the Spanish
media talk about evictions, but the banks
are never named). Disrupt the dominant
narrative, create our own: thats the politics that interests us.

Were not too concerned about the

quality of the portraits or the videos, the
important thing is the way they work in
conjunction with powerful social processes such us the PAH. But nevertheless,
we do pay a lot of attention to the formal
aspects. We dont agree with those who
neglect form, and think that only the content of a photo or a poster is important.
Were interested in the aesthetic, not for
its own sake, but precisely because of the
politics that lie within aesthetics: how
things are told, what is shown, how it
makes people feel. If you take form away,
you are left with naked rage, not communication.

You also designed the popular red and green signs that
were used at the escraches organised by the PAH. After an
escrache, a friend said to me: those simple posters made
such a big difference; without them wed just seem like an
enraged multitude.

Those dots later became photographs. We organised a Photocall, inviting people to have their photographs
taken holding a sign that set out their own
reasons for attending the 25-S action. We
took the Photocall out onto the streets,
and used social networks to encourage
people to take photographs of themselves
showing their reasons for being there.
The idea was to boost diversity and open
up an event that had originally been uninclusive.

These photographic interventions

work in two ways. On one hand, they empower the people who are being evicted.
They come to the workshops, pose for a
portrait, paste photographs of their faces on the banks, and break through the
shame barrier, claiming their presence
in public space. On the other, the images
are used as a guerrilla tactic in the war
between competing narratives of the crisisthe struggle that takes place every
day on the walls of the cityby linking

Housing has always been a key issue

for us. Some of us had already worked on
the graphic commission of V de ViviendaBarcelona, which came up with the famous slogan Youll never own a house in
your fucking life. During the We are not
Numbers workshop we worked closely
with the PAH and they asked us to develop
the visual side of the escraches campaign.
It was a very important and also very sensitive project for us.
MARIO: The idea was to sum up the conflict

at a glance. On one side, there was the

PAHs yes we can (a million signatures,
broad social support, etc.) On the other,
the but they dont want to coming from
a political elite that is totally deaf to society. Green and red: go and stop. A multitude of green posters and a single red one:
99% and 1%. The main aim of the posters
and the stickers isnt to point the finger
at one particular politician or another,
but mainly to reflect and express societys
support for the PAH.

The key role of processes, not just results.


Pop music. I see my work from the

perspective of pop, popular culture. The
desire to communicate with the whole
of society, to reach people through emotions and desires, to generate pleasurable
representations that you can see yourself
reflected in, that make you want to participate, that move you in both senses of the


In the original escraches in Argentina, local neighborhoods played a key

role. The idea in this case was the same:
we wanted to surround the Member of
Parliament that had been targeted in each
case with green signs, in his or her own local area. We wanted the owners of small
businesses (the bakery, the hardware
shop, the newsstand) to put up the posters or stickers in their shops. That is, we
wanted the local area to do the escrache,
to point out the MP, urging him or her to
choose the green option. The important
thing about the escraches is the participation of local residents, of people passing
through, so that everybody can join the
PAHs green tide. This is the effect we
were aiming for with the posters.
CAMPA: Here again, the production aspects

were very important: how the campaign is

put into action. The materials are cheap
and simple, the design can be downloaded from the PAH website, anybody with a
printer, a few sheets of paper and some
sticky tape can make their own posters.
The concept (what) is just as important
to us as the production (how).

And lastly, can you name an influence or a point of reference for this work that you do at the intersection of images
and the social, art and politics?

Zapatismo, because I experienced

it first-hand, and because of all that it
stands for: after the frivolity and disenchantment of the 1990s, it was a new way
of doing politics and communicating.
The weight of words and symbols, in the
harshest living conditions. Drawing on
the real imaginaries of the people you
work with, the people you want to reach.

The Youth International Party or Yippies, a countercultural offshoot in 1960s

America that tired to politically radicalise
the hippy movement. Yippies saw social change as a war of symbols, and put
most of their activist energy into creating
myths, rumours and fictions that would
short-circuit the dominant narratives and
introduce autonomous images into the
flow of images. In a very different context,
I think like them.



In my case, given that Zapatismo

has already been mentioned, Id say punk.
Not so much at the musical or aesthetic
level, but from the point of view of attitude: the nerve, the freshness, the immediacy, the non-conformist, Do It Yourself
attitude, the intensity of the 3-minute
song. I think this is a perfect fit with what
we do at Enmedio.

Public Action

Social Design

The very same week that the Spanish government announced cutbacks of
20 billion euros to health and education
funding, we found out that Bankia was to
be bailed out with 23 million euros of public money. Like most people, we were outraged. And then we decided to do something about it.

paign, which was totally in line with what

we were discussing in our internal meetings: we thought that the 15-M movement
had fallen into certain repetitive inertias,
and that 25-S could be an opportunity to
break away from them. The problem was
that it was being organised as a closed
call for participation, it was exclusive and
highly codified. We set ourselves the task
of using communication to open it up and
make it more inclusive. We designed posters, a graphic campaign and a proposal
for occupying the space in a different way,
in order to generate an alternative narrative, to reappropriate the call for action
and make it desirable and open to participation.

Social Design

block at the demonstration for the first anniversary of the 15-M movement, including people who wed never met but had
seen the costumes on the Internet. Now
The Reflectors are an autonomous group,
very close to Enmedio but independent of
us. This aspect is also very interesting.

Public Action

m standing in a lecture theatre. The

room is filled with 2nd year students
of architecture. My lecture is on the
potential futures of the architectural
profession. Of course, there are many
futures and a recent and influential
publication by the Royal Institute of
British Architects, entitled The Future
for Architects has outlined some of
them. Set in the context of population
growth, a growth in infrastructure and
other construction in particular in what
is called emerging markets the report
concludes that whilst the opportunities
for architects have never been greater,
architects need to develop greater financial nous and commercial acumen.
Yet, architects have to, the authors of the
report declare continue to work hard
to promote the extraordinary benefits
which society gains from the design process. This, in a nutshell, confirms what
many of the students have come to study
architecture for. To be an architect is still
perceived as prestigious. It is, besides
other professional subjects such as law
and medicine, the discipline of choice
for high achieving pupils coming out of
secondary schools. The students in my
lecture theatre are no different.

Why did you choose to study architecture?, I ask.

Because its a combination of art and
technology, they reply.
And, some add, because it has a social

social? Does design not always have a social

context? Prisons do. Schools do. Housing
Of course, the students refer to something different. The term social is everywhere. Social design, too. Newspapers

The mention of art and technology is
not really surprising. It crops up in almost
every personal statement of prospective
students of architecture. Social agenda,
however, is different. I dont have hard
evidence of this, but I have a gut feeling
that the reference to social agenda is a
relatively new development.
So, I say: Why do you say: social agenda? What do you mean? Isnt design always

write about it. Exhibitions show examples

of it. Books theorise the related ideas.
The sheer amount of stuff that is dealing
with all shades of social design is not only
impressive but is also striking. It is striking because the discourse has moved to
include more than just the usual places
that discuss this topic, but increasingly
also big national, globally known and operating institutions. This flurry of publi-

and spatial justice beyond the conditions

of localised spatial bubbles.
A possible starting point is to be absolutely clear what social design means and
what it encompasses. But further steps
are necessary to expand the principles of
social design to everyday practice. Lefebvres Why? question should be the first to
ask. For me, the answer to this question
is: justice. The key is to act accordingly.
This is really no longer a matter of choice:
it means a fundamental reformulation of
the basic position of operation.


Public Action

Social Design

the world, make it a better space! Better

not just for the well off, but for everyone!
The problem with social design
in this context, however, is that it is almost always used to describe some form
of other: it is not concerned with the
whole of society but often is a patronising
concoction produced for government aid
programmes and cultural and research
council funding schemeswhich sells
well and looks good on political agendas.
This is a difficult truth, becauseafter all,
many of these schemes make undoubtedly real differences on a small scale, local
level and sometimes beyond. But, social
design doesnt question the distribution
of spatial wealth. If anything, it reinforces
classifications of inequality: it reinforces
the spatial segregation, sink estates, the
failing neighbourhoods earmarked for
regeneration, and so on. Weas societysimply accept that divisions, these
estates and neighbourhoods exist and
apply some social design to make it better (again). With the best of intentions,
designers still often become complicit in
these actions.
This brings me back to my students
mention of their interest in social agendas of architecture and design more generally.
Social is often only equated with people. If we talk of social design, it often refers to participatory projects: projects and
interventions that involve in one way or
another different actors and agents and
through that creates a greater use value.
I would argue, however, that working towards a real socialone that doesnt
just pay lip-service to political agendas
and funding bodiesalso involves consideration of the wider forces of production. This, however, needs further clarification and definition. Henri Lefebvres
writing is useful here. In his seminal book
The Production of Space he states that So
far as the concept of production is concerned, it does not become fully concrete
or take on a true content until replies have
been given to the questions that makes
possible: Who produces?, What?,
How?, Why and for whom? Outside the
context of these questions and their answers, the concept of production remains
purely abstract. Lefebvre presents us
with a different understanding of sociospatial relationships. He gives usus,
not in the sense of architects but maybe
societytools to analyse space without
falling into the trap of oversimplification
or compartmentalisation or reductionism.
But, then again, asking these questions only gives us pointers. They are by
themselves not enough to create social
space; space that deals with global social

Social Design


cations, interventions, and writings over

the past five years begins to paint a different picture of architecture that begins to
shape the term social in a distinct way.
It is important to dwell on this distinctiveness a little. Social as such doesnt
mean much. It needs to be described
much better, needs to be defined in a way
that goes beyond its simple denotation as
collective force, act or production. After
all, as Friedrich Engels already wrote in
the late 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was based on the transformation of
individual acts and tasks into a series of
social acts. The metal articles that now
come out of the factory, he writes, were
the joint product of many workers. This
type of productionwhich he called collective or social production was, to quote
Engels again, introduced as a means of
increasing and developing the production of commodities. To a certain degree,
Engels also presents the solution to the
commodification of social production:
instead of the capitalist appropriation of
production he calls for a social one. And
here, the word social begins to take on
a different shape: it begins to be linked
with socialspeak collectiveownership which means that profit generated
from production does not accumulate
as private capital, but is instead shared
amongst the wider group of all those involved in the production process.
Im quoting Engels here, because his
observations are serving as a powerful reminder of the scale and scope of what the
term social encompasses: it takes into account production, use and ownership. It
is essentially about justice.
Lets go back to the term social design
now. It could be argued that the term as
such was a creation by experts. It was
invented to distinguish a more peoplefocused approach to design from one
that was perceived as detached, indifferent, distant or withdrawn from society.
As such, social design therefore derives
from the professionals perspective and
language: the politicians, planners, architects, designers and other specialists.
The recent rise of social design
with particular reference to architectureis, arguably, linked to what Rory
Hyde terms crisis of relevance. Architects, architects complain, are not being
taken seriously. They are, the complaining goes on, not important enough any
longer. It is unfair, they say, to make us
responsible for the mistakes of our predecessors: the failure of housing estates, the
inhuman scale and zoning of cities, hostile urban and suburban environments,
gentrification and so on. Yes. These voices
say. There have been mistakes in the past.
BUT: design IS important! It can change

Social Design



as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD,) have

been organizing periodic congresses and
publishing vast reports on topics such
as City Competitiveness, Attractiveness of Cities, Sustainable Cities, and
so forth. Among the many prescriptions
given to participating cities, in the last five
years, one constant key recommendation
has been the need for persuading citizens
in adopting new patterns of behavior in
favor of public-private urban investment
and redevelopment, emphasizing that
careful attention should be taken as this
must not be seen as being imposed from
outside.2 On the contrary, the ideal is that
these new patterns could be achieved as
if they had emerged from the bottom-up.
The reasoning is simple, the more constructed the community support, the
more receptive the city becomes to urban
investment, thus the easier its execution
and profitability. In the light of many large
urban redevelopment projects that have


Public Action

for more perfected free market stimuli in

the form of urban development or redevelopment. How to make urban development look more bottom up? How to get
the people on the developers side? How to
project to the society that this or that redevelopment was justified by the consensus
and approval of the community? If these
questions were to be positively realized
for the developer, then hardly any form of
civic opposition to an urban project would
be able to question the developers agenda,
since with the help of new activists, the
project would acquire the needed community support. In this case, the new activism and its consensual-participatory
approaches would have facilitated the process for major investments in the urban,
helping promote inter-urban competition,
large private urban investments, gentrification, and the continuous commercialization and privatization of public space,
all policies that remain at the forefront of
the neoliberal governance of cities.
The new activist is in great demand
again. In urban regeneration practices,
with the purpose of promoting private
urban investment or the formation of
public-private partnerships, many promarket international organizations, such

turned highly conflictive and costly for

developers due to citizen resistance, such
as the neighborhood of St. Pauli in Hamburg or the coastal hotel infrastructure in
Barcelona, the best thing to do for a redevelopment public-private partnership
is to get the community engaged with a
part of the project since its beginning and
this is where the work of the new activist
begins. To instrumentalize the activist,
into making the redevelopment process
as justified and seamless as possible. The
community apparently gets what they
want and the developers make profit! In
this regard, in the last five years, the market has made a great leap in incorporating
the activist to its daily life operations. In
this co-opted form, we could discuss the
work of the new activist in participatory
redevelopment or the new activist in
slum regeneration, eco-environmentalism, camp betterment, and so forth. In
most of these practices, there will always
be a hidden market agenda that needs
them and finances them.
The social importance of the new activist practice en masse, can be easily
represented with a few leftist slogans and
seductive photo-ops of people helping
needy people, and this as well, is all what

the instant activist needs to declare

himself a member of the club. Suddenly,
by following this two-step formula, a large
part of the hip creative class can be turned
overnight into activist. It is at the moment when the real is replaced by the
hegemony of the market that an unconscious disengagement with the political occurs and the apolitical posture of
the fashion pseudo-world thrives. Fashion needs to reduce language to slogans,
it survives through the endless reproduction of false images, one liner rhetorics,
simulacra for dummies, ultimately, fashion requires the replacement of social intelligence by the easiness of mediatized
perceptual consensus. It is then of no surprise that Green revolutionaries are sworn
every day by the dozen, that participatory
workshop leaders take over urban regeneration processes and that the ones that
used to quote Richard Florida (and his
Creative economy) now magically begin
to mix in some Agamben and Foucault in
their conversations.
Struggle, confrontation, justice, politics, conflict, urgency, necessity, and survival are unnecessary words in the vocabulary of the instant activist. With such
and easy incorporation to fad, why would
the instant activist question possible
consequences of their actions in his or
her surroundings? Besides asking for the
allure of incorporation to a socially responsible lifestyle. The seamless insertion of the instant activist into the new
demands of the development market has
gone unquestioned by the members of
the club, without any awareness of corporate development interests, without the
understanding of how public-private partnerships operate; without a clue of the political vicissitudes of gentrification and its
mechanisms of displacement and spatial
segregation; without knowledge of urbaneconomy; but with a lot of good intentions
and expertise in the production of rhetorical slogans and images. Thus, the instant
activist becomes an essential instrument for the new and better practice
of urban redevelopment, helping governments and private developers clean their
bad image by masking it as democratic,
ecological, and socially responsible. The
merge of the instant activist with redevelopment has been a win-win situationto borrow the expression used often
by neoliberal demagoguesin short, the
instant activist has no relevant position
nor a strong identity, it just presents itself
as another unconscious addition to the
neoliberal army. As Herbert Marcuse once
wrote about the coming of the one-dimensional men, the architects as instant activists take a position on all critical issues,
without a critical consciousness, without

Social Design

he activist is fashionable again.

Similar to the vague images we now
have of the late 1960s, young practitioners from all creative fields seem to be
turning against the establishment of
their discipline. Without any political
or critical position, the use of words like
participation, bottom-up, community,
sustainability, and activism seem to be
again the trend for emerging creative
practices, as well as for some of the old
ones that fight daily to remain at the forefront. Even urban reform pioneering governments, which once strongly funded
suburban development and the imagination of central business districts like the
Londons Docklands, Pariss La Defense
or Amsterdams South Axis, have began
to re-tune their rhetoric around such socially responsible words.
This shift should come as no surprise
to the architects of the policies that determine and construct our environment.
It is a clear and logical step in the search


Public Action

Public Action

technical competence, and without ethical conviction, they go along with the established order.3
Under the neoliberal umbrella, the image of the instant activist hunts and banalizes the work of those creators that have
constantly confronted themselves with
the casualties of their political struggle,
those that out of lived experience, urgency, and necessity have persistently imagined ways to continue fighting against the
present oppressions of their past. Under
the current lingo, the struggling creator,
the one that conflicts and opposes the
neoliberal establishment from its roots is
not an activist. He or she might be a rebel, a radical, a fundamentalist ideologue
or a dysfunctional social actor, but never
an activist.
In contrast to the old critical and calculative struggles of the activist architect, the
idea of the creative architect as an instant
activist has recently been blown up out
of proportion. This new breed of the market is being described as socially respon-

sible, as a person of trained sensibility,

a developed imagination, a capacity for
expression and deep insight into the realities of contemporary life.4 Rephrasing
the art critic Harold Rosenberg, the architect as instant activist has become, as it
were, too big for architecture. His proper
medium is working in the world, carrying
a sustained belief in architectural responsibility, creativity, and its mystical power
to change the conditions of life. This aggrandizement and self-aggrandizement
of the architect, seems on the surface to
represent an expanded confidence in the
socially transformative powers of the architect today. As it is widely believed by its
proponents, everything in the city can be
solved and done through the activism in
Anyone with a critical eye could easily look beyond the popular conceptions
of the architect and the fad of instant
activism. Only to realize that its design
knowledge and tools, which are typically
connected to the evolution of formal-

First published in Lieven de Cauter, Ruben

de Roo, Karel Vanhaesebrouck (eds.), Art and
Activism in the Age of Globalization, Rotterdam,


David Harvey. Spaces of Hope. illustrated ed.,
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
From The Universal Convergence on Competitiveness (adapted from Cammack 2009, working
paper by Dr. Greig Charnock)
Herbert Marcuse,. One-Dimensional Man:
Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial
Society. Beacon Press, Boston, 1964.
Harold Rosenberg,. The De-Definition of Art,
University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 1971 p.
Ibid. p.12
Interview with Teddy Cruz, June 2009. An
architect like Teddy Cruz, someone that since
his childhood has been confronting the dreads
of dictatorship, political imposition, murder,
poverty and extreme inequality, is now equaled
and put together with instant activists. All of
Cruzs past struggles and political involvements
are constantly erased by the new media and the
use of his seductive imagery. In a practice like
the one of Cruz, the interests in design shifts
to the processes of mediation and into dynamic
assemblages of activity and program. Possibly,
the action that has characterized Cruzs contemporary practice is his conscious transgression of the traditional architectural canons and
its claims of autonomy, into actively pursuing
the exploration of trans-disciplinary realms,
with the purpose of better understanding the
immaterial urban processes that configure the
city, but also with an aim to borrow and adapt
other disciplinary procedures, contaminating
his views on the urban condition with the views
of the other. It is the transgression of the architectural discipline into the necessary active
positions that are relevant to a specific urban/
architectonic case, that distinguishes Cruzs
activist position. In difference to the singular
viewpoint of the common architect, Cruz has
made a practice of translating his professional
stance into a diverse array of disciplinary fields,
which are significant to the processes that define the urban context where he is operating. In
entering the realm of law and policy, sociology,
economics, art, Cruz choreographs, empowers
and enables local inhabitants to claim fundamental decisions in the way they wish to inhabit
and structure their social relations vis--vis the
neighborhood. The most developed example
of Cruzs engagement in critical proximity with
a neighborhood, is his work in the city of San
Ysidro, California. Located at five hundred meters from the Mexican border, in a site owned by
Casa Familiar, a non-profit organization working
in education, advocacy, service programming,
housing and community economic development.
One could argue that this is the project that got
international recognition to Teddy Cruz, and despite its attractive architectural language, what
made this project so prototypical of an activist
position in architecture was the design of its
process. Architecture as a material construct
was taken as an important but given component.
The site would need a series of buildings to conform to the program, which asked to affordably
house immigrants in a permanent and temporary
basis, as well as to provide social and cultural
services to the neighborhood. As the buildings,


landscape and engineerings would anyway need

to be designed, Cruz took the decision to focus
on a paralleland according to him, more relevantdesign activities: First: The design of institutions, agency, advocacy and the processes
necessary to assemble local social relationships. Purposefully engaging local authorities
with the users and inhabitants in the making of
the project, empowering their daily lives as they
construct together their new living environment. Second: The design of micro-economies,
forms of social sustainability and shared
programmatics; a housing complex that offers
to the neighborhood much more than shelter. In
Teddy Cruzs words, in conditions of poverty
housing cannot be sustainable on its own it
needs to be plugged with micro infrastructures
and socio-economic support systems. Housing
must be viewed as a relational tool to construct
new social and economic relations.Third: The
design of policy and urban regulations necessary to construct a radically different form of
living neighborhood support, its urban trace and
its architecture. Changes in density, setbacks,
zoning, traffic, building requirements, use and
occupation that have the capacity to challenge
the existing. Although activism at the level of
the neighborhood is the most common form in
architectural practice, out of these three design
activities, perhaps the processes with the most
potential to seriously transform a neighborhood,
as well as affect other urban scales, are the ones
that have challenged and proposed urban policy
via the logic of neighborhood socio-spatial relations and architectural design. Entering these
complex political realms is what has allowed
Cruz to design and introduce urban-neighborhood policies, norms and regulations that are
gradually allowing communities to thrive on
their own energies and their own resources, and
to transform themselves as their demographics
shift. This form of design militancy by Cruz,
can be exemplified in the project for Casa Familiar, where most of the architectural configurations proposed were illegal in the frame of the
existing regulations and zoning laws. Therefore,
to fight for the feasibility of the project, Cruz
gradually began to play an active role in city
politics. He knew that only by mediating the
critical needs of the local, with the bureaucratic
power at the urban planning department of the
city, the project could be achieved. After four
years of constant negotiation with the city
authorities, Cruz was given a seat at the city
council for urban planning, a position that gave
him the possibility to talk terms for the official
assignation of pilot status to the project. It is
this level of social engagement and design commitment, what has defined Cruzs practice as activism. But more than activism, Cruzs practice
is exemplary of a politically rooted, socio-spatial
take on architecture. A practice whose political
consciousness began in Guatemala, gradually
evolving in and unstable state of intellectual
exile, contextually sensible, and confrontative to
socio-spatial injustices. Unquestionably, Teddy
Cruz has become a contemporary reference to
the political practice of architecture, setting
itself apart from the apolitical formalism of
hyper-aestheticscommon in most contemporary architectural practicesas well as from the
assistencialist architectures as expressed in the
good intended design efforts, such as Architecture for Humanity. Ultimately, Cruz has traced a
new and conflicting path for a discipline that for
a long time, has been busy resurrecting ghosts
that continue to decorate the socially repressive
roots of contemporary urbanization. Contemporary architectsCruz arguesbesides being
designers of buildings, have to be designers
of political processes, economic models, and
collaborations across institutions and jurisdictions.
Interview with Teddy Cruz, June 2009.
David Harvey, Spaces of global capitalism (illustrated ed.). Verso, London, New York, 2006. p.


Public Action

Social Design


to use in limited ways for purposes usually

defined by others. The architect then appears as a cog in the wheel of capitalist
urbanization, as much constructed by as
constructor of that process.9 The activist
must re-instate the political meaning of
his practice, which not so long ago aimed
to change our unjust reality.

Social Design


isms, technicalities and ornamentation,

become futile when confronted with the
conflictive urban realities that construct
our world; useless in the search of a more
profound and dynamic understanding, of
the social relations that surround the production of urban space. The practice of
activism as a political construct seems
to have been replaced by the use of activism as a sanitized image of consensual
governance. The trend has been so well
adopted by the ruling system that even
those with a political practice have been
absorbed by the activist label under the
new meaning.
During the last years of unprecedented deployment of neo-liberalist economic
recipes of privatization, homogenization
and control everywhere, architects, argues Teddy Cruz, have remained powerless, subordinated to the visionless
environments defined by the bottomline urbanism of the developers spreadsheet, making architecture simply a way
of camouflaging corporate economic and
political power, unconditionally.6 This
sense of powerlessness and the inability
of the architecture profession, to lead the
way in rethinking systems and institutions of urban development in our time,
is what should underlay of a true activist
practice: constructing an architectural
practice that constantly seeks capacity
to engage in the urban debate and have a
socio-political leverage in the shaping of
its territory. In these terms, the architect
can focus in the design and production
of critical interfaces between and across
urban opposites, exposing conflict as an
operational devise to transform architectural practice.7
In Cruzs view, the contemporary architect should be able to engage the critical
proximity of neighborhoods, he should
be able to transform into an anthropologist, a sociologist, a geographer, a social
worker, and be versed in many languages;
the contemporary architect should then,
have the capacity to appropriate the procedures of the other, not becoming the
other but translating their processes so
as to operate differently in constructing
critical observational research and alternative spatial strategies.8
The activist architect is never instant;
it is made by a long and constant struggle
to stand aware in critical opposition to the
injustices of development. In the words of
David Harvey, it is an insurgent practitioner that acts out a socially constructed
(sometimes even performative) role,
while confronting the circumstances and
consciousness that derives from a daily
life where demands are mode upon time,
where social expectations exist, where
skills are acquired and supposed to be put

Public Action

t is becoming increasingly acknowledged in the design and architecture

world that skateboarders have a unique
eye when it comes to interpreting existing structures and using them in a way
that the original creator may never have
thought of. I myself have skated countless
roofs in my head by imagining them inverted, and as an avid traveler I have also
witnessed the varying public reactions to
this type of reappropriation across different countries, and the incredible ability
this act has to transcend cultural, language, and religious barriers.
In my home city of Melbourne a waveshaped sculpture by Berlin-born artist
Inge King became an obvious street skating spot. When security guards tried to
prevent my friends and I from skating
it I pointed out in vain that the sculptor
had actually expressed enthusiasm about
skateboarders reappropriating her art
by riding on it. In Australia, skateboarders where they arent supposed to be is
not just unacceptable. In many Western
countries street skateboarding is actually
illegal, resulting in large fines and confiscation of skateboards.
By contrast, when I dropped my skateboard in Afghanistan in 2007 the reaction

from the public was wonderment and joy.

People of all ages would crowd around
to see this rolling wooden toy they had
never seen before, laughing when I fell
and cheering when I did any sort of trick.
The local police would stop me only so
that they could try to ride the skateboard
for themselves, realizing with amazement
that it is much harder than it looks.
I had originally gone to Kabul looking for a job as a social researcher. I had
explored 42 countries already and every
where I went I always brought along a
skateboard. I picked up a skateboard at
age 6 and havent put it down since as rolling across a myriad of different surfaces
fascinates me. When I skated around the
streets of Kabul I was really amazed at
how interested the children were, and not
just the boys, but the girls as well. I had
read a lot about the country and was told
of the many failed development projects,
and I couldnt believe that there were so
few efforts to engage with the youth of Afghanistan, in a country where 68% of the
population is under the age of 25.
So maybe it was fate when I was told
by an Australian friend about a disused
Soviet-made fountain in a neighborhood
called Mekroyan that looked skateable.

Shaped like a shallow dish, the empty concrete structure was in the middle of a public park which was mostly the domain of
street children and drug-users. Inspired
by the enthusiasm of the Afghan kids,
in early 2008 we began teaching regular
skateboarding lessons there in the afternoons with an emphasis on getting the
girls on skateboards and involving not
just the poor working children, but also
the richer kids living in the nearby flats.
In retrospect I guess this was truly handson social design, but at the time it was just
something that made a lot of sense and
had enormous potential.
In the last five years this unexpected
takeover of a derelict public park has
grown into an international non-profit
called Skateistan with two educational
skatepark facilities in Afghanistan and
one in Cambodia. In Kabul and Mazare-Sharif we have reappropriated K-Span
buildings forms that are usually reserved
for military installations and created vibrant schools in them. The K-span form
is now not only seen as a military hangar
but as quick, cheap and effective way to
build a school and create a social hub for
bringing together children from different
ethnicities and social backgrounds.

dont have the resources or support to

build something new, social entrepreneurs should find and revitalize derelict
spaces. Experimenting in the urban environment is something that is valuable
for innovation, and creates communities
that are able to adapt to the ever-changing
urban reality. Spacial production is only
as good as the social interactions that it
makes possible.



Public Action

Social Design

who works on the street. The best part was

that no city officials or police ever came
and told me to stop. Since those days at
the fountain Skateistan has opened two
facilities in Afghanistan and two skateparks in Cambodia. We have worked with
over 2,200 children worldwide.
Cities should encourage the positive
reappropriation of unused or derelict
spaces by youth, artists, or athletes. When
individuals and financial entrepreneurs

Social Design


We work with nearly 1000 children every week, teaching not only skateboarding
but also arts-based education, a Back-toSchool program, leadership skills and
much more. Over 40% of our students are
girls, and the majority are street-working
children and impoverished youth.
I have learned countless things in the
process of creating a project in Afghanistan that most people thought was crazy,
but one of the most important realizations is also very basic: sometimes you
dont know if something will work, or is
needed, until you try to put it into practice.
Furthermore, giving a new social purpose
to a space that already exists is a lower risk
endeavor than creating a new space, with
the equivalent opportunities for communal and transcultural interaction and far
less investment required for uncertain
results. As in the case of Skateistan, a successful pilot project in an existing urban
space is a very effective way of showing
a clear demand, which can often lead to
government support to create a purposebuilt facility to expand the activities.
When reappropriating an area, the
program design is as important as the
space itself. Just as every skate spot needs
skateboarders to use it for it to have legitimacy, this thinking can be expanded to
other spatial productions. When a space
or a building is not being used to its full
potential, ideas must be formulated to revive the space.
It seems like common sense, however
this lack of focus on the program design
associated with infrastructure development in Afghanistan has led to billions
of dollars wasted on schools, hospitals
and other buildings which have been unused or misused due to improper or nonexistent program planning, lack of local
ownership, and simply trying to plant a
Western design in a country without the
capacity to maintain it. With Skateistan,
we took the approach of putting social
capital before financial capital. We started out with no money, but were able to invest time, ideas, trust and a common love
of skateboarding.
The amazing thing about investing social capital instead of financial capital is
that you can do it anywhere, just like when
we took over Mekroyan fountain in Kabul.
What I saw is that by using an existing spatial form in a new way you can also create
new ownership and new opportunities for
interaction. Before we skated there the
rich and poor children would never interact, and many had only seen a foreigners
from afar, sitting inside an armored vehicle. When we started the skateboard lessons all of us came together to skate, and
I suddenly, unbelievably, had something
in common with a 10 year old Afghan girl


Construction of the GHESKIO Tuberculosis Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, provides on-site training for local
laborers in masonry and safe building practices.

tify the cost, not only in dollars spent but

also in lives lostof the failure to provide
proximal interventions. The founder of
Partners In Health, Dr. Paul Farmer, tells
us the debate about whether to focus on
proximal versus distal interventions, or
similar debates about how best to use
scarce resources, is as old as medicine itself. But there is little compelling evidence
that we must make such either/or choices: distal and proximal interventions are
complementary, not competing.3
Such is the case with architecture: a
narrowed frame that focuses on the end
as opposed to the means produces a limited understanding of our built environment and thus a limited ability to change
it. A narrowed frame also restricts both
the form the building can take (what we
might call the distal considerations) as

Public Action
Artistic rendering of the Butaro Ambulatory Cancer Center, Rwandas first outpatient cancer infusion facility.

Construction of the GHESKIO Cholera Treatment Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The facility, designed with a
custom facade that enhances patient comfort and privacy, is set to open in Fall 2013.

well as the processes that design, construct, and evaluate the buildings impact
over time (these are all proximal considerations).
As architects we lack precedents of
what it would cost to not apply our training to a problem. Our experience working
on the Butaro Hospital has provided us
the opportunity to quantify the value of
design and also revealed to us its impacts
on the ability of communities to not only
survive but to live, healthy and sheltered.
Architecture is an important proximal
consideration of health.
Architecture is also, as Dr. Zeynep Celik
reminds us, a crystallization of social relations and power structures into form.4
Health care, too, is a crystallization of
power into social relations; this means
framing health care not only as access to
medicine, but also as access to sanitation,
access to employment, and even access to
housing. These conditions affect peoples
health, and therefore are part of the doctors purview.
Farmer characterizes these systemic
failures as structural violence, a mode
of describing social arrangements that
put individuals and populations in harms
way. They are structural, he tells us, because they are embedded in the political
and economic organization of our social
world; they are violent because they cause
injury to people. He continues:
Structural violence describes social
structures economic, political, legal, religious, and cultural that stop individuals, groups, and societies from reaching
their full potential. In its general usage,
the word violence often conveys a physical image; however according to [Johan]
Galtung, it is the avoidable impairment
of fundamental human needs or the im-


Public Action


photograph alone can no longer

determine quality architecture. Instead, buildings must be considered in
terms of their fluidity and social adaptability over time, with social and political indicators governing success. How
we value quality must be reframed to
account for both the immediate and the
long-term (socio-political) implications
on the built environment.
Our work at MASS Design Group has
taught us that there are precedents for
this type of analysis in public health. For
example, distal interventions are those
performed in the late stages of illness,
when patients are already sick. These approaches are immediate. The distal interventions stop the bleeding.
Proximal interventions, however, are
those that address causes of disease.
More than mere prevention, like providing clean water or vaccinations, proximal
interventions look to the biosocial determinants of disease. Tuberculosis (TB),
although curable and nearly eradicated
in the US and Europe, kills approximately
3,800 people a day in developing economies.1 As renowned economist Jeffrey
Sachs notes, poor health causes poverty,
and poverty worsens bad health; consequently, proximal interventions that
address the structural conditions that allow people to develop TB are potentially
Lack of access among the poor to
health care, proper nutrition, and even
housing are structural conditions that
have direct outcomes on the virulence of
communicable diseases like TB as well as
on mortality rates of a given population.
Public health has developed much more
comprehensive policies to both respond
to these proximal conditions and quan-

Social Design

Social Design

Social Design

Social Design


Intervention by feld72 in Monfalcone IT

A Monfalcone Blues by Michael Obrist

A local craftsman builds custom bookshelves in the MASS workshop for the Butaro Doctors Housing at the Butaro Hospital in Burera, Rwanda.

The Umubano School in Kigali, Rwanda provides access to primary education for over 300 orphaned and
vulnerable children, employing a terraced design to fit
the regional topography, and providing ample space
for outdoor learning.

Public Action

pairment of human life, which lowers the

actual degree to which someone is able to
meet their needs below that which would
otherwise be possible.5
Why cant architecture take a similar
stance? What keeps architecture from
measuring its ability for nonviolenceto
provide or prevent access to core services
such as health care, education, and employment? Certainly architects, by their
deep relationships to power, affect these
The reverse is true as well. If the architectural paradigm is better-designed hospitals, then the success of a given project
is measured by the socio-economic condi-

tions of the people that sheltered within.

The individuals health, and her access to
education and employment, will remain
metrics of the buildings success. What
Farmer calls biosocial effects, we might
call the infra-social determinants of the
built environment.
If Architecture ignores these factors,
architects fail to rethink the role of architecture in serving society and thus allow structural violence. Although it can
often be valuable, an appropriate proximal intervention does not entail providing free services to poor clients. Instead,
architects must demystify the sociostructural dialogue between clients and
architecture. Empowerment acts against
structural violence and an architects
training latently provides him the tools to
empower expectations of architectures
public, less we risk a great disservice to
our profession and the built environment
to ignore this.
The most direct way to combat the
violence of architecture is to resist what
the limited frame so easily allows: a
space where the a-political is possible.
When architects pretend to work outside
of socioeconomic structures and sociospatial organizations, they engage in a
form of architecture that only reinforces

the structures of power that demand we

purchase architecture in the first place.
When an architecture of privilege is deployed, when our celebrated buildings
are only corporate headquarters, private
residences, and art museums, and when
the best architectural minds are not engaged to assist the most disenfranchised,
architecture fails to define its relevance
as an art form and as a discipline. Structural violence ensues, at its worst joined
by physical violence, and the Whole of Architecture is made impossible.

The Geography of Poverty and Wealth by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Andrew D. Mellinger, and John
L. Gallup, Scientific American, March 2001,
pp.71 74.
Farmer PE, Nizeye B, Stulac S, Keshavjee
S, 2006, Structural Violence and Clinical
Medicine. PLoS Med 3(10): e449 doi: 10.137/
. Celik, Zeynep. Cultural Intersections:
Re-visioning Architecture and the city in the
Twentieth Century. At the end of the century:
one hundred years of architecture: [exhibition,
Los Angeles, Museum of contemporary art]. Los
Angeles: The Museum of Contemporary Art;
1998. pp. 192 228.
Farmer, 2006.

enue of the project is the mouth of

the river Isonzo near the industrial
town of Monfalcone not far away from
Trieste. On one side a recently defined
preserve area, on the other side an informal settlement which has grown and developed in the last decades.

When feld72 was invited to work on a

temporary intervention in the territory of
that informal settlement in Monfalcone,
we could not be aware of finding through
our research such a complexity and so
many global connections in that little
piece of land.

UNIKUM, the cultural centre of the

university of Klagenfurt / Austria, in the
last years started a project of investigation of the zones in transition in the borderland of Austria, Italy and Slovenia, and
invited different artist to work on specific

The settlement started with a few houses of fishermen 80 years ago, which have
been erected at the time when the dike at
the mouth of the Isonzo was constructed. Throughout the decades the illegally
built small houses have become more and
more and changed size and function. At

this day the Casoni della Quarantia have

become a surreal place on the river with a
touch of anarchism and a very special poetics of space, a strange mixture of Cajun
Village in Lousiana, a Favela Settlement
and an open and process-orientated design workshop. As a matter of fact a built
manifesto of the creativity of non-experts
to solve everyday-design-problems refreshingly out-of-the-box. Around this
houses which were partially just used on
the weekends, a whole community has
been shaped, which has found on that
spot a possibility to find a free way of living and is playing an important part in
the care-taking of the ecosystem on site.
After a strong storm with disastrous consequences for a big part of the built structures the local government has banned
the access to the houses, and ordered the
demolition of the houses.
The community members organised
themselves in form of an association and
went through all steps to the Supreme
Court to fight for their settlement and
their right to repair their houses and to
live on site. The cause is still open, and we
were not sure if we were the last witnesses
on site before the disappearance of this
casoni or we might make a difference
by giving them through our intervention
a certain attention.
We used the area as a territory of reflection and to put the question in a bigger
frame. The casoni were used as objects-


Public Action


been divided geographically, today you

will find both phenomena everywhere,
and together they have shaped the contemporary space and social conditions.
With our project with wanted to open up
a discussion, showing the complexity of
the phenomena beyond the romantic idealisation of the one side , and the condemnation of abusivismo on the other side.
Its not about the good versus the bad,
but an attempt to understand and to deal
with this new reality. In the specific case

tive prices, was able to build not most of

the small houses (and even more) with
complete denial of the context which have
defined contemporary Italy.

Of House and Men

Built on sand showed the ambiguity
of the contemporary Italian (social) landscape in a very specific spot by putting its
extremes next to each other, and showing
their connection. The one is always the
consequence of the other and viceversa.
Italy today just seems to work with those
two sides.
It has been conservatively estimated
that the black economy of Italy is equal
to as much as 30 percent of the countrys
gross domestic product. Without the esti-

from the coastline where with a minimum

of economical effort, but with a maximum
of creativity and poetry this little houses
on the water were illegally erected, now
the new dream-class-cruise ships like the
Carnival Magic with construction costs
of 565 Million should create the perfect
The Bungalows which is the main typology found in the settlement we worked
with, derives etymologically and typologically from the Bangolo (House in Bengali Style) and is one of the most successful export ideas from the Bengali Culture.
It is the only housing typology that can
be found on all continents and the word
Bungalow is now routed in 20 languages. One of the most important export elements of the Bengali culture nowadays is
cheap human labor. Through the pressure
of global economics the structure of the


The Italian Syndrome

Public Action

Abusivismo is the name of the phenomena, which has become dominant in

the Italian landscape.
More than 2,2000,000 illegal houses
have been detected by satellits in Italy in
2011. This corresponds to the Swiss housing market.
This build structures vary in size from
little sheds and extension of houses to
illegal settlements, housing blocks and
even hotels. Every year just in Campania, the region around Napoli, more than
6,000 houses are erected without permission. Also in areas of heritage protection
and even in the so called red zones around
vulcanos like the Vesuvio which define the
most dangerous areas in the case of eruption where absolutely nothing should be

continued, as through the continuous

invention of different condoni the
probability that those building processes
without any bureaucratic troubles find
a legal solution obviously has risen. The
quality of this illegally built houses and
structures have the same range as the
ones of the legally built houses: it varies
from breathtaking beauty to insane ugliness. Both are the result of a system of regulations which created two forms of Italy:
a blocked one, where hardly anything is
possible if it has not undergone a bureaucratic nightmare, but that may cause also
sensitive approaches to the environment,
and a wild one, where everything seems
possible if you know the right people, or
as a result of the impossibility of global
surveillance, your actions are invisible.
Both are directly related to each other, being just the other side of the same medal.
Although in the past this two might have

of the casoni in Monfalcone we found

beauty, dignity, respect for the environment, creativity, and a poetry of functionality beyond mere functionalism, but in
other informal settlement you might find
just the opposite.
There is no innocence in this phenomena any more. Its not about architecture
without architects against a structure
planned by professionals. Whole Italy
in the last decades was already shaped
by architecture without architects, as
the most important figure in the process
of building has become the so called
geometra(geometer). Unfortunately we
are not speaking about the geometer
in the sense of Plato (above the entrance
to the Academy was inscribed the phrase
Let None But Geometers Enter Here),
but a profession that without deeper education about architecture and its culture,
but with special rights and very competi-

mated 40,000 illegal seasonal farmworkers mainly from Ghana, Nigeria, and Mali,
the agricultural industry in Sicily could
not survive.
A similar phenomena happens in
Monfalcone. With the big success of the
cruising ships for the middle-class the
big dockyards in Monfalcone were able to
re-invent themselves after years of crisis.
And so just a few hundreds meters away

Monfalcone dockyards have changed; the

official numbers of employees have decreased, while subcontractors with their
own workers entered the game. Some of
them had a very long road to come to a
decent work, and they were not finding
their bungalows on site: On average,
8 10 Bengali people working in the Monfalcone ship industry live together in a
flat of 60 squaremeters for approximately
800 a month, changing the housing market completely.
As the market for Cruise ships is in constant change, the life of a cruise ship varies from 10 25 years. After that, the ships,
these floating temporary leisure city
built in Monfalcone mostly by Bengali
workers, of which most of them had to pay
approximately around 9,000 to arrive on
the unofficial ways to Italy (in comparison
EU-Citizens are able to get a return flight
from Rome to Dhaka for about 600), are

broken up again by Bengali workers, but

this time in Bangladesh itself, which has
become the world leader in shipbreaking.
Since 1990 Fincantieri has built 63 Luxury
ships and in the next years seven will follow. Every year 100 ships are ripped apart
in Bangladesh providing 60% of the steel
for its population of 160,000,000 people.
Although economically successful,
shipbuilding and shipbreaking had drastic consequences for the environment
on both sides: at the Chittagong Ship
Breaking Yard, the infamous industrial
wasteland and ecological disaster area
in Bangladesh, as well as in Monfalcone.
With over 600 Deaths caused by Asbestos,
Monfalcone has the highest percentage of
Mesothelioma in Italy, the cancer caused
by asbestos. Asbestos was largely used in
the ship industrys production processes
and has now been banned.
When we walked through the landscape, which is shining in its beauty, but
hiding a lot of its secrets, and spoke with
people, other stories have been told, which
have become part of that process(ion) of
understanding. And as we altogether finally arrived on the Mediterranean Sea,
symbol for us Europeans as the ultimate
frontier between our holiday identity and
our work identity, our place of the big
easy, together with all the participants we
uncovered the last of the hidden numbers
of that territory, which made us finally understand: Monfalcone is everywhere.2

The Italian Syndrome is a new form of depression recently defined by Ukrainian Psychiatrists. It is a result of social transformations.
The victims of this syndrome are mostly the
young female migrant health care assistant for
the elderly. It is a result of stress, solitude and
being lost in between two social spaces: leaving
behind their family and children to be able to
provide them a solid economic ground for the
future by taking care for old people in solitude
abroad. Already 1.5 Million people are working
in the growing market of domestic healthcare
in Italy: Most of them are young, female and
migrant. In 2040 the over 60s will make up 40%
of the Italian population.
58,000 is the number according to UNHCR
statistics of people who arrived to Europe in
2011 across the Mediterranean Sea on tiny or
overcrowded boats risking their life


Public Action

Social Design

Following the catholic tradition of

confession and forgiveness, Italian politicians have invented the condono (condonation): Every few years, the political
parties in charge of government, create
this special juridical trick to legalize huge
parts of the illegally built environment,
with the result of an income of taxes by
corrected returns and a massive affirmation of possible votes by their former or
future electors. This condono had the
negative side effect that abusivismo

Social Design

trouvs, and through text and a specific

installation we added the necessary layers
for a more comprehensive understanding. An one-day-walk through the territory
as sort of procession and a final installation on the Mediterranean sea was the
outcome and created connections telling
global and local stories hidden on that
spaces. Stories about the informal and
the illegal, which were the consequences
of an economical system which is literally
built on sand.

the burden of 300 eggs inside, that just
wait to be fertilised and put on the next
muldberry leaf. Then it dies.
How complicated is our life compared
to these breeding machines. All these
people around us that influence what we
do and think, all these things to take care
of, all these emotions. But I have to admit:
I am happy that my life is more complex
than the one of a silk worm, that I have

We are standing at the Vieux Port of

Marseille. Boats and houses. And out
there the mediterrainean sea. We are in
the touristic hotspot. Two new museums
have been build here to change Marseille
into something that it never was: A Culture Capital of Europe. Marseille surely
is a city of many many ethinc cultures, but
the culture that europe means. museums,
theatres and other public art institutions
never existed in Marseille or were almost
invisible. Now its 2013. Marseille tries to
make a shift. Not only here in the center,
but also in the difficult areas of the city. A
programme called quartier creatif was
invented to send artists into the wilderness of social tension to implement art in
the real world.




Public Action

La Cayolle is the name of the quarter

that was given to us. From the vieux port
it is difficult to imagine the southern edge
of this city and what is going on there.
Look! its back there!
Along the coast, where the mountains
kiss the sea and then a little to the left.
In the forest behind the highrise buildings of Roy dEspagne is the Fontaine
de Voire where Protisthe leader of a
Greek expedition that landed here at the
Vieux Port 600 BConce married Gyptis,
the daughter of the local King Nann in a
gesture of friendship. As a wedding gift
he received the Calanque and founded a
city here.
2,545 years later: Marseille at the end
of the second world war, the Vieux Port is
destroyed. The city is a needle holes to enter and leave Europe. But where should all
the people stay who wait for their papers
and visas, who look for money and jobs?
The Camp du Grand Arnas became the
largest refugee camp of Europe, it was installed at the foot of the Calanque. A piece
of land where Marseille had traditionally
moved everything uncomfortable for the
city: Here the highly toxic soude industry
produced fumes that were taken away
from the city with the mistral, here the
sewage system of Marseille got its main
outlet, here the prison of Marseille was


Public Action

Social Design

Problems to solve, work to do, kids to

take care of, solutions to find. Complexity makes me happy since I saw the Silkworms lives.
Change of subject (i come back to the
silk worm later)

Social Design

he silkworm is an animal with a very

simple life circle.
As soon as it slips out of a tiny little egg
it starts eating mulberry leaves. Just mulberry leaves.It doesnt sleep it only eats. It
is white with dark stripes and it wont stop
eating for 10 weeks. By then it has grown
as big as the fingers of a grown up man (if
an infant grew in the speed of a silk worm,
it would be as big as an overseas container
in 10 weeks). Suddenly the eating stops
and the worm begins to swing its head
to produce a string. A delicate thin thread
of 2 4 km lenght, stronger than steel. it
takes a day or two of rythmic movements
and the worm has vanished in a far too
small, fluffy cocoon of silk. Another three
weeks and a creature apears that looks
more like a star wars warrier than a butterfly. It is white and fat, wears a fancy
helmet with tentacles and it cant fly. the
poor creature does not eat it just carries

In late 2012 about 15 young people

were send to prison from the surrounding neighborhood. Drugs, guns, violence.
The supermarket once had 10 employees
on the paylist, who at the same time spend
their days behind prison walls. The strong
metal poles in front of the shops were installed after some neighbor, who was unsatisfied with a shops employment policy,
drove a burning car into its faade. Hollywood has a great impact on the everyday
life: Burning cars in swimming pools, explosions, rodeos, jumps, cavalier starts,
and other stunt practices became part
of the regular programme, performed in
public space. If they dont burn cars they
catch singing birds and sell them on the
parking of the supermarket. 100 Euro per
bird. Or they shoot wild boars from their
balcony. We are in an area that the city
likes to see as problematic. Unemployment, social segregation, violence, mafia,
and clan structures. bienvenue a enfer (welcome to hell) said a graffiti opposite the
school. Many plans exist for changes: The
national parc rules make it a servere crime
to catch birds and shoot boars, the houses
with the balconies will be torn down and
give space for the national parc info center. The area will get new roads, a new public parc, more middle class housing.
Plans made in offices not here.

Public Action

Quartier Cratif
Marseille Provence 2013
We are the artists dropped in this area
by a city entertainment programme. Our
task is to integrate. Integrate the quartier
into the cities marketing campaign, integrate all the institutions, that are active
in this area into our project, integrate the
people, who live here and integrate whats
goes on in public space into our work. Will
we still manage to integrate ourselves into
our project.
There is a triangular piece of wasteland beside the rond point beside the

neighborhood. His sketchbook is full of

drawings and notes, adresses and Ideas
but after he left his bench burned down.
Nevertheless he invited the people he met
to cook with him in public, an invitation
for everyone to come and eat called Chez
toi. Its a sucess, the ladies from around
take over and make a cooking competition every day. Boris Sieverts met a class
of school kids at the cole Elementaire de


Calanques. He took them out on tours to

discover their own environment. The artist from Kln proposes them to see their
enviroment as a large parc. Et voila! all is
there that a parc needs: big trees, wild animals, secret places, waterways, sculpture,
rocks with the kids he creates a parc inventory, that they present now in guided
tours. Boris also has a small room inside
the structure where he sleeps. Stefan
Shankland is the artist who was originally
invited by MP2013 to develop a work out
here. He asked the three german artists
to collaborate. Shankland tells the stories
of pierre tombe, the fallen rock. A huge
stone that lies 500 m away in a natural amphitheatre and carries many urban myths
about it. People are buried underneath,
secret business goes on there, lovers meet
but if you go, its a sad garbadge dump.
We bring the pierre tombe into the city!
He proclaimed and invited to a march out
there to get it. When we arrived a marching band played a concert. It was the beginning of a discussion about sculpture
and its meaning in public space in an
area like this. What can art do and what
difference does it make to implement artistic practice in an urban context.
And me, Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius, architect and artist in the group
raumlaborberlin, I knew what to do, when
I passed by a group of mulberry trees:
If seeing a silkworm live such a completely different life than mine helps me
to value my problems as something precious, why shouldnt it work with the
people in Marseille? And if I can persuade
them that the production of silk is the solution against unemployment, crime, violence, and poorness, that no one will need
to catch birds anymore to earn money on
the side, that even the kids in prison will
help to raise the family income, that growing worms and producing silk will make
their life rich without investment, as the
trees are already there, that they will soon
all walk around in cool silk fashion from
la cayolle, maybe it will make a difference.
PARCeque (because) was written in
big letters on our Pavillion that was constructed in a collective construction site.
Everything described happened parrallel
from may 21st to June 17th 2013.


Public Action


Heaven and

supermarket. A small path leads from

the crossing of the Avenue de Colgate
into the ZAC du Baou de Sormiou. Here
we decided to build a pavillon as a new
temporary community center. The artist
Erik Gngrich from Berlin sat here on a
bench for two weeks in november 2012
to get to know the people who live here.
Gngrich offered a tea and started the
conversation. He collected stories of the

Social Design

Social Design

built. Mazargues, les Baumettes, Sormiou

were never the places where the Marseillaise wanted to be. But many of those, who
lived and grew up in shantytowns or in the
camp, stayed in the beautiful landscape at
the foot of the mountains. And they developed a strange relation to their environment:


llan Kaprows Activity Echo-Logy was

performed on the weekend of May
3rd and 4th, 1975 by the American artist
Allan Kaprow (1927 2006) with a group
of participants in the countryside in Far
Hills, New Jersey. It was commissioned by
the Merriewold West Gallery. There was
no audience. All that remains is a booklet
with the score and some photographs by
Lizbeth Marano documenting the event.

carrying some downstream water
a distance upstream
pouring it into stream
Public Action

transferring a mouthful of
upstream water
a distance downstream
spitting it into the stream
sending a mouthed
silent word
a distance upstream

saying it aloud to the trees
propelling a shouted word
a distance downstream
mouthing it to the sky
transporting a gas-soaked cloth
a distance upstream
(waving it gently in the air)
waving it gently until dry
carrying a bagged breath
a distance downstream
each adding a breath
opening the bag to the wind1
On the last page of the booklet, Kaprow
explains the Activity, stating that it is
concerned with natural processes. Water
flowing downstream is carried mechanically upstream, is dumped and flows
back. Some is lost among the way. More

water is transferred downstream mouthby-mouth, loses oxygen, is mixed with saliva and is given back to the stream to be
altered again.2
Today, only specialists know about
Echo-Logy. It stands in the shadow of
Kaprows more spectacular Environments
and Happenings such as Yard, Household,
or Calling, which made him famous in the
1960s. But Echo-Logy still resonates with
crucial topics of our own time, such as
the issue of ecology, the limits of political
action, the topic of human labor and the
issue of the common. The very title raises
the question of the relation between the
past to the present, and I therefore wanted to find out if this work of art is an art
historical document or something, which
still is part of our own present.
On March 21, 2013, I reenacted
Kaprows Activity Echo-Logy with a group
of 25 architecture students in small creek,
just outside the Antique site of Olympia,
Greece. The reenactment was the highlight of a fieldtrip, called Ec(h)o-Logy:
Greek Returns which lead us to Athens
and Olympia. The reenactment lasted
about an hour and took place in the afternoon. We rehearsed the score and discussed how to solve certain details. For
instance, most participants were against
the idea of literally exchanging the water
mouth to mouth, and someone suggested that we simply fill a cup of water and
then pass along this cup by using only
the mouth. We had forgotten to bring gas
with us, but since Greeks are heavy smokers it was easy to find a refill for gasoline
liters in the nearby grocery shop. Two

forms of networks and flows.4 The traditional separation between private life and
work dissolves, because the fact that immaterial labor produces subjectivity and
economic value at the same time demonstrates how capitalist production has invaded our lives and has broken down all
the oppositions among economy, power,
and knowledge.5 The participants of
Echo-Logy and the participants of the reenactment were performing, so to speak,
immaterial labor. Work and leisure, labor
and play blurred. My students, unlike myself, were not paid, on the contrary, they
had to pay a substantial contribution to
the costs of the field trip. Together, we
produced affects, social relations, networks, experiences and to some extent
corporeal proximity. But we also undermined the process of immaterial labor
and prevent our subjectivity from being
exploited. We constantly interrupted the
productive cycle by loss, misunderstanding, non-communication, non-sense. We
constituted subjectivity and immediately
deconstructed it again. The words were
sent person-to-person, but too silent for
us to hear and then shouted aloud to the
trees and thus, from the viewpoint of productivity, wasted. The water was spat into
the stream. The bagged breath is opened
to the wind. The movement was, as
Kaprow had put it in his text, always back
and forth.6 Echo-Logy, as a work of art in
1975 and as a reenactment in the realm of
academe goes far in accepting and articulating the current form of labor. But it also
demonstrates how difficult it is for capital
to draw on values, which are immediately
shared and available to everyone for free.


Allan Kaprow, Echo-Logy, New York, DArc Press,
1975, n.p.
Maurizio Lazzarato, Immaterial Labor, in
Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed.
Michael Hardt and Paolo Virno, Minneapolis:
Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp. 133 150,
quote p, 135.
Ibid., p. 136.
Ibid., p. 142.
Allan Kaprow, Untitled text, in: Allan Kaprow,
Echo-Logy, New York, DArc Press, 1975, n.p.


Public Action

Social Design

told a different story, namely that they

had done all right until the crisis suddenly
turned everything they had said and done
into ruins. While the group now started to
send the whispered word from one to the
next, I remembered that during my last
trip, ten years ago, during the preparation
for the Olympics of 2004, I was impressed
by the theatrical scenes in the street, people shouting, gesticulating, exclaiming
loudly as if they were on stage. Now, the
voices were muffled, and the movements
had slowed down, mere shadows of the
past, echoes of better days.
The plastic bag arrived, everyone adding a breath of air. The bag inflated and
the biggest fear was that it would deflate.
Again, the headlines of the newspapers
came to mind, talking about deflation,
stagflation, withdrawn capital and the
fate of the Euro. But next to symbolizing
the economy, the plastic bag containing
our breath
breathpsyche in Greekalso visualized how the group of students and
teachers had momentarily turned into a
community. We had seen several such optimistic communities in Athens. We met
architects and designers who reactivated
a ruined office building in the old town
of Athens, we talked with the organizers
of the Athens Biennale and made a walk
with the group Encounter Athens. What
kind of community were we? In the otherwise highly hierarchic realm of academe,
we had, at least for a brief time, acted as
equal participants in a game. Perhaps the
students would remember this more than
anything else, perhaps it will resonate on
the way they conceive their projects and
the people involved in architecture.
What kind of activity was our reenactment? Were we producers, or consumers,
actors or observers? It reminded me of
the concept of immaterial labor which
was developed among others by Maurizio
Lazzarato, Paolo Virno, and Antonio Negri. According to Lazzarato, immaterial
labor involves a series of activities that
are not normally recognized as work
in other words, the kinds of activities
involved in defining and fixing cultural
and artistic standards, fashions, tastes,
consumer norms, and, more strategically, public opinion. [] The split between
conception and execution, between labor
and creativity, between author and audience, is simultaneously transcended
within the labor process and reimposed
as political command within the process
of valorization.3 Lazzaratos definition
reads like a description of Echo-Logy
both the Activity performed in 1975 and
our reenactment in 2013when he states
that immaterial labor constitutes itself
in forms that are immediately collective,
and we might say that it exists only in

Social Design


members of the group offered themselves

to act as documentarists with video and
photo cameras.
During the reenactment, while I was
waiting for the cup of water to arrive, I had
time to reflect on our field trip. By using the
metaphor of echo, we demonstrated our
interest in the resonance of the past in the
present. We also referred to the antique
legend of Echo and Narcissus, known
from Ovids Metamorphoses. After being
rejected by Narcissus, the water nymph
Echo dissolves and remains nothing but
a voice without a body. Can one compare
Europe to the self-absorbed Narcissus
and Greece to the rejected Echo, left to
her destiny? Would such a metaphor help
us to locate our own position within the
field trip and help us see the change more
clearly? The cup arrived and I handed it
over the next member of the group, eager
not to spill any water. Soon it would be
poured into the stream, dissolved, gone.
The notion of entropy came to my mind.
And I recalled what we had seen and heard
the other day in Athens. Our Greek hosts
told us that the new property taxation on
apartments and houses were undermining their compatriots confidence in the
future. Not only have most young people
lost their job and have most old people
lost their pensions, but the very backbone
of the social stability has been broken by
these new taxes. What since the 1950s had
been a guarantee for the middle-class,
namely the family-owned apartment, has
turned into an insupportable burden.
Many people can no longer afford to pay
the taxes, and there is no one they could
sell their flat to either. With the collapse
of the value of real estate the Greeks are
literally loosing the ground under their
feet. Did our performance, standing in the
cold water, eager not to slip, taking care
of a tiny quantity of water, mimic what
was happening in the country on a much
larger scale? Did our action help to focus
our view, would it lead to action, or would
it remain symbolic?
The next cup approached, and the
students were giggling because it looked
funny how I as their professor held it
with my lips and passed it on. The cup
between the teeth, it became impossible to speak. Echo came to my mind,
the poor water nymph, who could only
mumble and mimic the sounds of what
others said. Whose voices had we heard
during the trip? Was it observers from
the Northincluding ourselvesspeaking about Greece, telling the Greek how
to act? Werent we just repeating what the
politicians in the North were saying and
the newspapers echoed, namely that it
was Greeces own fault? What about the
voices of the Greeks? Everybody we met


Public Action

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design



Public Action

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design


har calls quantum systems, which are

self-organizing and indeterminate. Their
individual bits or cells:
have no fully fixed identity until
they are in relationship. This gives the
quantum system maximum flexibility
to define itself as it goes along. It co-

Social Design



The only limit to our realization of

tomorrow will be our doubts of today.
Franklin D Roosevelt

Public Action

ach academic year we start our sessions with one of those class-room
seminars on what is development?
the kind of seminar thats never-ending
and impossible to conclude but which
gets everyone thinking. Most times the
response is predictable. Development
is whatever you want it do be depending
on your politics and ideology: economic
growth, rights, freedom, livelihoods,
good governance, knowledge, power
all of which are often interspersed with
words like integration, sustainability, empowerement, partnerships,
participation, community, democracy, or ethics. In combination, all the
ideals they invoke offer us hope for building a better and fairer world and, for the
poor majority around the world, a better
Sometimes, to liven things up, I select a combination of words from Roberstons lexicon of buzzwords arranged in
four columns of 14 each, generating in
total some 38,000 development options:
something like, development is: demo-

cratically (column A) structured (column

B) institutional (column C) involvement
(column D); and then we discuss the outcomes.1 Each of my students groups will
have different interpretation of what it all
meansa witness to the ambiguity of the
language and the jargon of development
which we try to dispel or come to terms
with at the earliest stage.
Occasionally, someone brightens
things up and offers us an alternative
view. Last year someone ventured an idea
that got us thinking very differently. Development, he said, happens when people, however poor in money, get together,
get organized, become sophisticated and
go to scale. It happens when they are savvy
and able to influence or change the course
of events or the order of things locally,
nationally or even globallyor are themselves able to become that order or part
of it. Development, he said (as he pointed
to his copy of Kaplans The Development
Practitioners Handbook) 2 is that stage
you reach when you are secure enough
in yourself, individually or collectively,
to become interdependent; when I can
emerge as we, and also when we is
inclusive of them. His assumption was
enduring and simple. Getting organized

is the foundation of all the other developmental goals we have set; it is the essence
of good governance and of sustainable
work; it empowers and opens doors; it
makes you money and wins you respect.
I began to wonder what this could
mean in practice and what theory of practice was implied. It got me thinking again
about Steven Johnsons book on emergence and his account of Keller, Lee, and
Nakagakis research into slime mould
behaviour and the application of mathematics to the understanding of biology.3
Their research was a part of the scientific
search for an understanding of how simple and mostly independent cells, under
the right circumstances, come together
and emerge as a larger and more sophisticated organization, not led by a single
brain and without the help of an executive branch, much in the way in which the
highly sophisticated and informal sector
works in cities.
Johnson reports that in August 2000,
Nakagaki, a Japanese scientist, had
trained the slime mould (that brownish stuff you find in your garden) to find
its way through a maze. He placed some
food at two of the mazes exits. The slime
mould solved the problem of the mould

cells to aggregate and form clusters. It

becomes they in response to changes
in the environment or in their search for
food, and all without some big shot giving instructions! The slime mould, they
found oscillates between being a single creature and a swarm, 4 between independence and interdependence.
Sociologists have their own way of describing the ying and the yang of I and
we. In his discussion on sociability,
Georg Simmel, an innovator in contemporary sociology, put it this way:
[T]he individual has to fit himself into
a whole system and live for it: that,
however, out of his system values and
enhancement must flow back to him,
that the life of the individual is but a
means for the ends of the whole, the
life of the whole but an instrument for
the purpose of the individual.5
The point that the scientists and Simmel are making is that organic systems,
in nature and society, exhibit patters
recognized in the informal cities of everywherewhere problems are solved by
drawing on a variety of information from
the multitude of small, relatively simple
and local elements, rather than from
some power elite or single brain (which
the early researchers assumed guided
the beaviour of the mould). There was no
prior planning, but there was an effective
system of communication that enabled
the slime mould to act sponaneously and
to self-organize in response to need (or aspiration), from the bottom up. This ability
to organize and become sophisticated, to
move from one kind of order to another
higher level of order, scientists call emergence.
In many respects emergence and developmentat least the kind ventured
in class earliershare similar characteristics. They both include what Danah Zo-

creates with its environment. All of

natures compex systems are at their
most creative when they are delicately
poised between fixedness and unfixednesspoised at the edge of chaos.6
But development and emergence
the kind exhibited in naturediffer in
at least two significant respects. First,
development, like all human processes,
needs designed structure with rules and
routines that provide continuity and stability and that offer a shared context of
meaning and a shared sense of purpose
and justice. To these structures we give
up some of our liberty in order to protect
the rest.7 The question facing practice is:
how much structure will be needed before
the structure itself inhibits personal freedom, gets in the way of progress, destroys
the very system in which it is designed to
serve, and becomes self-serving? At what
point does it disable the natural process
of emergence, whith all its novelty and
creativity? [S]kilful [practicioners] understand the interdependence between
design and emergence. They know that
in todays turbulent environment, the
challenge is to find the right balance between the creativity of emergence and the
stability of design.8
In the second instance of divergence,
emergence in nature differs from development in the ways in which collectives
form and become communties. There
are at least five different and overlapping
ways in which communities form. These
include communities of culture or place,
communities of interest, and communities of practice and resitance. Each will
differ in its constituency, in its value systems, in its codes of conduct, and in its beliefs and aspirations. Each will vary in its
terms of engagement with partners. Some
will compete for power and authority and
others may be in open conflict.

Social Design


This shifting balance between constantly competing levels, between the

freedom and rights of individuals and
the order of collective responsability, between large-scale organizations and small
ones, between public life (we) and private
life (I), as well the differences between
kinds of community, continues to preoccupy social scientists, architects, planners and economists. It is at the heart of
a new activism that today can revitalize
practice with new purpose. It offers new
roles and responsabilities to practitioners. It enables us to cultivate afresh the
ideals of community, participation, and
governance, and to reconceptualize the
planning process itself.
Driving it all is a simple, yet still challenging premise: intelligent practice
builds on the collective wisdom of people
and organizations on the groundthose
who think locally and act globallywhich
is then rationalized in ways that make
a difference globally. In the language of
emergence, its better to build a densely interconnected system with simple elements and let the more sophisticated
behaviour trickle up.9 In this respect,
good development practice facilitates
emergence; it builds on what weve got
and with it goes to scale.
It follows, therefore, that in order to
do something bigto think globally and
act globallyone starts with something
small and one starts where it counts.
Practice, then, is about making the ordinary special and the special more widely
accessibleexpanding the boundaries of
understanding and possibility with vision
and common sense. It is about building
densely interconnected networks, crafting linkages between unlikely partners
and organizations, and making plans
without the usual preponderance of planning. it is about getting it right for now
and at the same time being practical for
later. This is not about forecasting, nor
about making decisions about the future.
But it is about the long range, about making sure that onle plus one equals two or
even three, about being politically connected and grounded, and about disturbing the order of things in the interests of
Practice disturbs. It can and does promote one set of truths, belief systems,
values, norms, rituals, powers and gender
relations in place of others. It can impose
habits, routines and technologies that
may lead to new and unfamiliar ways of
thinking, coding and organizing, locally,
nationally and even globally. It may do
this intentionally because existing structures have become malignant, or because
they could work more effectively if they
were to change, or because there is no or-


Public Action

and found the food. But if the mould had

no brain an no executive cell, how was it
able to do this?
Scientists had discovered in the late
1960s that each cell of the slime mould
relays signals to its neighbors by emitting
a substance called acrasin, which enables

established and sophisticated, community organization, and to change the legal

structure of rights so that other communities who lack entitlement can benefit as
well. In time we might encourage a new


Public Action

up to three, and finding a new path when

our rule-bound and habit-bound thinking cant cope.12
It is here that imagination is as important as knowledge or skill when deciding
on professional intervention. Begin with
imagination, said the Nobel prize winning author Jose Saramagobut from
then on let reason prevail.13 Working
in the slums and shanties of any major
city in the South, it takes imagination to
plant the seed of the idea of community
around bus stops and water points, and
to craft these creatively, with reason, as
centres of community life; or to spot it in
someone elses waste the implicit opportunities for enterprise, entrepreneurship
and new forms of partnership to manage
waste and conserve energy. It takes imagination to adopt a local cricket club as a
partner in promoting social development
in an otherwise divided community; or to
spot a pickle jar on someones doorstep
with pickles for sale and then expand the
source of this produce through a community garden, managed by the elderly
and involving children as partners, for
promoting healthy living. It takes imagination to turn a rickshaw into a school
bus, offering services and security for
children in a settlement that is otherwise
inaccessible to services, and contracted
by the local authority, thereby generating
employment and creating more partnerships, both public and private, formal and
informal. It takes imagination to see the
pirating of electricity as an opportunity
for privatizing a utility around a single pylon, or to see a standpipe with its intermitten supply of water as ameans of generating income, creating a community fund
out of surplus tariff revenue, empowering
woman and promoting health awareness.
And further in this example, it takes
more imagination combined with reason
to convince the municipal authorities to
seek new partnerships with this, by now

horizontal structure of water managment

networks which become an integral part
of the way cities manage their supply
a new institutional arrangement which
everyone recognizes as useful and profitable; something both practical and tactical. It takes imagination to convince an
multinational corporation to partner with
a community organization to fight fire
and reduce the risks of man-made or natural hazards and disasters, or to negotiate
debt conversion between governments
that shares out the benefits of debt relief
with desenfranchised community groups
in a new global alliance inclusive of grassroots organizations, designed to reduce
poverty, promote social justice, and save
the environment. In all these ways we recognize in practice the important dialectic
between top-down planning, with its formal and designed laws and structures,
and bottom-up self-organizing collectivismthose quantum and emergent systems which Jane Jacobs argued long ago
give cities their life and order.14
Skilful and creative practice in these
interdependent settings hinges on our
capacity to handle the unexpected in controlled but creative ways, and on chance
encounters and chance learning. It depends on the ability to improvise as we
stumble upon good ideas and as problems manifest themselves unpredictably,
and on upside-down thinking, and on
making mistakes and being reflective.
Although we sometimes think before
acting, said Don Schon, it is also true
that in much of the spontaneous behaviour of skilful practice, we reveal a kind
of knowing which does not stem from a
prior intellectual operation.15
This kind of knowing is less normative, less easy to standardize in its routines and procedures, less tolerant of
data-hungry study, and less reliant on statistics or system analysis. Consistency, it
will be shown, is the hobgoblin of simple

minds rather than a measure of professional competency. There are few sacred
prototypes to follow, no best practices for
export, no brand names that guarantee
quality. Instead, approximation and serendipity are the normthe search for scientific precision is displaced in favour of
informed improvisations, practical wisdom, integrated thinking and good judgement based on a shared sense of justice
and equity, and on common sense.
These competencies, we will see, combined with a good measure of idealism
and pragmatism, enable practitioners to
move easily and creatively from the high
ground of global issues into the swamp of
the everyday with its small beginning and
seemingly irrational short cuts to survival
and successto the strategic settings of
national policy development, into the
board rooms of development banks and
from all levels with the moral imperative to solve problems and change minds
and in ways which make a difference and
more, on a scale that counts.
Experience everywhere confirms how
all these small beginningsthis seemlingly ad-hoc and makeshift landscape of
looseparts and organizationsgive cities
their ordered complexity, which is at once
flexible, durable and as we have seen, infinitely resourceful. They offer fast and ingenious short-cuts to goods and services
and a vitality of energy and social interaction that depends critically upon diversity, intricacy and the capacity to handle
the unexpected in controlled but creative
ways. 16 In the end, we will see how practice and practitioners using the power
of [their] authority to empower others,17
can nurture this processor sometimes
how they can disable it. We will learn how
skilful practice can trigger the emergence
of novelty and organization; how it can
help build an architecture of opportunity
for rediscovering community, building
networks, and stronger organizations,
and making moneyfor communication and learning to flourish, and for new
partnerships to be explored. In doing so,
we enable people to find new ways of doing, thinking, and relating in response to
everyday problems which one takes for
grantedbreaking down barriers; optimizing not maximizing. These are alle
qualities of leadership in practice and for
developmenta new openness for dialogue and learning.
Finally, and by way of summary, I offer
a code of conduct based on my own experiences and the experiences and advice of

Ignorance is liberating
Start where you can:
never say cant
Imagine first:
reason later

First published in Nabeel Hamdi, Small Change.

About the Art of Practice and the Limits of Planning in Cities, London, 1997.


Be reflective:
waste time
Embrace serendipity:
get muddled
Play games, serious



Challenge consensus


Look for multipliers

Robertson, A. People and the State. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Kaplan, A. The Development Practitioners
Handbook. London: Pluto Press, 1996.
Johnson, S. Emergence: The Connected Lives
of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software. London:
Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 2001.
Simmel, G. On Individuality and Social Forms.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971:
Zohar, D. Rewiring The Corporate Brain. San
Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1997: 50.
Berlin, I. Two Concepts of Liberty: An Inaugural
Lecture Delivered Before the University of Oxford on 31 of October 1958. Oxford: The Clarion
Press, 1958, 11.
Capra, F. The Hidden Connections: A Science
For Sustainable Living. London: Harper Collins,
2002: 106.
Johnson, S. Emergence: The Connected Lives of
Ants, Brains, Cities and Software. London: Allen
Lane, The Penguin Press, 2001.
Based on Gillispie, S. Scaling up community
driven development: an overview, Unpublished
working draft, 2002.
Edwards, M. NGO Rights and Responsibilities.
A New Deal for Global Governance. London: The
Foreign Policy Centre in association with the
National Council for Voluntary Organizations
(NCVO), 2002: 10.
Zohar, D. Rewiring The Corporate Brain. San
Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1997: 38.
Jose Saramango quoted in The Guardian Review, 28 December 2002.
Jacobs, J. The Death and Life of Great American
Cities. New York: Random House, 1961.
Schon, D. The Reflective Practitioner: How
Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic
Books, 1983.
Harvey, D. The Condition of Post-modernity.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990.
Capra, F. The Hidden Connections, A Science
For Sustainable Living. London: Harper Collins,
2002: 106.


Work backwards:
move forwards
Feel good

Public Action

Social Design

brains spiritimaginative, intuitive, insightful, creative, unwilling to accept old

paradigms as given, inventing new categories of thought, being holistic, finding new ways of making one and one add

Social Design


derno sophistication where it is needed. It may also do so in the interests of one

power elite over another to induce internationally a new global order. In all these
respects, practicethat skilful art of making things happen; of making informed
choices and creating opportunities for
change in a messy and unequal worldis
a form of activism and demands entrepreneurship.
Practice sparks the process by which
small organizations, events and activies can be scaled up. This can happen in
various ways: quantitatively, where programmes get bigger in size and money;
functionally, through integration with
other programmes and other organizations both formal and informal; politically, where programmes and communities
can wield power and can become part of
the governance of cities; and organizationally, where the capacity to be effective
increases and becomes sophisticated and
influentialat which point it becomes
a higher order of organization.10 Emergence and going to scale are, therefore,
complementary processes: practice is a
catalyst to both.
This philosophy of acting in order to
induce others to act, of offering impulses rather than instructions, and of cultivating an environment for change from
within, starts on the ground and often
with small beginnings which have emergent potentialbus stop, a pickle jar, a
composting bin, a standpipe.
From these small and often simple
beginnings, with all their practical objectives of improving housing, health and
education, emerges an agenda of reforms
to policy, legal frameworks and standards
which help to build social capital, promote social integration and gender equality, reduce dependency, unlock resources
and build livelihoods:
Shared ownership of the development
agenda is seen as key to its sustainability [P]ublic, private and civic roles are
being reconceptualized and reshaped
in both economics and social policy:
the best route to problem soliving lies
through partnership.11
Problem-seeking and problem-solving
in these settings demand that we think
at once serially, associatively and holistically. Danah Zohar calls these three kinds
of thinking the brains intellect, heart
and spirit. With the intellect we define
goals, set tasks, evaluate the evidence,
collect facts, search for precedent, and
search for logic. Then there is the brains
heartthat form of associative or parallel
thinking that finds associations between
things, events, people, and structures,
and that taps experience, learning by trial
and error. And importantly, there is the

Social Design

I went on to explain Creative Time

Reports overarching goal: for artists to
weigh in on the times in which we live.
Despite their participation in the revolution, some Tunisian artists felt their
voices were becoming increasingly sidelined. They envisioned participation in
Creative Time Reports as an opportunity
to foreground their opinions on what was
happening during the countrys transition to democracy.
There were also some warnings. Yes,
Ben Ali is gone, but it is still not easy for us
to speak openly, one artist said. There
are many risks we have to take if we want
our voices to be heard. In some cases,
anonymity would be essential to ensure



Public Action

who were galvanized by the story of Mohammed Bouazizithe Tunisian fruit

seller who self-immolated protesting police brutalityto join the rallying cries for
Ben Alis departure.
They told stories about the uprisings
frontlines and sleeping for days in barricaded hotel rooms, listening to the
sounds of chants mixed with sometimesviolent battles between soldiers and
armed militias. They spoke about the
feeling of rediscovering home. But mostly
they talked about talking: for the first time
in their lives, many felt unafraid to openly
discuss dissenting views and opposition
I described Creative Times 40-yearlong tradition of cleaving a path for artists
to weigh in on critical issues, such as immigration, AIDS, war, and domestic violencein places like New Orleans Lower
Ninth Ward, at schools, and town squares
across the United States, and of course, in
our own New York City.

artists safety.
While I dealt with this regularly as a
journalist, in my new role as editor for
Creative Time Reports these issues were
revelatory. How did the organization,
whose mission states, Public spaces are
places for creative and free expression,
plan to work in countries where sometimes the opposite is true?
How would we contend with an artist
in Malaysia, for instance, wanting to cover his governments repressive reaction
toward protestors demanding electoral
reform, while, he explained, social media
in the country was being monitored and
openly contributing to Creative Time Reports could jeopardize the safety of his
fellow artists?
Rather than proffering answers, we
posed questions, not only to our community in New York City, but also to artists
around the world. I visited Hungary on
the eve of the countrys annual Revolution
Day celebration to discuss Creative Time

Reports with artists and writers leading a

growing opposition movement that challenged an overhauled constitution and
new restrictions on media freedoms.
Then in Dubai, I spoke with artist
Michael Rakowitz, who equated the potential of Creative Time Reports with the
political effectiveness of the moment Natalia Dmytruk, a Ukrainian sign-language
interpreter, refused to report fraudulent
election results to her deaf audience and
instead signed the truth. The move emboldened what became the Orange Revolution. Just like Dmytruk, this project
has the potential to open up new ways
of performing information, or truth-telling, said Rakowitz. It can find ways of
circumventing linear, state, and corporate-run conglomerates.
And in July, I spent a week in Nairobi
speaking with artists of all disciplines who
were tacklingthrough poetry, song and
filmthe upcoming presidential election,
five years after the last one resulted in the
deaths of an estimated 1,200 Kenyans.
With each trip, artists offered more insight
into how Creative Time Reports can transform dialogue, and in doing so, nudged us
closer to where we are today.
At a time of unprecedented global
communication, and in the spirit of international collaboration, we work with artists around the worldincluding those in
Kenya and Tunisia, in Bangladesh, Mexico, Kuwait, Argentina, Afghanistan and
here in the United States. Each time, our
conversation begins with questions. We
ask for interpretations of thorny political situations and reactions to the news,
as events unfold. Together we try to craft
dispatches that upend traditional media
takes, while bringing clarity to some of
the worlds most challenging issues.
Creative Time Reports is not simply a
news website. Our primary contributors
are artists, not journalists, pundits or policy experts. We will feature personal perspectives and critical interventions that
question the framework of the news and
offer radical recalibrations of the topics
at hand, by weaving in the media culture,
mythology, psychology or history that inform our political thinking. Free from the
disciplinary and institutional restrictions
of journalism, artists can make idiosyncratic associations, seek alternative forms
of expression and thereby lead us to more
holistic truths. Their viewpoints will add
to the public discourse in ways we havent
even begun to imagine. We are at the start
of a new kind of conversation, one that is
as informative as it is unconventional.
First published: October 1, 2012 on

Social Design

efore the first artist was asked to contribute to Creative Time Reports, I
flew to Tunisia, arriving within days of
the one-year anniversary of the Jasmine
Revolution. Outside the half-empty terminal, storm clouds cast milk-white
halos around street lamps. It was the
middle of winter, and the normally temperate North African country was struck
overnight by a cold snap.
A taxi dropped me off just a few miles
from Avenue Habib Bourguibathe Tunisian capitals main boulevard, and also
the location where thousands had gathered to demand an end to dictator Zine
Abidine Ben Alis 23-year rule.
Within hours, I began meeting artists


Public Action

From the Diary of a Border-Being



Reality Can Be

Public Action

am sitting in a moderately furnished

apartment, in the living room precisely.
There is a flower vase right before me, on
top of my deskwith flowers, yes. Only
that these flowers are synthetic and not
the real thing. It got me reflecting
The extent to which reality could easily be synthesized in a bid to approach or
reproach its inherent substance
For more than 20 days, I have been on
the road, together with eight other participants. We are artistsphotographers,
writers, filmmakers, and even one who
simply calls himself a visual artist. The
project is called Invisible Borders, and as
the name seems to imply, it is all about
rendering the Visible Borders invisible,
flattening it, blurring it but in actuality,
the experiences gathered after three years
and three editions of the trip, suggests
that the name of the project could be seen
at most as encompassing different layers

and aspects, or at worst, a very vague term.

Here we are travelling through borders
by road from one African country to the
other, starting from Lagos. We are stuck
in our van, with our van, a box in every
sense of the word. A box that seems pleasant to be in for the first-timers of the trip
especially during the first few days but
becomes something to escape from towards the middle and end of the trip, a van
which dangles between extreme poles of
being an asset and yet a massive liability.
I am forced to evaluate our position
in all of this especially, when seen in the
context that social-political membranes
could be pierced through artistic interventions. In order words, art can become
a tangible social intervention.
That brings me back to the flower vase
standing before me now. And even though
this vase is made of real glass, it carries a
synthetic flower, a replica that by the in-

tention of whoever placed it here should

offer the same beauty, pleasure or whatever as the real flower. Well, perhaps it
could, or at most suggest it. It of course
can never be mistaken for the real thing,
but its performative value can never be
neglected either. It is an intervention in
reality that could spark an argument, or
sensitize one to a certain consciousness.
This flower might not offer me the beauty
of a real flower, but it might propel me to
want to want to know the real flower, in
this case, it (the flower) is not as synthetic
as it comes off, especially by the virtue its
metaphorical values.
I like to see things this way, the nonmateriality of reality. The real is not in
the substance but in the energy, which
assembles the substances into existence.
To that effect, our travel across border is
beyond the physical act, no matter how
sensational an adventure can sound or

I am of the strong opinion that art practices and process should aim to reach out
to the everyday person and most importantly in the public space. But as we travel,
I am compelled to reflect on what public
space means. It is not so much the physical space as it is the social space of the
people who occupy that physical space.
Indeed if we should refer to the immateriality of reality, then it suffices to say that
the physical space in itself is a derivative
of the intricate networks of events, perception, personalities embodied by the
people within the spacethis is the real
Public Space and every work that intends
to exist or work with the public space
must put into consideration or dialogue
the everyday reality by which the physical
space is a function. The physical space is a
function of the social space and the social
space is in turn a product of the immaterial radiations of those who occupy it.
Therefore, as we progress on this discourse surrounding borders, it becomes
imperative not to undermine the performative nature of this intervention as a
philosophical foothold and to inculcate it
into the aesthetics of representation. Our
objective therefore would be to constantly
look for ways to present this project as an
intervention within the everyday reality of
the regular inhabitants of any given geography taking into account the element of
spontaneity and improvisation, which are
the core ingredients of uncurated interactions.

We are Masters of
If today I were asked what exactly is
contemporary Africa, I would first of all
begin to talk of radiations, a kind of energy which flows through the continent like

graphs or the need to show astuteness in

photographic skills or even capturing the
decisive moments. For us, the real storyoften left out in the quest for blatant
headlinesis embedded in the indecisive
moments. We are much more interested
in how the approach to imagery mirrors
the reality that we are immersed in, rather
than how images define this reality.
We are in transition towards another
era as by virtue of our present circumstance we perfect the act of improvisation
becoming a master of it by the minute. In
this energy, which is becoming ever assertive, we find the vestiges of stagnation and
the wake of creative vigorousness. The African public space has come to symbolize
that spirit of dynamism that is as a result
of the playing-out of everyones creative
attempt at survival. It has become the
heritage of todays struggle to transcend
the limitations for which her people have
always been defined. It has come to become our studio, our space of work and
our core philosophy.

Aesthetics, Presentation,
and Interpretation
In the past years, what has become
challenging is not just the struggle to permeate the implications of borders, but
also (1) in what ways to use the different
media at our disposal to effectively question and invigorate discussions about
limitations in Trans-African exchange (2)
how to present and interpret the project
in such away as to convey the true experiences of the journey as a performative endeavor for which the process of the journey is in essence the outcome.
It is rightly said that it all began as a
photographic project, but over the past
years it has evolved beyond the term photography, as writers, filmmakers, and art
historians began to play a major role in
the discourse. This came with its challenges as many people continue to see
the project as solely a photographic one,
thereby neglecting or paying little importance to the literary and filmic aspect of
the project. It is indeed deliberate that we
have had only few exhibitions where we
had to put up photographic prints on a
(white) wall.
As we progress from one edition to
the other, so does our experience, and
we have come to the point where we realize that the idea of borders could act as a
double-edged sword, therefore must be
approached meticulously. It could easily
play us against our dogma. The naivety
that borders are something tangible and


Public Action

Social Design

Public Space, More of an

Intricate Network

a continuous line. This energy, this radiation is indeed what a whole lot of people
tend to coin words to define. It has been
there from the onset, and no matter how
time changes, it surfaces in myriad forms,
it is ever constant and reinventive in nature, it permeates everything and everyone whose feet are rooted in the soil of the
continent and thus has long since become
our naturesubconsciously. This radiation gives rise to the shared reality of the
people of this continent, but at the same
time is nourished and fine-tuned by the
struggle to circumvent unfavorable situations. It is what gives rise to the arbitrary
indefinable nature of existence in the
continent. This energy is the unequivocal
tendency towards spontaneity, the sheer
extent of improvisationthat which flaws
any form of predefined statistics. It is said
that it is in Africa that the weatherman
is always wrong. Why? Because naturally
people live shoulder to shoulder with the
moment and between two moments there
are one billion ways of being.
Living in this reality is like being in
a space where everything is non-linear,
shapeless, yet this is the shape because
it works. It reevaluates the defined and
invigorates the stagnated. It momentalises every interaction in such a way that it
seems far-fetched to base ones reason of
action on the awareness of the past or the
assumptions of the future. This however
does not mean that people do not make
plans but this planning is never incapacitated by predefined notions, every moment is a stand-alone regardless of the
fact that one leads to the other.
If there is anything like contemporary
African art, it is those creations that are
cognizant of this element of spontaneity
and improvisation, which tends to work
with, and draw from it the possibility of
alternative forms and aesthetics. Therefore being African is to blur the lines
between possible and impossible rendering the very state of being indefinable.
This radiation, this energy permeates
everything but manifests prominently
through the everyday space of the African
peoplethe public space, where all the
drama of living and co-existing is symbolized. Consequently, our work over the
years followed this trajectory and hinged
on depicting the exchange, the interaction of people and things within the public space; looking at what might be dismissed as banal, but by the act of putting
a frame to them, we extract them from
the ordinary. Moreover, we are consistently conscious of the fact that no click
is a waste as far as posterity is in consideration.
Therefore our approach to imagery
goes beyond making beautiful photo-

Social Design

be. What strikes as most impressionable

is the performative value of this journey.
We are a fiction, in other peoples reality.
No matter what we do, we will always be
a pretense of that reality when seen from
the point of view of those whose everyday
existence we interfere or intersect with.
But have we not by this intersection created a version of reality both for ourselves
and for the others, a sort of a third dimension but something much more remarkable to both parties respectively?

perative to understand that we aim to go

further than the act of image-making, but
to seek ways to put them to use as a performative tool, to set in motion its ability
of being a strong implement of sensitization. We are constantly asking the neverending question: How can photography
be used in such a way, as it becomes a tangible act of social intervention rather than
art for arts sake? How can also seeing
with the eyes carry the entire body along?
I believe that this is the stage we find
ourselves today. We do not lack the energy nor the vigor to create or be inventive,
what we need in abundance is the sensitization towards myriad forms this creative
energy could manifest.
I believe we will head in the direction
of an answer when as photographers;
we begin to perform images, rather than
make them.


Public Action

A Note from My Diary on

Evening of the Installation
Reads Thus:
We are much more interested in conveying the feeling and atmosphere within
the van as we journey thousands of miles
traversing landscapes and people of immeasurable numeric, that feeling of wanting to take in everything in a gulp of a click
yet the picture falls short of conveying anything close to what is lived. How can we
convey this particular experience, which
transcends the photographers ability to
settle on a particular frame, a particular
scene out of thousands?
Having said this, it is therefore im-

Public Action

Social Design

The near-best form of presenting this

project so far would be an installation that
depicts a performance of imagery rather
than a succession of meticulously curated
photographs. We are not interested in the
photographic nature of imagery but in its
performative nature, that which suggest
the process as an important precursor to
a conclusion, there will be no conclusion
without the process, which lead to it, there
will be no decisive moment without the
myriad indecisive moments sandwiched
in between. We ought to make installations that convey that feeling of being
overwhelmed with images upon images
as we experience from the interior of the
moving vehicle, but more so because this
is the reality of the African public space.
This became the inspiration for our
installation at the Biennale Benin 2012,
where we came up with the idea of recreating a suggestive replica of the interior of
the van as we have experienced it during
the trip, using the relics of the actual van
since we drove in the van from Lagos to
Cotonou for the festival. The installation
also featured reconstructed objects that
we were obliged to use (or things that used
us), such as the road signs, the checkpoint
barricades etc. There was equally a large
plasma screen on which images and texts
from the artists were displayed in a loop flashes of images after images, with texts.
The display was comprised of the actual
photographic works by photographers,
photo essays that were a joint venture between the photographers and the writer
Emmanuel Iduma, as well as photos of
participants while on the trip. We created
a pool of images, which tend to convey
a feeling of being submerged in the experience of the trip through images rather
than emphasizing on the individual approach of the artists.

Social Design


eradicable. We have come to realize that

borders are what happen when an individual or a group of people decides to
transcend the norm. Therefore the subjects of this project are first and foremost
the participants and the very first intention to go beyond the normthe act of
becoming a fiction in other peoples reality using themselves as the proverbial
guinea pig. Furthermore, there are those
who we meet in their everyday realitya
crossbreed of realities occur and the offspring of this crossbreed is a circle of deconstructed dogmas and freshly acquired
These things happen at random, and
at a pace that could never be likened to a
normal routinewe are constantly in roller-coaster mode. We make plans and we
counterplan, to an extent that haphazardness becomes our orderliness. It is never
realistic to see the trip as one definite
thing, it encompasses everything, failure
compliments success and vise versa. It is
where wrong is not easily written off as
the opposite of what is right, but could be
seen as its precursor or its consequence.
When we travel on the road trip we see
flashes of images and not one single photograph or two, therefore it is completely
impossible to talk of a selection of images
in this context. How can we freeze a moment when we are swamped with infinite
Sometimes the image made does not
justify the experience lived, and this
amounts to a certain frustration, the
shortcoming of the camera, the lens, the
view, and the limitations of materiality:
the window screen shielding you from all
the expanse out there, the van constantly
moving and bumping, your position displacing at 100 miles per hour (and so are
your thoughts)all of that is lost to the
click of the camera. Therefore the indecisive-moment images tell the story much
more than the decisive.
The true nature of the African Space
is that swarming with unquantifiable
moments carrying in each one of them
an integral part of the peoples existence
and by that, their history. Therefore, every click of the camera is history in the
In photographing the banal, we
tend to focus on those tiny moments,
which give the headlines their backbones. Our concept is basically simple:
to highlight the everyday interaction
between people and the space that they
occupy, and with time and consistency
we would have created an anthropological archive of how people shared in
their various modes of co-existencethe
beauty, the harmony as well as the many


Anil K Gupta, Marianne Esders, Chetan Patel,

Unnikrishnan Nair, R Baskaran

cold. Voluntary sufferingif one can say

soconveys the ethos far more precisely
than the words would ever suffice. These
walks help in uncovering the local talent
and also in sharing what we have learnt
from other places and people. Cross-pollination of knowledge takes place enriching the innovation ecosystem.

Embedding Nature

Narrow corridor, one of the many secret shortcuts in Ahmedabads old part of the city

Public Action

Fragile Thread: strong trunk: will you protect me, O tree? Ahmedabad

During the Shodhyatra walk in Purulia,

West Bengal, we came across a practice of
hanging earthen pots outside the home
and also sometimes inside the house for
pigeons to make their nests. The local
people believe that the breeze triggered
by the fluttering of the wings of the pigeons is very healthy for the people living
there. What a way of sheltering birds. In
Jharkhand, a tribal area, we came a across
similar practice.
In Gujarat, we have found hundreds of
villages and also some urban settlements
having bird feeding platforms. Many
communities in dry regions brought their
values of animal care to the urban settlements. The regions prone to drought and
thus having periodic scarcity of grains
have invariably been found to have more
places for feeding birds than the more
developed regions. The less you have, the
more you share. And not just with human
beings but also with the non-human sentient beings.
The same rule applies to the management of common property resources. Surviving collectively presupposes scarcity,
requiring interdependence. The trick is
that even in the regions of material abundance, we can create scarcity through institutional constraints. Cooperation thus
becomes inevitable. During the spawning
period, the fish become very dull. They
move towards shallow waters. It is very
easy to catch them. But, most cultures
around the world have a taboo against
catching fish during this period. It makes
sense from the point of view of reproductive dynamics of the fish. But, persuading
people to observe self-restraint during the
period of abundance requires institution
building. We probably have not spent as
much time to understand and negotiate
the common spaces of collective responsibility.
The double decker bridge grown from
tree roots drawn from the two sides of
the river in Cherapunji, Megalaya is an
ultimate testimony of sustainability,
renewability and collective action. The
technology of pulling the roots from two
sides of the river and layering the path
with stones and pebbles embedded in due

Keep our prayers safe, O tree, we go now: Ahmedabads old city cuts in Ahmedabads old part of the city


Flutter your wings, soothen the breeze; Purulia, West Bengal the city

course around the roots is important. If

people did not cooperate, the technology
would not work. Its institutional context
provides continuity. Both of these would
prove inadequate if the culture of creativity, cooperation and co-creation was not
there. The dissemination of this culture
would require an informal educational
system such that children imbibe this
spirit and sustain this approach to solving
problems in the long term.
Nature is not only crafting spaces of
conservation. It is grafting the values of
The crafting is like creating new structures and spaces, generally ahistorically. The grafting assumes existence of a
stock on which a scion is embedded. There
is no place in the world, which does not
have some institutions. The challenge is to
discover them and build upon them. Our

job is not to make people innovative. Our

challenge is to build upon the creative
and innovative spirit every child is born
with. But, in the process of growing up, we
cover this spirit with so many layers of habits and etiquettes that even we do not know
that we have this capability. Unfolding the
creative potential of society is uncovering
the nature within so that resonance with
the nature outside can be forged.

Cultural Creativity
Almost in every Shodhyatra, we discover unique nuances of cultural expressions
of different coping strategies. During the
Shodhyatra in Dahod District, we discovered that a family would promise to itself
to get a wall painted by a local tribal artist

Public Action


f I feed the birds in my garden in the

morning and try to prevent them from
perching on the air conditioner outside
my window in the office in daytime, I am
trying to find coherence in a contradictory behavior. Why wouldnt many architects learn from the communities which
have tried to integrate nature in urban
spaces? In Ahmedabad, we have sacred
trees being worshipped by the people
who tie a fragile thread around a strong
trunk of tree seeking solace, safety and
strength. Fragility is actually the foundation of love.Without being vulnerable,
we are seldom able to access feelings in
our own inner recess. The authenticity,
so fundamental to make a breakthrough,
requires a close sync between the inner
and the outer of our being. The built environment, urban landscape, narrow corridors, common spaces and intertwining
of nature and human habitations call in
question the degree of such sync we have.
The Honey Bee Network began 25
years ago to connect creativity and innovation at community level with formal
systems. The challenge was to make this
connection reciprocal, respectful and
restorative of mutual trust. For a long
time, the formal system had exploited the
knowledge and resources of the informal
system by not acknowledging or attributing the learning and also without fulfilling the responsibility of sharing benefits
in a fair and just manner. The focus for
the first 25 years has been primarily rural,
but for the last few years, effort has been
made to look at urban common property
management, innovations, institutions
and educational networks to leverage
their resourcefulness while connecting
them with material resource inadequacies of the rural areas. In a course on
understanding Creativity, Innovation,
Knowledge Networks, and Entrepreneurship [CINE], I take students for an urban
walk to observe, listen, learn and share
the spirit with the roadside vendors, fabricators, service providers and children. In
addition, I also encourage students to join
a Shodhyatralearning walkcourse in
which students go to Himalayas. In addition, SRISTI organizes such walks twice a
year to learn from four teachers viz., the
teacher within, the teacher around, i.e.,
among peers, nature as a teacher and
common people as a teacher.
But, as a teacher, it will be difficult
for me to advise empathy and persuade
young minds to be compassionate, curious, creative and collaborative without
pursuing all these values in my own life.
The Honey Bee Network has been pursuing Shodhyatras for the last 16 years. In
summer, we go to the places which are hot
and in the winter to the places which are

Social Design

Social Design


Public Action
O Birds, you are a part of our family, Chabutra, a traditional bird feeding platform

been misled by Maslowian philosophy to

assume that one could aspire for higher order goals only after meeting basic
needs, how wrong. A creative soul, even if
not assured of the next bread, would not
abandon pursuit of enlightenment, how
could she would not breath then become burden?

Educational Innovation
During the period of economic transition from material to knowledge-based
economy, the education systems became far more fragmented, quantitative
in their treatment of subjects and much
more divorced from real life conditions.
Countability or measurability became important, any thing that could not be measured, was considered not worth the effort. Variance was sought to be explained
only by what was measured. How to measure the feeling that motivates a person
to collect food and milk to feed the dogs?
How to measure the look and feel of parrot feeding hangers in a balcony.
The pursuit of specialization was inevitable when it was an instrument of differentiation in the knowledge economy.
With the advent of social media, the attention span of students became smaller and
lots of information and knowledge began
to be packaged and encapsulated in digestible formats. The disconnect from the
social sciences and social reality became
intense. This disconnect has led to a demand for rethinking education in a manner that cognition, contradiction, commensuration1, co-evolutionary empathy
or samvedana ke sanskar2 and empathetic innovations, and emotive convolution
are aspects that aesthetics may amplify
in our consciousness. No need to paint a
simple, smooth, convergent picture of the
world and then create dissonance in the
minds of learners, observers and explorers. Though, some dissonance can indeed
be a source of inspiration and creativity.
Surprise is the salt of a meaningful life.
The day I have not been surprised, I have
not lived fully.
The Honorable President of India
has given a call for National Innovation
Clubs to be created in all the universities
to search, spread, sense and celebrate innovations. He has given a new meaning
and push to the mission of the Honey Bee
Network to make not just India but the
whole world a creative, collaborative and
compassionate society.
A lot of innovations are needed to
bring these connections in the cognitive,
emotive and reflective space of students.
SRISTI (Society for Research and Initia-


Least we forget, designs that conserve, Ahmedabad, Court Area

tives for Sustainable Technologies and

Institutions has designed, a portal for linking students
with each other as well as with small entrepreneurs, grassroots innovators and
other parts of the informal sector. It also
helps in enabling students to know what
has been already done. With a pool of
157,000 projects pursued by 400,000 students from 600 institutions, it is nearly

impossible for a student to do something

that has already been done. Apart from
promoting originality, it also connects
the students with the real life problems
of various user segments. In due course,
it will make it possible for more and more
inter-institutional and inter-disciplinary
cooperation to take place. But where are
the urban spaces where these spatial,
sectoral, seasonal and social boundaries

are concurrently crossed without feeling

timid and helpless?
A large number of small entrepreneurs
and other innovators need support from
the formal sector but cannot afford to pay
the market cost of the time of experts.
Such a chasm can be bridged with the
help of students, who have not yet become
a cog in the wheel. Rescue them.

Institutional Innovation

A cycle of nature: Squirrels, birds and search for a common ground

Involving norms, which create new

parameters for making a trade off, say
between accuracy and affordability is
not easy. If a drug costing 100 dollars a
month provides 90 95 percent assurance of healing, then it is unlikely that
a drug providing 80 percent healing will
ever get through the screen. Even if the latter alternative costs only ten dollars, the
regulatory agencies will not approve it. We
dont let natures own healing system take
over the management of a disease after it
has been brought below the threshold
level. There are deep-rooted institutional
structures, which have created habits of
thought and action. One cannot bring
about change without identifying these
habits and stressing the need to overcome

Public Action

Social Design

ally an inversion of landscape in our

minds. Paul Basu calls it, so aptly, palimpsest memoryscape.
In Bengal, we came across beautiful
three-dimensional artwork on a wall by
a lady, Bhabi Mahato, who had nothing
much in her house but had a great deal of
meaning on her wall.
In Nandor, Madhya Pradesh, a wall full
of colour would make any one passing by
to stop and pause, reflect and reposition
ones compass of creativity.
Why did Jam Singh Jhiri decide to paint
his house in such daring colours? What
else could he/she have done, is the answer
we often get from creative people. Art
is imperative for them. And we still call
them unskilled laborers. Let the worlds
largest employment guarantee program
(MGNREGA) treat 250 million people as
unskilled, let the sculptors break stones
into pebbles instead of shaping them into
art and meanings. How many people have

Social Design

if a sick person recovered fast.

People who did not have much in their
home in terms of any asset or any sign of
wealth would spend a few thousand rupees to engage an artist to paint a wall to
celebrate the recovery of the sick kith and
kin. These paintings also called pithora
paintings have an underlying narrative. One does not wish that people should
fall sick for an artist to get work. And not
everybody follows this rule. But so long as
some people do it to celebrate recovery
in this way, the pithora art survives and
the narrative continues. Discourse takes
place about why artists incorporated different forms and shapes in the narrative.
For art being metaphorical in nature, full
meaning is never accessible. The local
communities have discovered that metaphorically embedded messages have very
low entropy. In our digital age, wouldnt
this be a worthwhile lesson? What
Schuman called memoryscape, is actu-

Social Design

Social Design

Nature finding its way and crafting its own spaces of

conservation, Ahmedabad


Learning to care and share: educating children by feeding birds in Ahmedabad

Public Action

them. Urban spaces have ignored commons at the cost of individual privileges.
Cycle and pedestrian lanes are missing
in India but about 25 percent growth of
the auto sector during the last decade
has mesmerized growth planners about
dispensability of what a common person
needs: a little space to walk, a safe lane for
a child to go to school.

Technological innovation
There are a huge number of technological innovations and traditional
knowledge practices displayed at www. and People
who are disadvantaged in terms of material resources, invariably leverage the resources in which they are rich, i.e., knowledge, values, and institutional networks.

Many of them dont share their ideas with

outsiders. But some do. A frugal, flexible,
friendly innovation conveys what grassroots innovation is all about.
The urban areas have become the suction pumps for the rural talent. With the
increasing rate of urbanization, migration of youth is inevitable. The more accomplished a rural youth is, the higher
is the chance that he would not stay in a
village. Unless we create sufficiently inclusive opportunities for them, the scope
for experimentation and innovation may
come down. Distributed facilities for insitu incubation of ideas are necessary.
The concept of incubation itself needs to
undergo a shift. For innovations that have
to be fine-tuned for known markets and
through known alternatives, the conventional incubation system may work. But
for those ideas, which have to grow in unknown markets and through yet unknown

Wall from recycled glass bottles created by Yatin Pandya, Ahmedabad


Public Action

Bridging technology, institutions and culture

innovations, one may need a sanctuary

model. In the first case, the chaos is outside and the order is inside. In the second
case, it is the opposite, the chaos is inside
and the order is outside. There are not
many avenues of this kind available for
urban innovation to evolve and progress.
In this paper, I tried to argue that urban renewal and rejuvenation requires
synergy among technology, institution,
culture and educational processes. It is
obvious that platforms that will strive for
this synergy have not yet evolved. The municipal authorities are too bogged down
with providing services using age-old
models. Rarely if ever, new models are
experimented with in a diversified manner. The arena for discourse, diversity
and inclusive development has to expand.
Public places, particularly roadsides, will
become more and more critical in future.
Where do street children figure in
our vision of order and beauty? Look at
a bamboo structure created by Prayas in
Bangalore where street children can sleep
on the roof in the night, take locally grown
medicinal plants when they are sick and
a teashop vendor at the bottom takes
care of them when needed. Urban empty
spaces can become ground for collective
action through art and culture.
Sustainable alternatives will require
collective action without squeezing space
for individual entrepreneurial and empathetic creativity. The paradox of individual
aspirations being met through collective
consent can be resolved through creation
of new meeting ground between formal
and informal sector. Open innovation
platforms are a means in this direction.
But, the openness of these platforms will
depend upon legitimacy provided by popular participation. That will require trust
and vigorous growth of social and ethical
capital. Landscapes of love require lighthouses of a sharing spirit. Then the waves
of collaboration will deliver various boats
to their sought out shores. Even if they fail
in some cases, the journey will have been
worthwhile. Urban regions can aggregate
intimate spaces through a collaborative
and creative spirit for an inclusive future.

Glass bottle wall from inside, created by Yatin Pandya, Ahmedabad


Public Action

form of its own, free of the constrains of

bureaucratic regulations. That the Silent
University is labeled an art-project is not
fundamentally important, but the fact
that it functions within the context of the
art world is not without significance. It
is hard to imagine another institutional
platform where the same amount of experimenting and stretching of notions
would be allowed to take place.
As the Silent University develops in
parallel to existing infrastructures and
educational institutions, thereby creating its own platforms, instead of waiting
for space to be given by someone else.
What a university is and can be is partly
renegotiated and given new meaning; the
project re-constructs the term. Occupies
it, and moves in. In The Silent University
of Stockholm a language teacher becomes
a language teacher anew, an engineer an
engineer again, and a political scientist
regains her discipline.
The word university is associated with
power and authority, a large organization
and an investment in ones future. Certified lecturers hold lectures. An exam is
proof of ones knowledge. A student-card
is documentation of ones belonging.
The Silent University borrows the
weight that the notion of a university carries with it, but leaves its bureaucratic
processes behind.
Silence is a central theme in the project. Can silence be viewed as a form of resistance, a protest? In London the teachers of the Silent University held their
public lectures in silence, the withheld
their knowledge from their audience; only
the members of the university was given
access to the material. In this instance, silence is being used as a method for activism, in the micro-situation of the lecture
a structural injustice on a macro scale is
pointed out: This is knowledge that has
been muted, made unavailable.
In Stockholm the lectures will also, at
least partly, be made unavailable for the
public. But the thematics of the knowledge exchange platform, the alternative
currencies, the artist led and institution
led models of learning, migration and
associated policy, silence, and performance, are also being presented in other
ways, such as publications, symposiums,
film program and a resource room. The
Silent University is constantly collecting
new material.
The Silent University aims to break silence and re-activate the knowledge of its
members. It can be said to be a university
where the teachers teaching is more important than the students learning. The
teachers are playing the main role. The
Silent University is an initiative to organization and an exploration of where orga-

nization can lead us.

Working in the local context of the
Stockholm suburb of Tensta, this framing feels increasingly heated and relevant.
Tensta is a large late-modernist housing
scheme, built in the late 1960s and houses
approximately 20,000 inhabitants. Close
to 90% of the population in Tensta is
compromised of people with immigrant
backgrounds. There are many things happening here simultaneously; the place is
marked by social problems and high levels of unemployment, but also a strong local engagement and participation, which
the many cultural non-profit organizations can be taken as an example of.
Earlier this year, cars were burning in
Tensta. Events like these are hard not to
interpret as symptoms of something; social injustice, a life made too hard, a feeling of meaninglessness. The revolts are
struck down by the police.
Simultaneously, people are organizing, creating networks that demands alternatives. In the suburbs of Stockholm,
and the other major cities, an increasing
number of local political initiatives are
forming and a newly discovered tendency
to organize protest. It is interesting to
relate these movements with The Silent
University, which in a similar fashion disregards the notions that power always has
to be focused around a centre, or, for that
matter, that a centre is something to strive
for. Political initiatives on a grass-roots
level are shown to re-construct a logic and
put the marginalized in the centre of debate. And in doing so, transforms silence
into words.


Public Action


he Silent University is an autonomous knowledge exchange platform, initiated by the artist Ahmet gut.
The University recruits asylum seekers,
refugees and immigrants with a professional background in their countries of
origin, which, due to systematical social
exclusion and processes of discrimination, is unable to put their knowledge to
professional use in the countries which
they currently live in. Through the Silent
University, careers that have been muted
are included and reassigned. Taking the
form of an academic program, classes,
lectures, libraries, seminars, a website
and student-cards are created.
The Silent University was founded
in London in 2012 in collaboration with
Delfina Foundation and Tate, and is currently being established in the Stockholm
suburb of Tensta, in collaboration with
Tensta konsthall. Parallel discussions
about the universitys continuation are
simultaneously taking place in Paris and
Berlin. The Silent University does not yet
have a permanent space, rather, the concept of the university is being established
at different art institutions as a collaborative effort by Ahmet gut and the team
What the art institutions contribute
with is the offer of a physical meetingplace, the creation of public points of
contact, economical means and their own
local networks. The workgroups form organically; one person that fits the criteria
of the project leads to another person
with, and so on. The long-term goal is
that these project-based collaborations
will create lasting commitments, as the
Silent University aims to be more than
a project. In Tensta the workgroup currently consists of about fifteen people that
take on the role of mentors or lecturers.
Among them is a language teacher from
Palestine, an engineer from Jordan and a
Kurdish journalist.
There are no monetary fees for taking
part in the Silent University. Instead, the
members invest in alternative currencies
of exchanges of time and knowledge. If
you want access to the universities collected material, its documentation, classes
and articles, you sign up on its webpage.
In doing so, you will be asked to estimate
the amount of time you will be able to
donate to the project, and what type of
knowledge or skills you will be able to
contribute with. Over time, a bank of immaterial resources is formed, one that the
administrators of the university can put
to use: A text might need to be translated,
tickets need to be handled, or a video may
need to be edited.
The Silent University moves between
different fields and by doing so, finds a

Social Design

Social Design

Social Design

The Turtle mobile student thesis archive and presentation space, dimensions variable, wood, steel, sonotubes
(cardboard concrete formwork), prototyping, and fabrication via H2O, Laser, and 2.5 axis cutters, at Bush Lobby,
M.I.T., Cambridge, U.S.A., 2005.

Interview with Luis Berros-Negrn by Anne Klbk Iversen

Public Action

he more we sleep, the more we are actually capable of remembering. The

Sleeping Archive is an attempt to build an
archive of the future, where the retrieving
of information and knowledge will not
rely so much on electronic and digital
technologies as on the human mind.
For almost a decade, artist and architect Luis Berros-Negrn has been engaged with investigating and building
ways to store and relate matter. His sculpture, Sleeping Archive, invites us to literally
take a break instead of constantly pacing
ourselves to meet demands of productivity and creativity.

Luis Berros-Negrn took the first

steps towards constructing a Sleeping Archive following a two-month residency at
the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen during which time Luis Berros-Negrn conducted the three-week workshop Archive
Building in collaboration with curator
and PhD fellow Trine Friis Srensen.
For the workshop, Luis and Trine invited a number of guest speakers, lecturers and participants to join the collective
effort of proposing notions of future archives. I met with Luis in the Botanical
Garden in Copenhagen, where, to him,

the greenhouses form a future landscape,

to talk more about his work, Archive Building and the Sleeping Archive.

Could you explain how you came to work with the archive
both as a concept and physical entity?

For a while now I have been fascinated by the aesthetics of networks, of

how brains construct the architectonic
of ideas, individually and in community.
And it always felt obvious that the word
constellation was descriptive of how I felt
my own brain worked, especially when
thinking about architecture, of building


What then are your thoughts about a future archive?

At the most fundamental level, I am
interested in working on how to think of
the archive in what Sven (Spieker, ed.)
calls the post-archival condition, which
in part states the possibility that archives
whither as a physical manifestation, because of digital media, and because of the
cloud, because of the Internet. He basically says we witness a constant archiving
taking place, the archiving of everything,
including personal and general information by the state and corporate interests
through social media, surveillance, and


Public Action


When I was to finish my last year at

M.I.T., I wanted to actually build my thesis project in order to propose a critique of
the architecture thesis itself. I wanted to
have the thing there, physically. And, what
was most important to me at that moment
was to do some sort of physical manifestation that suggested this idea of how to
organize, and make visible intellectual
matter as cultural production. This manifestation became the Turtle.
The more recent formalization of the
archive as a topic comes when Ute Meta
Bauer kindly asked to show the Turtle
Two, and do the exhibition architecture
for The Future Archive, which was the exhibition of the legacy of the M.I.T. Center
for Advanced Visual Studies at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein. Working for Ute while
developing the exhibition and reviewing
this legacy was an extraordinary experience. And, once the exhibition was over,
one question lingeredwhat else could
a future archive be? And then in the end
that is how the conversation started with
Trine, who has been working intensely
with the subject of archives for several
years now.

Social Design



data mining. So, I wanted to provoke the

participants and provoke myself to think
about how to build physical archives during and even after this post-archive condition.
I think it is not unrealistic to say that
electricity will be an enormous luxury in
the very near future. This means that accessing information in digital form will
be a luxury, and we might have to go back
to physical documentation. Because, as
we are relying more and more on electricity to store and retrieve information and
more and more on electrical devices to
work as memory implants of ourselves,
or like memory support structures, our
memory itself has been weakened, if anything by the way our consumerist-based
society has been carving away at our ability to parse and contextualize our common


Threeing Rugs and Pavilion (with Relational Circuit in the foreground), in collaboration with Paul Ryan for his
Threeing project at Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany, 2012.


Sure, electronic devices are prosthetics to our memory. I guess that this is
the matter of the hypomnemata, where
Stiegler kinks out, with tremendous rigor, how the ubiquity of these prosthetics
seem to corrode away our abilities to build
memory, not necessarily as information
into itself, but simply in the ability to retain and retrieve it. My sense is that, most
recently, we can undoubtedly see that our
electronic information flows devoid of
personal privacy. It is not paranoia. It is
clear that the State, which is business and
government tightly entwined into one, as
recently demonstrated, has absolute control over the digital world, completely devoid from any exteriority, and thus striking a final blow to public space, unless,
under aggressive oversight by the public
itself. Therefore, it is the physical object
that then regains a prescient importance
as mnemonic trigger, in its material economy and its historical determinism. How
the sculptural object is embodied with
both new materiality while also maintaining a materiality appropriated from the
past, where we could potentially not only
inscribe a memorial experience, but also
strengthen our common mental landscape, that is seemingly our only common
exteriority left.

You might say that the sculptural work THE SLEEPING ARCHIVE
is a sort of answer to this. How would you describe the

Public Action

The main component is the hammock held in steel triangular prisms,

and the hammock for me bridges what
I guess would be my world or cultural
background. The first image of the hammock emerges when the Spaniards arrived to the Caribbean and the hammock
becomes a technology for them because it
actually helped them against disease and
against the animals biting them. In this
way the hammock bridges through a kind
of nostalgia somehowand of course
these are generalizationsbetween the
way that myself, and many people where
I come from, from Puerto Rico and Latin
America and South America, yearn for
the kind of stability and a better distribution of wealth that you have in Europe
because of the socio-liberal models of
government. And then, I think that Europeans conversely have a nostalgia for the
passion and the spontaneity that is often
associated with Central and Southern
American culture. So, I think somehow
the hammock becomes a bridging device

What kind of material could you imagine would be accumulated in this sleeping archive? In what ways is or can
the human mind be an archive?
LBN: Well, there is already an appropriation

of the old materials from the old faculty

buildings here at the university. So, that
is one form of archive onto itself. But the
second layer of matter certainly becomes
an extension of the sculpture itself. By
sleeping we nurture our mnemonic abilities, we nurture our abilities to retain information and to retrieve, to maintain an
accessible constellating of our memory.
I guess to answer the question, not to ignore Bergson here that the importance
is to recognize both the difference and the
relationthat the matter is the memory

The Turtle Two at The Future Archive, exhibition view

at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, 2012 Neuer Berliner
Kunstverein/Jens Ziehe.

and the memory is the matter.

But, I dont want to deviate from sleep,
sleep as a pause, sleep as a non-work. And,
I mean that in the context of the importance of labour and work and action. And,
I feel this is a way of creating a form of resistance. So, the installations invitation
to sleep is not only sleep as memory building but also sleep as a counter-cultural
statement against neo-liberal modalitiesthat we should not succumb to this
pressure to work more or to suffer more
because we have to meet these globalization ideals.

How does this connectivity come about and what do you

imagine will happen when people occupy the sculpture?

The sleeping archive physically has

two levels, and it is no coincidence that
there are three hammocks on each level.
And that is totally representative of the
experience working with Paul Ryan, his
Threeing and Relational Circuit.
This triadic dynamic of proximity, the
proximity of bodies and the proximity of
minds, meaning of people coming togethereven in sleepI believe forms a possibility for the reticulation of knowledge.
Because in conversation, in community,
in proximity this, I believe, nurtures the
collective unconscious of Jung, and the

infinite community of inquiry of Peirce.

This matter of collectivity and the infinite
growth of knowledge is of most importance to me, both pedagogically and in
the sculptural work itself. So, creating a
critical space for this sense of proximity is
what is most important.
I of course reject sleep as anaesthetic.
And, I do want us to be relentless as a
potential disturbance, as precariat. I do
aspire for the audience to dream and act.
But most importantly, I want the audience
to break off momentarily, to estrange
themselves so to become better prepared
to ask questions and observe, to selfinquire about what has more meaning
in their lives, and to not entirely submit
themselves to the powers that be as environmental form.

Luis Berros-Negrn holds a BFA from

Parsons Art School and a MArch from the
MIT. In his work he focuses on visual arts,
material economies, and mass customization all through the lens of architecture. In 2012, he was core collaborator in
Paul Ryans Threeing at dOCUMENTA (13)
in Kassel and part of the group exhibition
The Future Archive curated by Ute Meta
Bauer at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein in
Berlin. In 2013, he is part of the German
representation curated by Matthias Bttger, We Global Economy, Local Infrastructure, at the Architecture Biennale in
So Paolo. He will be Visiting Lecturer
at the Mnster University of Applied Sciences this winter, and his writing has
been published in various international
publications, most recently in the anthology Digital Utopia (Akademie der Knste,
2013) and Space Matters. Exploring Spatial
Theory and Practice Today (Ambra Verlag,
2013). Luis Berros-Negrn was born in
San Juan, Puerto Rico (1971) and lives and
works in Berlin.
The Sleeping Archive stems from the
Archive Building workshop in Copenhagen 4 - 22 March, 2013. Both efforts are the
work of Danish International Visiting Artist, Luis Berros-Negrn, in collaboration
with curator and IKK PhD fellow, Trine
Friis Srensen. It is sponsored by LARM,
the Danish Arts Council Committee for
International Visual Arts and the University of Copenhagen, Department of Arts
and Cultural Studies. Additional credits
correspond to project manager, architect
Miguel Prados Snchez, and workshop
assistant Maria Kamilla Larsen. The projects are sponsored by LARM, the Danish
Arts Council Committee for International
Visual Arts and the University of Copenhagen, Department of Arts and Cultural

Social Design

Social Design


for processing beyond a kind of post-colonial nostalgia, while at the same time,
the hammock simply serves as the sleeping device.

The Sleeping Archive Test Module at the KUA2 Lobby of the University of Copenhagen. Recovered
curtains and fabrics, recovered Ip and Oak woods, and steel framing. 300 150 150 cm, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2013.


Public Action

Stiegler claims that the increasing use of memory support technologies decreases our individual mnemonic
capacities, yet, that there is no such thing as memory
without an exterior manifestation. How do you see the
exchange between traces of memory and the interior remembering?

Visualization of The Sleeping Archive at the KUA2 Lobby of the University of Copenhagen. Recovered curtains and fabrics, recovered Ip and Oak woods, and steel framing.
Nine modules in total, each at 300 150 150 cm, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2013.


Michael Schrage, formerly codirector of the

MIT Media Labs e-markets department


Public Action

In a society where the most inspiring

ideas and images, from ingenious ancient
techniques to brilliant new innovations
are at most some clicks away, perceptions
are shifting and processes are tweaked.
We are breeding cultures of exchange.
Since information no longer comes
with a price tag were opening up our
minds, sketchbooks, and hard-drives,
sharing, rather than shielding, what we
Global collaborative efforts, like wikipedia, are challengingand outperformingthe individual achievements of
some of our brightest, leaving us with no
other choice than to acknowledge the limits of our individual projects and participate in these larger collusive processes.
With the world at our fingertips, our
fascination for the new is being complemented with a growing curiosity and respect for what has been. We have entered
an age of rediscovery. Browsing our past
in a quest for a better future, we are fertilizing ancient principles with modern
know-how, breeding hybrid solutions for
our contemporary challenges.
Surrounded by an ever growing pool of
information it is no longer in our interest

to accumulate knowledge but rather to

distill wisdom.
Hooked up to a grid that is getting
smarter every day, we are witnessing a
phased decentralization of our infrastructure.
Ten years ago our communication infrastructure shifted from a vertically organized shaft, where a few sources were
spreading programmed and manicured
messages to the masses, towards a massive, horizontal mouth-to-mouth organism, facilitating dialogue and collaboration between its peers while amassing
intelligence and building up intuition.
Awareness and consciousness are clustering around blogs and wikis, dot-orgs
are voicing our concerns and nations of
shared interest are introducing new versions of democracy at the time of writing.
Massive energy and water infrastructures are fragmenting into thousands of
integrated, small-scale modular structures that are harvesting both energy and
water from infinite streams rather then
draining limited reserves.
Transportation infrastructures are
evolving into service oriented networks,
facilitating closed material cycles and
thus converting drainage into supply in
an attempt to optimize flow and eliminate
Financial infrastructures are tweaked
by informal economies in which dollars
are bypassed by peer-to-peer transactions
of goods, services, knowledge and understanding. Money is no longer the only
currency and work is no longer the only
means to make a living.

In a society where consciousness is

gaining market value and reputation is
becoming the ultimate status symbol, we
are redefining wealth.
Within this turbulent contextual geography, creative processes are shifting,
hereby challenging all parties to reallocate their skills and respond to current
Our perception of designers as cultivators of style is currently insufficient and
no longer viable. Immersed in a pool of
first-hand information, their esthetical
skills are complemented with profound
contextual understanding and opportunities to materialize this awareness through
Rather than being solely sculptors,
designers become searchengines, archeologists of innovation. Scanning the past
while filtering out patterns of applied wisdom as feasible models for the future.
Designers become hackers, generating
new solutions by hotwiring existing loose
ends Mapping out the invisible synergies
and shortcircuits that shape our environment in order to detect the hidden loop
holes that need immediate attention.
Designers become entrepreneurs,
experts of will, materializing visions
through tangible creation. Proposing,
rather than opposing, in a silent but firm
struggle for change.
Designers become choreographers, elegantly outlining circular, non-hazardous
product life cycles that free consumption
from guilt and truly spur growth.
Designers become stuntmen. constantly shifting back and forth in between

In order to materialize this mind-set,
in order to shift from massive linear production lines towards innumerous networks of small, interdependent product
life cycles, we have to rethink the digital,
physical and logistical frameworks that
surround and shape them. We need to
evolve towards universally applicable

personal uniform structures and a stockpile of fairly useless modular pieces after
So, if we want to improve the concept
of modularity, if we want to facilitate
compatibility and enhance flexibility, we
need to open up and synchronize current dimensional frameworks. We need
to define one universal standard that
will allow the broadest range of people to
interchange the broadest range of modu-

through an open exchange of knowledge
and experience.
But also within our physical frameworks we will need to further align material use, assembly and dimensions in
order to facilitate restorative production
methods, open exchange, and universal
The natural and synthetic resources of
the future will be restricted to those that
can either be infinitely recycled or fully
degraded while in the process nurturing,
rather than damaging, their surroundings.
Joints, construction techniques, and
assembly lines will be designed for deconstruction without damage or loss, aiming
at infinite reconstruction cycles.
And future dimensional frameworks
will shape new modular systems for the
obvious reasons of scalability, flexibility,
and simplicity.
The current debate around sustainability has been gravitating towards the
first two sets of physical frameworks, towards refining the principles of material
use and assembly in order to establish
closed resource and component loops.
So how could we improve the third
framework, the dimensional restrictions
that define modular systems, in order to
generate closed object loops?
In the past architecture has cranked
out countless proposals for modular
structures in an attempt to streamline efficiency and enhance structural flexibility.
Although these systems represent the first
steps towards a more intelligently built
environment we find ourselves today with
an abundance of closed, incompatible
modular systems that often generate im-

lar pieces and thus reproduce dynamic

patchwork structures rather than rigid,
monolith blocs.
We need to distill a kind of physical
html, a three-dimensional open source
code from our built environment that will
enable us to build our hardware like how
we are nowadays building our software.
These universal dimensional guidelines envision closed loop systems where
old components feed into new frameworks thus creating an endless variety of
hybrid structures. The resulting open
structures, ranging from simple cabinets
to multistory buildings, will then be truly
scalable, flexible, and diverse.
New components will replace old
ones whereas old ones can be sold and
reused, and even when reuse is no longer
an option, they will be deconstructed into
single pieces to then serve as resource
materials for new components (since
their measurements are conform the dimensional restrictions). Each structure
will thus have the ability to evolve and
conglomerate old, new, cheap, expensive,
original, bootlegged, manufactured, and
crafted components over time.
An open modular system will invite everybody, from the most remote craftsman
to the biggest company, to design components using their own specific skills,
materials and construction techniques
within the same dimensional restrictions.
Online component databases will
then facilitate their exchange since all
component designs can be uploaded in
order to be discussed, reviewed, certified
and traded among their end-users. This
vivid exchange of components will allow
the parent structures to adapt, expand or


Public Action

Social Design

More people are having, sharing, and discussing more ideas in more places more
quickly than at any other time in world

and radically open frameworks in order

to guarantee a context for every object in
every stage of their life.
Already today we can observe a shift
towards open architectures within our
digital frameworks, the source codes and
programming languages of our current
communication infrastructures. We witness the emergence of accessible and free
codes that invite end-users to participate
in the development of the source code

Social Design


concept and action through continuous

prototyping, never completely satisfied,
but always driven by the belief that things
can be improved.
And finally designers become modest,
cultivating humble approaches to achieve
bigger goals. Rather than rebuilding from
scratch, they are upgrading, restoring and
adding layers to an existing tissue, in an
ongoing search for growth, imperfection,
spontanity, authenticity, diversity, and
Customers become designers, proactive participants in a dynamic creative
process, embedding their opinions, concerns and identities in the final product
by tagging, hyper-linking, and rating what
they consume.
Each design object becomes a prototype, an update, a new version. If we shift
from project to process, failure becomes
opportunity and criticism becomes feedback, a different perspective we need to
further develop and improve our ideas. If
we see our society as something under
construction, rather than something
accomplished, we will free up space for
Critique becomes proposal. As an audience we should shift from judging the
existing (critiquing what it is) towards
imagining its future version (critiquing
what it could be), hereby deconstructing objects into materialized ideas, rather
than perceiving them as purely esthetical,
static sculptures.
Producers become partners. Since
manufacturers are no longer able to
dream up desired brand images to their
customers they are destined to maintain
an honest brand reputation with these
customers through transparent business
models and instant feedback loops.
The ultimate design project then becomes the circular society.
A society with no drainage but only
supply. A society that considers its human and natural capital to be the primary
assets for a sustainable economy. A society that abandons its massive social and
environmental monocultures and evolves
into organic grids of interdependent, delicately balanced artificial ecosystems.

Social Design
Public Action

The idea of open modularity isnt new,

in our market driven society we have already witnessed the emergence of several
open modular systems whenever their efficiency was able to enhance profit. Our
logistical infrastructure, for example, is
highly streamlined by open standardization (from palettes to container ships),
most kitchen appliances are interchangeable and the standardization of our electricity net resulted in countless plug designs that all fit the same wall socket.
But if we dig deeper we even find open
modular systems long before the existence of men. Nature itself proved that in
complex systems, modular designs are the
ones that survive and drive by advancing
about 500 million years ago from singlecelled organisms into multi-celled ones
that offered far superior characteristics
and therefor were able to spur evolution.
We, human beings, with trillions of
modules (cells) per person, are modular
from head to toe and are experiencing the
benefits of modularity every single day.
(Neil Rasmussen, Suzanne Niles, Modular Systems: The Evolution of Reliability)
Modular cell structures enable us to
scale and grow, simply by adding new
modulescellsthat interact with existing ones using standard interfaces.

zanne Niles, Modular Systems: The Evolution of Reliability)
So why not borrow from natures blueprint and shape our built environment
towards an organic, modular puzzle of
objects that, from micro to macro, float
within closed loops, and infinite cycles.
Why not sync our existing logistical and
architectural standards towards one universal standard that will generate an infinite diversity of blocs and combinations.
If we want to communicate (exchange
words) we need to use the same vocabulary and grammer, if we want to exchange
files, we need to work from the same formats. If we want to co-create our environment, we need to build with the same


e find ourselves in a situation

where large concentrations of
power determines the layout of our urban environments in most places in the
world. Most architects, urban planners,
designers, artists etc are more than willing to work for these concentrations of
power despite the fact that these concentrations of power do not necessarily
respect the rights of persons.

N55 suggest that we find a different approach to architecture, urban planning.
design and art, and take into consideration whats wright and wrong. Intelligent
urban design would require the design
of systems which adjust themselves to
the persons who live in them and to their
needs. Unlike a top-down master plan,
such systems gradually dissolve themselves as the inhabitants take over and
transform their city according to their
needs and desires. Based on collaboration, cooperation and diversity, intelligent cities acknowledge that we are social
beings needing space for being different.
It is possible to let the growth of the city
be framed by simple rules, which allows
people to freely develop their own environments and systems. This will lead to
inclusive relations across ideologies, re-

ligions, income levels, nationalities etc.

N55 propose a critical approach to city design by daring to give the inhabitants real
and meaningful influence on the form
and function of their city, and by using
friendly technologies, which allows our
urban environment to exist in symbiosis
with our planet rather than as a parasite.
A potential revolutionary change of
our urban environments lies simply in
distributing power.
One of the prevailing means used by
concentrations of power to control our
urban environments is based on the idea
of ownership of land:
About ownership of land:

Logical relations are the most basic
and most overlooked phenomenon we
know. Nothing of which we can talk rationally can exist, can be identified or
referred to, except through its logical relations to other things. Logic is necessary
relations between different factors, and
factors are what exist by the force of those
relations. The decisive thing about logical relations is that they can not be reasoned. Nevertheless, they do constitute
conditions necessary for any description,
because they can not be denied without
rejecting the factors of the relations. Per-

sons are, for example, totally different

from their bodies. Persons can go for a
walk and they can make decisions. Bodies
can not do that. Nevertheless, we can not
refer to persons without referring to their
bodies. If we say: here we have a person,
but he or she unfortunately is lacking a
body, it does not make sense. Persons are
totally different from the concrete situations they are in. Nevertheless, we can not
refer to persons without referring to the
situations they are in. If we say: here we
have a person, but this person has never
been in a concrete situation, it does not
make sense. Language is totally different
from reality. Nevertheless, we have to perceive language as something that can be
used to talk about reality. If we say: here
we have a language, but this language can
not be used to talk about reality, it does
not make sense. Logical relations have
decisive significance. The absence of logical relations would mean that nothing
could be of decisive significance: as long
as one does not contradict oneself nor is
inconsistent with facts, any point of view
may be as good as the next, one can say
and mean anything. Logical relations are
conditions for talking rationally together.
The part of the world we can talk rationally about, can thus be defined as the part
we can talk about using logical relations.
But we do not have any reason to assume
that the world is identical with what we
can talk rationally about. Logic is some-


Public Action


They simplify the process of duplication. Duplicating a number of smaller,

less complicated cells is easier, faster, and
more reliable than duplicating a single
complicated one.
Modular cell structures have the ability
to rapidly adapt to their environments. By
adding, subtracting, or modifying cells,
incremental design changes could be
more quickly tried and either adopted or
They are able to specialize the function
of the modules. This delegation and specialization of cell tasks provides the same
effectiveness and efficiencies inherent in
And finally, they enjoy the benefits of
fault tolerance. With cell redundancy,
individual cells can fail without degrading the system, other cells carry on while
repairs are made. (Neil Rasmussen, Su-

Social Design


shrink according to current needs, but

also stimulate continuous upgrades over
time through a phased interchange of
In a local context, components will
float in between neighbors, creating dynamic houses within organic open
neighborhoods. From a global perspective, one universal standard will facilitate
closed component cycles and generate
living structures that will stimulate
widespread participation through open
Integrated within the whole product
life cycle, dimensional frameworks will
generate several cross-breeds in order
to optimize logistics and reduce friction
from construction to reconstruction.
Decentralized pick-up and delivery services, that combine the transport of people and goods, will facilitate component
flow while in the middle of this all, central distribution hubs will close the loops
by collecting, storing, and redistributing
both new and second-hand components.
These hubs, continuously serviced by
pick-up and delivery shuttles, will become
the focal points of interchange and regeneration within the context of an ever more
interconnected society.

Social Design

Ownership of Land

Parkcycle Swarm, N55 in collaboration with Rebar, 2013

thing more basic than language. Logical relations are what makes language a
language and what assigns meaning to
words. Therefore, it is impossible to learn
a language, without learning to respect
logical relations. But as we grow up and
learn to master language, logical relations
are not present on a conscious level. If we
are conscious of logical relations, it is possible for us to decide whether something
is right or wrong and not to allow ourselves to be ruled by for example habitual
conceptions and subjective opinions.


Public Action

A person can be described in an infinite number of ways. None of these descriptions can be completely adequate.
We therefore can not describe precisely
what a person is. Whichever way we describe a person, we do however have the
possibility to point out necessary relations between persons and other factors.
We have to respect these relations and factors in order not to contradict ourselves
and in order to be able to talk about persons in a meaningful way. One necessary
relation is the logical relation between
persons and bodies. It makes no sense
to refer to a person without referring to a
body. If we for example say: here we have
a person, but he or she does not have a
body, it does not make sense. Furthermore, there are necessary relations between persons and the rights of persons.
Persons should be treated as persons and
therefore as having rights. If we deny this
assertion it goes wrong: here is a person,
but this person should not be treated as a
person, or: here is a person, who should

be treated as a person, but not as having

rights. Therefore we can only talk about
persons in a way that makes sense if we
know that persons have rights.

Concentrations of
Concentrations of power do not always respect the rights of persons. If one
denies this fact one gets: concentrations
of power always respect the rights of persons. This does not correspond with our
experiences. Concentrations of power
characterize our society. Concentrations
of power force persons to concentrate on
participating in competition and power
games, in order to create a social position

It is a habitual conception that ownership of land is acceptable. Most societies

are characterized by the convention of
ownership. But if we claim the ownership
of land, we also say that we have more
right to parts of the surface of the earth,
than other persons have. We know that
persons should be treated as persons and
therefore as having rights. If we say here
is a person who has rights, but this person
has no right to stay on the surface of the
earth, it does not make sense. If one does
not accept that persons have the right to
stay on the surface of the earth, it makes
no sense to talk about rights at all. If we
try to defend ownership of land using
language in a rational way it goes wrong.
The only way of defending this ownership
is by the use of power and force. No persons have more right to land than other
persons, but concentrations of power use
force to maintain the illusion of ownership of land.


Public Action


Social Design

for themselves. Concurrently with the

concentrations of power dominating our
conscious mind and being decisive to our
situations, the significance of our fellow
humans diminishes. And our own significance becomes the significance we have
for concentrations of power, the growth
of concentrations of power, and the conflicts of concentrations of power. It is
clear that persons should be consciously
aware of the rights of persons and therefore must seek to organize the smallest
concentrations of power possible.

Walking House, roofgarden, 2010

Walking House, 2010



Public Action

uring a workshop in Cairo, in the informal neighborhood called Arde el

Lewa, a tailor pinned his own neighborhood map up on the wall. He used the
paper and pencil markings that would
typically be used to make a pattern for a
new suit or dress. It was a very detailed
map, and the tailor was very excited about
it. He wanted to show where there was a
need for a new bus stop, and where there
was a safety issue because of a train track
passing through.
The neighborhood had already transformed thanks to such initiative community members had banded together
during the heady early days of the Arab
Spring, hired a construction company
and ordered the development of an on
and off-ramp to the ring road highway
encircling the city.1 Their neighborhood
wasnt easily accessible without the ramp,
and that symbolized everything that kept
them out of the main economy and life
of the central city. But they figured they
could go ahead and break into the flow
now that the country was going to truly
belong to the people, and the city was full
of possibilities. The highway that separated the formal from the informal was now

porous; people could come and go much

more easily.
GroundTruth Initiative
works together with people in communities like this one, to be able to highlight
their achievements, goals, desires, and
demands for the greater public of the
city and the planet. The citizens of Cairo
didnt need ideas brought in to them from
anyone else; they were in a process of taking charge of their city and country. The
principle of GroundTruth is to support
communities further in using technical
tools digital open mapping with OpenStreetMap, reporting using Ushahidi, and blogging
software, recording and reporting and
documenting publicly and online for
their own process of re-imagining their
home neighborhoods. We believe that
greater information literacy and digital
literacy can advance and share widely the
goals and achievements of this community. The promise of the digital revolution
is that citizens can more easily take matters into their own hands, and Cairo was
one of the proving grounds for this concept during the revolution. But open and
shared technologies can also serve as con-

nectors, amplifiers, and enablers for the

ongoing and arduous process of local development and social change, neighborhood by neighborhood. The real test of a
social or technical movement whether it
can take root and be applicable on this hyperlocal scale. We believe that real change
comes at this level, in daily local life, and
want to improve peoples ability to use
technology to make this change happen.
Much of our process is not in the details of the technical tools we are using. It
centers on the concepts behind creating
a local map, building up local media, and
having a strong presence online in order
to change the way an informal settlement
participates in the life of the city. It usually
requires a mindset shift around what role
citizens should play in their community,
and the value of an informal settlement to
the society as a whole. In Cairo, this shift
was already well underway.
GroundTruths brief workshop in Arde
el Lewa, done jointly with the architecture
group Cluster and the Arab Digital Expression Foundation, was based on long-term
work that weve undertaken in Nairobi
where we founded the Map Kibera Trust

the mindset of learning and co-creation

rather than dictation and predetermination. We began by leading trainings in
the use of OpenStreetMap, because there
was no publicly available map of the slum.
This allowed participants to begin to represent themselves. There were a few important differences from ordinary mapping: we did a complete training in OSM
tools including using GPS devices and
map editing on a computer. This meant
the young people participating could begin to master the technology themselves,
rather than send data out for analysis as
is usually done in the slums (and it rarely comes back). We also did not dictate
what about the environment to map. We
demonstrated the tools and then asked
participants to go ahead and cover their
own section or illageof the slum, marking whatever they found most important.
Finally, we organized the development of
paper prints of these online maps which
could be the basis for community discussion around different issues and themes
that emerged.
We then turned to the use of media,
which is another way to build local voice
through access to digital expression by
members of a marginal area or slum.
Ultimately we wanted to have these different information and expression tools
come together and help people bring
attention to important features of the
community. The Voice of Kibera site www. grew out of a discussion with

growing and progressing. By interacting

with local residents through meetings
and engaging with the many community
groups and leaders, Map Kiberas teams
have become trusted to help represent the
community at large. For instance, during
the March 2013 elections in Kenya, Map
Kibera was called upon to provide maps
of insecure areas and election polling stations and boundaries for police and the
general public, and Voice of Kibera became a hub to receive SMS messages from
residents detailing the election process in
real time. We now have teams in Mathare and Mukuru, two other
Nairobi slums.
There are many ways that this process
can transform a community, depending
on where you look. There is the possibility
of finally connecting residents meaningfully to service providers (government, or
NGOs or even companies) and residents
being able to influence them by providing
more accurate views of what people want
and need in an informal area. In a contentious and sometimes deliberately underserved place (like Kibera), this turns into
a kind of technology enabled community
organizing or lobbying. Its necessary not
only to gather good data, build engaging
narratives, and get information to decision makers but build pressure on key
policymakers, use media to get more attention, and work through trust networks.
In some parts of the world, though, reducing the bottleneck of information flows

and amplifying local voice could possibly

be enough to make major changes happen.
But to me, the real potential of spreading this kind of information literacy, access, and capacity is by its impact on the
way a slum, informal settlement, or less
powerful community of any sort can see
itself. Through greater access to technologies that are often seen as the purview of
the wealthy, and skills seen as possessed
only by the well educated, there is a subtle
change in self-perception which grows
with the project throughout the neighborhood. Those who participate develop a
great interest in the future of the community and a sense of their own potential to
impact and solve its problems. They also
retain a sense of local pride and therefore
are able to see what they want to make
sure to keep things that a planner from
outside an informal settlement is unlikely
to appreciate.
Having now worked through a similar
process in places as diverse as Jerusalem
and the West Bank, Nigeria, India, and
Tanzania, we see great potential for the
use of mapping and digital media tools.
Especially in the hands of those who are
on the margins of their societies, who
have a need for greater justice and who
struggle to have their perspectives known
and respected, these approaches have the
power to transform communities.



Public Action

Social Design

various community members where we

demonstrated the Ushahidi software. The
process was again based on dialogue and
demonstration. The group embraced this
tool which brings the digital map together
with local citizen reporting. It continues
to be a strong tool for Kibera news. Adding the more technical skill of video production to the offerings, we built another
team called Kibera News Network www. that would be able to give
more narrative and visual imagery to the
concepts and issues and concerns of the
community. These programs are all now
housed under Map Kibera Trust organization which we founded to keep the work

Social Design

Cairo isnt much like Nairobi, and

thats part of what makes this type of
approach so exciting; it can be applied
in quite diverse kinds of locations and
contexts. Arde el Lewa is a mostly middle
class neighborhood which is unplanned;
buildings are mostly a few stories and
clustered very close together with narrow paved roads. The Nairobi slums like
Kibera are much poorer, and many structures are one story with a great deal of unpaved muddy pathways.
Map Kibera began in Nairobi in 2009,
when myself and Mikel Maron first arrived to Kenya. Its important to know
that this entire endeavor was done with


pulses, screens, surfaces, soundscapes,

exposures, folds, circuitries, and layers, as
instruments for associating things, bringing things into association, where things
get their bearings by having a bearing
on each other.
Too often, social mobilizations and
the valorization of practices for city making forget the importance of the technical
in the ways that both material and social

out, without having to align the heterogeneous practices to some overarching

standard or function.
The notion of auto-construction was
not simply households building their
own homes. Affordability meant density.
Not just the density of bodies. But also
the density of techniques, the intermixing of measures, angles, calculations, im-

events take form. Whatever takes place relies on distinct forms of technical mediationon recording techniques, narrative
devices, architectural forms, infrastructural arrangements, and modes of visual
and cognitive displayall of which filter,
transmit, and generate data and information in ways that are neither neutral nor
transparent. We may make these tech-

Public Action

ities across the world are replete with

design innovations mobilized or
affected by various forms of public participation. After all, in many cities of the
majority world residents largely had to
build their own places of residence and
occupations. They had to design mechanisms that enabled people of different
walks of life and agendas to make use of
each other without crowding each other

nical devices but the way in which they

impact upon each other is outside of anyones control.
All these instruments bring their own
temporal grammars and imaginations to
bear upon the imaginative and affective
horizons through which time, memory
and durations are indexed, validated and
taken forward. They create an entirely
new set of possibilities. They are not the
outgrowths of striving bodies but collisions of materials and processes that generate impacts far from their initial sites
and steady-states. They ramify across
diverging tendencies. The operations of
things in tandem, in high-density proximities, whereby they attract and repel,
as well as leave each other alone, are not
tools grounded in the intentions of human inhabitants, aiding and abetting
their survival and other aspirations. This
is why there are times when the built environment speaks in lieu of its inhabitants,
where it conveys a capacity of assembled
action, of which the residents are a part,
but where they are not directly aware of
such capacity. For, there are no forms of
conveyance, representation or consciousness that would identify them as the designers or as the purveyors of a strategy.
In Jakarta the questions and struggles
about some of the basic issues of designwhere to put thingsremain open. This
is something more than the imposition of
the tools of particular interests and agendas. People have to make to a living, and
they do so with materials; materials that
designs and policies have tried to assign a
proper place, just as people, themselves,
are expected to know their place by marking a place with the materials to which
they have access. But the questions and

tions, claims, functions, and propriety,

the interstices created by the limits of
available management can be wide. As
such, the pluralities of instances that neither permit nor forbid provide provisional
authorizations for how space and things
can be used. They bring space and things
together in ways that could never be consensual. Relations among occupants,

around each other, and get tangled up in

impenetrable knots that can be erased
only by expenditures of violence and coordination that for some reason or another
prove too costly. So Jakarta is full of different things that seem to lean into each
other as improbable existences side-byside. Particular looks, styles of construction, leftovers of past projects, temporary

initiatives to make or sell things all get

tangled up with each other.
The remnants of old construction
residences, workshops, sheds, circuitous
that were situated along narrow lanes,
dead ends, switchbacks so as to both
avoid and accommodate different claims
and interestsmeet head-on with the vestiges of public parks never used but which
bear the name of national heroes whose
memory could never be affronted. These
meet head-on with the intricate constructions of dwellings whose unfinished upper stories are intertwined across pylons
and wires and planks that act as alternative thoroughfares to those at street level.
These meet head-on with the massive vacancies of parastatal landholdings long
intended for every conceivable development project but in the end simply makeup for interminable budget deficits. And
these meet head-on with tightly drawn
and dense quarters that now abut major
commercial zones and hurriedly add on
whatever rooms they can to available living quarters in order to accommodate
low-wage service workers.
Any particular space or instance may
not have sufficient reason or force to stake
any kind of long-term security. But it is the
meeting head-on, with all of the discrepant, bewildering, and frequently unappealing convergences of things and their
arrangements that produce confounding
visibilities and not easily decipherable
story lines. These story lines induce hesitation, even paralysis for those who might
otherwise be convinced of their ambition
to clean up the whole mess, to impose all
the trappings of the profitable city. Certainly tears in this fabric of intersections
are made all of the time.
Feelings of the uncanny do not necessarily stop the big shots from firing randomly into the crowd. But as one kelurahan (district chief) told us, we could be
making some really big money straightening out our territories and selling them off
to investors. But sometimes it is much too
risky to just go in and start new projects
because you dont always know whose
prerogatives you might be interrupting.
Besides, the developers always like to
make sure things happen without a lot
of risk, and they want clear access to land
and roads, but in much of this district,
things are much too mixed in; it is hard
to simply identify clear spaces to develop
without interfering with the properties
and activities of people you dont want to
make angry or dont have a very good idea
about how they will respond.


Public Action

Social Design

both human and non-human never shed

their vulnerability. If those operating in
any kind of official capacity muster sufficient force, whatever occurs in these
temporary intersections is quickly eliminated. As urban politics increasingly
prioritizes the rush to making things
noticeable, whether it is deteriorating
infrastructure, neglected populations,
escalating violence, styles and fashions,
it is important to always question the endurance of things positioned in particular
incongruities, wild attractions and repulsions.
How to keep these improbable juxtapositions going? The most likely and
rationale response would be to simply invoke neglect: The city is far too complicated to sufficiently put everything into their
proper place even if there were general
agreement as to the terms of propriety.
With few exceptions, most mega-urban
regions are characterized by a highly limited selection of zones that stand-in for
nearly the entirety of a citys efficacy and
promoted self-image. Resources are overstretched or misappropriated; dilapidation and misuse can act as hedges or as
insulations for deeply entrenched interests and claims.
Yet there are supple arrangements
that might exceed these calculations of
efficiency. For materials, spaces, and people may come together, wrap themselves

Social Design


struggles of where to put things are more

than a matter of the constant jockeying
for space to make a living, although these
supplementary dimensions may remain
associated to the primacy of this task.
The piling of belongings on a street,
the ranking of a small line of taxis in the
middle of a crowded thoroughfare, the
unfolding of a tarpaulin between trees
to shelter an outdoor eating place, the
circling of rats around scattered debris,
or the hollowing out of a wall intended to
shield a construction site seem to bring to
visibility a sense of space that otherwise
would not exist. However discordant,
decayed or exhausted things might be,
however little sense they might make in
their proximity, they seem to lean toward
each other, support the most outrageous
and inexplicable claims, claims that their
persistence make on both attention and
indifference. It is not just that there are
aspects of things that remain withdrawn
from any attempt to make them take their
place in the relationships of the imaginary. But there are also things that do not
want to be noticed, that seem to want to
be left alone in inscrutable contiguity
with things to which no conceivable or
useful relationship could be drawn.
In Jakarta, the extractions from materials and their concomitant leftovers and
waste are massive. On terrain inscribed
with competing layers of rules, expecta-


Public Action

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design



Public Action

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design




Public Action

e live in an era when ideals of human rights have moved centre

stage both politically and ethically. A great
deal of energy is expended in promoting
their significance for the construction of
a better world. But for the most part the
concepts circulating do not fundamentally challenge hegemonic liberal and
neoliberal market logics, or the dominant modes of legality and state action.
We live, after all, in a world in which the
rights of private property and the profit
rate trump all other notions of rights. I
here want to explore another type of human right, that of the right to the city.
Has the astonishing pace and scale of
urbanization over the last hundred years
contributed to human well-being? The
city, in the words of urban sociologist
Robert Park, is:
mans most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more after
his hearts desire. But, if the city is
the world which man created, it is the
world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and
without any clear sense of the nature
of his task, in making the city man has
remade himself.1
The question of what kind of city we
want cannot be divorced from that of what
kind of social ties, relationship to nature,
lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far
more than the individual liberty to access
urban resources: it is a right to change
ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual
right since this transformation inevitably
depends upon the exercise of a collective

power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake
our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue,
one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.
From their inception, cities have arisen through geographical and social concentrations of a surplus product. Urbanization has always been, therefore, a class
phenomenon, since surpluses are extracted from somewhere and from somebody,
while the control over their disbursement
typically lies in a few hands. This general
situation persists under capitalism, of
course; but since urbanization depends
on the mobilization of a surplus product,
an intimate connection emerges between
the development of capitalism and urbanization. Capitalists have to produce a
surplus product in order to produce surplus value; this in turn must be reinvested
in order to generate more surplus value.
The result of continued reinvestment
is the expansion of surplus production
at a compound ratehence the logistic
curves (money, output, and population)
attached to the history of capital accumulation, paralleled by the growth path of
urbanization under capitalism.
The perpetual need to find profitable
terrains for capital-surplus production
and absorption shapes the politics of capitalism. It also presents the capitalist with
a number of barriers to continuous and
trouble-free expansion. If labour is scarce
and wages are high, either existing labour
has to be disciplinedtechnologically
induced unemployment or an assault on
organized working-class power are two
prime methodsor fresh labour forces

must be found by immigration, export of

capital or proletarianization of hitherto
independent elements of the population.
Capitalists must also discover new means
of production in general and natural resources in particular, which puts increasing pressure on the natural environment
to yield up necessary raw materials and
absorb the inevitable waste. They need to
open up terrains for raw-material extractionoften the objective of imperialist
and neo-colonial endeavours.
The coercive laws of competition also
force the continuous implementation
of new technologies and organizational
forms, since these enable capitalists to
out-compete those using inferior methods. Innovations define new wants and
needs, reduce the turnover time of capital
and lessen the friction of distance, which
limits the geographical range within
which the capitalist can search for expanded labour supplies, raw materials,
and so on. If there is not enough purchasing power in the market, then new markets must be found by expanding foreign
trade, promoting novel products and lifestyles, creating new credit instruments,
and debt-financing state and private expenditures. If, finally, the profit rate is
too low, then state regulation of ruinous
competition, monopolization (mergers
and acquisitions) and capital exports provide ways out.
If any of the above barriers cannot be
circumvented, capitalists are unable profitably to reinvest their surplus product.
Capital accumulation is blocked, leaving
them facing a crisis, in which their capital
can be devalued and in some instances

Consider, first, the case of Second Empire Paris. The year 1848 brought one of
the first clear, and European-wide, crises
of both unemployed surplus capital and
surplus labour. It struck Paris particularly
hard, and issued in an abortive revolution by unemployed workers and those
bourgeois utopians who saw a social republic as the antidote to the greed and
inequality that had characterized the July
Monarchy. The republican bourgeoisie
violently repressed the revolutionaries
but failed to resolve the crisis. The result
was the ascent to power of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, who engineered a coup
in 1851 and proclaimed himself Emperor
the following year. To survive politically,
he resorted to widespread repression of
alternative political movements. The economic situation he dealt with by means
of a vast programme of infrastructural investment both at home and abroad. In the
latter case, this meant the construction
of railroads throughout Europe and into
the Orient, as well as support for grand
works such as the Suez Canal. At home, it
meant consolidating the railway network,
building ports and harbours, and draining marshes. Above all, it entailed the reconfiguration of the urban infrastructure
of Paris. Bonaparte brought in GeorgesEugne Haussmann to take charge of the
citys public works in 1853.
Haussmann clearly understood that
his mission was to help solve the surpluscapital and unemployment problem
through urbanization. Rebuilding Paris
absorbed huge quantities of labour and
capital by the standards of the time and,
coupled with suppressing the aspirations
of the Parisian workforce, was a primary
vehicle of social stabilization. He drew
upon the utopian plans that Fourierists
and Saint-Simonians had debated in the
1840s for reshaping Paris, but with one
big difference: he transformed the scale

had done, attempted an analysis of his

mistakes but sought to recuperate his
reputation as one of the greatest urbanists of all time. The article was by none
other than Robert Moses, who after the
Second World War did to New York what
Haussmann had done to Paris.3 That
is, Moses changed the scale of thinking about the urban process. Through a
system of highways and infrastructural
transformations, suburbanization and
the total re-engineering of not just the city
but also the whole metropolitan region,
he helped resolve the capital-surplus absorption problem. To do this, he tapped
into new financial institutions and tax
arrangements that liberated the credit
to debt-finance urban expansion. When
taken nationwide to all the major metropolitan centres of the USyet another
transformation of scalethis process
played a crucial role in stabilizing global
capitalism after 1945, a period in which
the US could afford to power the whole
global non-communist economy by running trade deficits.
The suburbanization of the United
States was not merely a matter of new infrastructures. As in Second Empire Paris,
it entailed a radical transformation in lifestyles, bringing new products from housing to refrigerators and air conditioners,
as well as two cars in the driveway and an
enormous increase in the consumption
of oil. It also altered the political landscape, as subsidized home-ownership for
the middle classes changed the focus of
community action towards the defence
of property values and individualized
identities, turning the suburban vote towards conservative republicanism. Debtencumbered homeowners, it was argued,
were less likely to go on strike. This project successfully absorbed the surplus
and assured social stability, albeit at the
cost of hollowing out the inner cities and
generating urban unrest amongst those,
chiefly African-Americans, who were denied access to the new prosperity.
By the end of the 1960s, a different
kind of crisis began to unfold; Moses, like
Haussmann, fell from grace, and his solutions came to be seen as inappropriate
and unacceptable. Traditionalists rallied
around Jane Jacobs and sought to counter
the brutal modernism of Mosess projects
with a localized neighborhood aesthetic.
But the suburbs had been built, and the
radical change in lifestyle that this betokened had many social consequences,
leading feminists, for example, to proclaim the suburb as the locus of all their
primary discontents. If Haussmannization had a part in the dynamics of the
Paris Commune, the soulless qualities
of suburban living also played a critical


Public Action

Social Design

Urban Revolutions

at which the urban process was imagined. When the architect Jacques Ignace
Hittorff showed Haussmann his plans for
a new boulevard, Haussmann threw them
back at him saying: not wide enough
you have it 40 metres wide and I want it
120. He annexed the suburbs and redesigned whole neighborhoods such as Les
Halles. To do this Haussmann needed
new financial institutions and debt instruments, the Crdit Mobilier and Crdit
Immobilier, which were constructed on
Saint-Simonian lines. In effect, he helped
resolve the capital-surplus disposal problem by setting up a proto-Keynesian system of debt-financed infrastructural urban improvements.
The system worked very well for some
fifteen years, and it involved not only a
transformation of urban infrastructures
but also the construction of a new way
of life and urban persona. Paris became
the city of light, the great centre of consumption, tourism and pleasure; the cafs, department stores, fashion industry
and grand expositions all changed urban
living so that it could absorb vast surpluses through consumerism. But then the
overextended and speculative financial
system and credit structures crashed in
1868. Haussmann was dismissed; Napoleon III in desperation went to war against
Bismarcks Germany and lost. In the ensuing vacuum arose the Paris Commune,
one of the greatest revolutionary episodes
in capitalist urban history, wrought in
part out of a nostalgia for the world that
Haussmann had destroyed and the desire
to take back the city on the part of those
dispossessed by his works.2
Fast forward now to the 1940s in the
United States. The huge mobilization for
the war effort temporarily resolved the
capital-surplus disposal problem that
had seemed so intractable in the 1930s,
and the unemployment that went with
it. But everyone was fearful about what
would happen after the war. Politically
the situation was dangerous: the federal
government was in effect running a nationalized economy, and was in alliance
with the Communist Soviet Union, while
strong social movements with socialist inclinations had emerged in the 1930s. As
in Louis Bonapartes era, a hefty dose of
political repression was evidently called
for by the ruling classes of the time; the
subsequent history of McCarthyism and
Cold War politics, of which there were already abundant signs in the early 40s, is
all too familiar. On the economic front,
there remained the question of how surplus capital could be absorbed.
In 1942, a lengthy evaluation of Haussmanns efforts appeared in Architectural
Forum. It documented in detail what he

Social Design

even physically wiped out. Surplus commodities can lose value or be destroyed,
while productive capacity and assets can
be written down and left unused; money
itself can be devalued through inflation,
and labour through massive unemployment. How, then, has the need to circumvent these barriers and to expand the terrain of profitable activity driven capitalist
urbanization? I argue here that urbanization has played a particularly active role,
alongside such phenomena as military
expenditures, in absorbing the surplus
product that capitalists perpetually produce in their search for profits.

Fast forward once again to our current

conjuncture. International capitalism
has been on a roller-coaster of regional
crises and crashesEast and Southeast
Asia in 199798; Russia in 1998; Argentina in 2001but had until recently
avoided a global crash even in the face of
a chronic inability to dispose of capital
surplus. What was the role of urbanization in stabilizing this situation? In the
United States, it is accepted wisdom that
the housing sector was an important stabilizer of the economy, particularly after
the high-tech crash of the late 1990s, al-

the cities in the core capitalist countries,

such as London and Los Angeles. Astonishing if not criminally absurd mega-urbanization projects have emerged in the
Middle East in places such as Dubai and
Abu Dhabi, mopping up the surplus arising from oil wealth in the most conspicuous, socially unjust and environmentally
wasteful ways possible.
This global scale makes it hard to grasp
that what is happening is in principle similar to the transformations that Haussmann oversaw in Paris. For the global urbanization boom has depended, as did all
the others before it, on the construction
of new financial institutions and arrangements to organize the credit required to
sustain it. Financial innovations set in
train in the 1980ssecuritizing and packaging local mortgages for sale to investors
worldwide, and setting up new vehicles
to hold collateralized debt obligations
played a crucial role. Their many benefits
included spreading risk and permitting
surplus savings pools easier access to surplus housing demand; they also brought
aggregate interest rates down, while generating immense fortunes for the financial intermediaries who worked these
wonders. But spreading risk does not
eliminate it. Furthermore, the fact that it
can be distributed so widely encourages
even riskier local behaviours, because
liability can be transferred elsewhere.
Without adequate risk-assessment controls, this wave of financialization has
now turned into the so-called sub-prime
mortgage and housing asset-value crisis.
The fallout was concentrated in the first
instance in and around US cities, with
particularly serious implications for lowincome, inner-city African-Americans,
and households headed by single women.
It also has affected those who, unable to
afford the skyrocketing house prices in urban centres, especially in the Southwest,
were forced into the metropolitan semiperiphery; here they took up speculatively
built tract housing at initially easy rates,
but now face escalating commuting costs
as oil prices rise, and soaring mortgage
payments as market rates come into effect.
The current crisis, with vicious local repercussions on urban life and infrastructures, also threatens the whole
architecture of the global financial system and may trigger a major recession
to boot. The parallels with the 1970s are
uncannyincluding the immediate easymoney response of the Federal Reserve in
2007 2008, which will almost certainly
generate strong currents of uncontrollable inflation, if not stagflation, in the not
too distant future. However, the situation
is far more complex now, and it is an open

question whether China can compensate

for a serious crash in the United States;
even in the PRC the pace of urbanization
seems to be slowing down. The financial
system is also more tightly coupled than
it ever was before.6 Computer-driven splitsecond trading always threatens to create
a great divergence in the marketit is
already producing incredible volatility
in stock tradingthat will precipitate a
massive crisis, requiring a total re-think
of how finance capital and money markets work, including their relation to urbanization.

Property and Pacification

As in all the preceding phases, this
most recent radical expansion of the urban process has brought with it incredible
transformations of lifestyle. Quality of urban life has become a commodity, as has
the city itself, in a world where consumerism, tourism, cultural and knowledgebased industries have become major aspects of the urban political economy. The
postmodernist penchant for encouraging
the formation of market nichesin both
consumer habits and cultural forms
surrounds the contemporary urban experience with an aura of freedom of choice,
provided you have the money. Shopping
malls, multiplexes and box stores proliferate, as do fast-food and artisanal marketplaces. We now have, as urban sociologist
Sharon Zukin puts it, pacification by
cappuccino. Even the incoherent, bland
and monotonous suburban tract development that continues to dominate in many
areas now gets its antidote in a new urbanism movement that touts the sale of
community and boutique lifestyles to fulfill urban dreams. This is a world in which
the neoliberal ethic of intense possessive
individualism, and its cognate of political withdrawal from collective forms of
action, becomes the template for human
socialization.7 The defence of property
values becomes of such paramount political interest that, as Mike Davis points out,
the home-owner associations in the state
of California become bastions of political
reaction, if not of fragmented neighborhood fascisms.8
We increasingly live in divided and
conflict-prone urban areas. In the past
three decades, the neoliberal turn has restored class power to rich elites. Fourteen
billionaires have emerged in Mexico since
then, and in 2006 that country boasted
the richest man on earth, Carlos Slim, at
the same time as the incomes of the poor
had either stagnated or diminished. The
results are indelibly etched on the spatial

forms of our cities, which increasingly

consist of fortified fragments, gated communities, and privatized public spaces
kept under constant surveillance. In the
developing world in particular, the city is
splitting into different separated parts,
with the apparent formation of many
microstates. Wealthy neighborhoods
provided with all kinds of services, such
as exclusive schools, golf courses, tennis
courts, and private police patrolling the
area around the clock intertwine with illegal settlements where water is available
only at public fountains, no sanitation system exists, electricity is pirated by a privileged few, the roads become mud streams
whenever it rains, and where house-sharing is the norm. Each fragment appears to
live and function autonomously, sticking
firmly to what it has been able to grab in
the daily fight for survival.9
Under these conditions, ideals of urban identity, citizenship and belonging
already threatened by the spreading malaise of a neoliberal ethicbecome much
harder to sustain. Privatized redistribution through criminal activity threatens
individual security at every turn, prompting popular demands for police suppression. Even the idea that the city might
function as a collective body politic, a site
within and from which progressive social
movements might emanate, appears implausible. There are, however, urban social movements seeking to overcome isolation and reshape the city in a different
image from that put forward by the developers, who are backed by finance, corporate capital and an increasingly entrepreneurially minded local state apparatus.

Surplus absorption through urban
transformation has an even darker aspect. It has entailed repeated bouts of
urban restructuring through creative
destruction, which nearly always has a
class dimension since it is the poor, the
underprivileged and those marginalized
from political power that suffer first and
foremost from this process. Violence is
required to build the new urban world
on the wreckage of the old. Haussmann
tore through the old Parisian slums, using powers of expropriation in the name
of civic improvement and renovation.
He deliberately engineered the removal
of much of the working class and other
unruly elements from the city centre,
where they constituted a threat to public
order and political power. He created an
urban form where it was believedincorrectly, as it turned out in 1871that suf-

ficient levels of surveillance and military

control could be attained to ensure that
revolutionary movements would easily be
brought to heel. Nevertheless, as Engels
pointed out in 1872:
In reality, the bourgeoisie has only
one method of solving the housing
question after its fashionthat is to
say, of solving it in such a way that the
solution continually reproduces the
question anew. This method is called
Haussmann No matter how different the reasons may be, the result
is always the same; the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from
the bourgeoisie on account of this
tremendous success, but they appear
again immediately somewhere else
The same economic necessity which
produced them in the first place, produces them in the next place.10
It took more than a hundred years to
complete the embourgeoisement of central Paris, with the consequences seen in
recent years of uprisings and mayhem in
those isolated suburbs that trap marginalized immigrants, unemployed workers
and youth. The sad point here, of course,
is that what Engels described recurs
throughout history. Robert Moses took
a meat axe to the Bronx, in his infamous
words, bringing forth long and loud laments from neighborhood groups and
movements. In the cases of Paris and New
York, once the power of state expropriations had been successfully resisted and
contained, a more insidious and cancerous progression took hold through municipal fiscal discipline, property speculation and the sorting of land-use according
to the rate of return for its highest and
best use. Engels understood this sequence all too well:
The growth of the big modern cities
gives the land in certain areas, particularly in those areas which are centrally
situated, an artificially and colossally
increasing value; the buildings erected on these areas depress this value
instead of increasing it, because they
no longer belong to the changed circumstances. They are pulled down and
replaced by others. This takes place
above all with workers houses which
are situated centrally and whose rents,
even with the greatest overcrowding,
can never, or only very slowly, increase
above a certain maximum. They are
pulled down and in their stead shops,
warehouses and public buildings are
Though this description was written
in 1872, it applies directly to contemporary urban development in much of
AsiaDelhi, Seoul, Mumbaias well as


Public Action

Social Design
Public Action

Girding the Globe

though it was an active component of expansion in the earlier part of that decade.
The property market directly absorbed a
great deal of surplus capital through the
construction of city-centre and suburban
homes and office spaces, while the rapid
inflation of housing asset pricesbacked
by a profligate wave of mortgage refinancing at historically low rates of interestboosted the US domestic market for
consumer goods and services. American
urban expansion partially steadied the
global economy, as the US ran huge trade
deficits with the rest of the world, borrowing around $2 billion a day to fuel its
insatiable consumerism and the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq.
But the urban process has undergone
another transformation of scale. It has,
in short, gone global. Property-market
booms in Britain and Spain, as well as in
many other countries, have helped power
a capitalist dynamic in ways that broadly
parallel what has happened in the United
States. The urbanization of China over
the last twenty years has been of a different character, with its heavy focus on infrastructural development, but it is even
more important than that of the US. Its
pace picked up enormously after a brief
recession in 1997, to the extent that China has taken in nearly half the worlds
cement supplies since 2000. More than
a hundred cities have passed the onemillion population mark in this period,
and previously small villages, such as
Shenzhen, have become huge metropolises of 6 to 10 million people. Vast infrastructural projects, including dams and
highwaysagain, all debt-financedare
transforming the landscape. The consequences for the global economy and the
absorption of surplus capital have been
significant: Chile booms thanks to the
high price of copper, Australia thrives and
even Brazil and Argentina have recovered
in part because of the strength of Chinese
demand for raw materials.
Is the urbanization of China, then,
the primary stabilizer of global capitalism today? The answer has to be a qualified yes. For China is only the epicentre
of an urbanization process that has now
become genuinely global, partly through
the astonishing integration of financial
markets that have used their flexibility to
debt-finance urban development around
the world. The Chinese central bank, for
example, has been active in the secondary
mortgage market in the US while Goldman Sachs was heavily involved in the
surging property market in Mumbai, and
Hong Kong capital has invested in Baltimore. In the midst of a flood of impoverished migrants, construction boomed in
Johannesburg, Taipei, Moscow, as well as

Social Design


role in the dramatic events of 1968 in the

US. Discontented white middle-class students went into a phase of revolt, sought
alliances with marginalized groups claiming civil rights and rallied against American imperialism to create a movement to
build another kind of worldincluding a
different kind of urban experience.
In Paris, the campaign to stop the Left
Bank Expressway and the destruction of
traditional neighborhoods by the invading high-rise giants such as the Place
dItalie and Tour Montparnasse helped
animate the larger dynamics of the 68
uprising. It was in this context that Henri
Lefebvre wrote The Urban Revolution,
which predicted not only that urbanization was central to the survival of capitalism and therefore bound to become a crucial focus of political and class struggle,
but that it was obliterating step by step
the distinctions between town and country through the production of integrated
spaces across national territory, if not beyond.4 The right to the city had to mean
the right to command the whole urban
process, which was increasingly dominating the countryside through phenomena ranging from agribusiness to second
homes and rural tourism.
Along with the 68 revolt came a financial crisis within the credit institutions
that, through debt-financing, had powered the property boom in the preceding
decades. The crisis gathered momentum
at the end of the 1960s until the whole
capitalist system crashed, starting with
the bursting of the global property-market bubble in 1973, followed by the fiscal
bankruptcy of New York City in 1975. As
William Tabb argued, the response to the
consequences of the latter effectively pioneered the construction of a neoliberal
answer to the problems of perpetuating
class power and of reviving the capacity
to absorb the surpluses that capitalism
must produce to survive.5

er-income and even middle-class people

from access to accommodation anywhere
near the urban centre. I wager that within
fifteen years, if present trends continue,
all those hillsides in Rio now occupied
by favelas will be covered by high-rise
condominiums with fabulous views over
the idyllic bay, while the erstwhile favela
dwellers will have been filtered off into
some remote periphery.

Formulating Demands
Urbanization, we may conclude, has
played a crucial role in the absorption of
capital surpluses, at ever increasing geographical scales, but at the price of burgeoning processes of creative destruction
that have dispossessed the masses of any
right to the city whatsoever. The planet as
building site collides with the planet of
slums.16 Periodically this ends in revolt,
as in Paris in 1871 or the US after the assassination of Martin Luther King in
1968. If, as seems likely, fiscal difficulties
mount and the hitherto successful neoliberal, postmodernist, and consumerist
phase of capitalist surplus-absorption
through urbanization is at an end and a
broader crisis ensues, then the question
arises: where is our 68 or, even more dramatically, our version of the Commune?
As with the financial system, the answer
is bound to be much more complex precisely because the urban process is now
global in scope. Signs of rebellion are everywhere: the unrest in China and India
is chronic, civil wars rage in Africa, Latin
America is in ferment. Any of these revolts
could become contagious. Unlike the fiscal system, however, the urban and periurban social movements of opposition, of
which there are many around the world,
are not tightly coupled; indeed most have
no connection to each other. If they somehow did come together, what should they
The answer to the last question is simple enough in principle: greater democratic control over the production and
utilization of the surplus. Since the urban
process is a major channel of surplus use,
establishing democratic management
over its urban deployment constitutes the
right to the city. Throughout capitalist history, some of the surplus value has been
taxed, and in social-democratic phases
the proportion at the states disposal rose
significantly. The neoliberal project over
the last thirty years has been oriented towards privatizing that control. The data
for all OECD countries show, however,
that the states portion of gross output has
been roughly constant since the 1970s. 17

The main achievement of the neoliberal

assault, then, has been to prevent the
public share from expanding as it did in
the 1960s. Neoliberalism has also created
new systems of governance that integrate
state and corporate interests, and through
the application of money power, it has ensured that the disbursement of the surplus through the state apparatus favours
corporate capital and the upper classes
in shaping the urban process. Raising the
proportion of the surplus held by the state
will only have a positive impact if the state
itself is brought back under democratic
Increasingly, we see the right to the
city falling into the hands of private or
quasi-private interests. In New York City,
for example, the billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is reshaping the city
along lines favourable to developers, Wall
Street and transnational capitalist-class
elements, and promoting the city as an
optimal location for high-value businesses and a fantastic destination for
tourists. He is, in effect, turning Manhattan into one vast gated community for the
rich. In Mexico City, Carlos Slim had the
downtown streets re-cobbled to suit the
tourist gaze. Not only affluent individuals exercise direct power. In the town of
New Haven, strapped for resources for
urban reinvestment, it is Yale, one of the
wealthiest universities in the world, that
is redesigning much of the urban fabric to
suit its needs. Johns Hopkins is doing the
same for East Baltimore, and Columbia
University plans to do so for areas of New
York, sparking neighborhood resistance
movements in both cases. The right to
the city, as it is now constituted, is too narrowly confined, restricted in most cases to
a small political and economic elite who
are in a position to shape cities more and
more after their own desires.
Every January, the Office of the New
York State Comptroller publishes an estimate of the total Wall Street bonuses for
the previous twelve months. In 2007, a disastrous year for financial markets by any
measure, these added up to $33.2 billion,
only two percent less than the year before. In mid-summer of 2007, the Federal
Reserve and the European Central Bank
poured billions of dollars worth of shortterm credit into the financial system to
ensure its stability, and thereafter the
Fed dramatically lowered interest rates
or pumped in vast amounts of liquidity every time the Dow threatened to fall
precipitously. Meanwhile, some two million people have been or are about to be
made homeless by foreclosures. Many
city neighborhoods and even whole periurban communities in the US have been
boarded up and vandalized, wrecked by

the predatory lending practices of the financial institutions. This population is

due no bonuses. Indeed, since foreclosure means debt forgiveness, which is
regarded as income in the United States,
many of those evicted face a hefty incometax bill for money they never had in their
possession. This asymmetry cannot be
construed as anything less than a massive
form of class confrontation. A Financial
Katrina is unfolding, which conveniently
(for the developers) threatens to wipe out
low-income neighborhoods on potentially high-value land in many inner-city
areas far more effectively and speedily
than could be achieved through eminent
We have yet, however, to see a coherent
opposition to these developments in the
twenty-first century. There are, of course,
already a great many diverse social movements focusing on the urban question
from India and Brazil to China, Spain,
Argentina and the United States. In 2001,
a City Statute was inserted into the Brazilian Constitution, after pressure from social movements, to recognize the collective right to the city.18 In the US, there have
been calls for much of the $700 billion
bail-out for financial institutions to be diverted into a Reconstruction Bank, which
would help prevent foreclosures and fund
efforts at neighborhood revitalization
and infrastructural renewal at municipal
level. The urban crisis that is affecting
millions would then be prioritized over
the needs of big investors and financiers.
Unfortunately the social movements are
not strong enough or sufficiently mobilized to force through this solution. Nor
have these movements yet converged on
the singular aim of gaining greater control over the uses of the surpluslet alone
over the conditions of its production.
At this point in history, this has to be
a global struggle, predominantly with
finance capital, for that is the scale at
which urbanization processes now work.
To be sure, the political task of organizing such a confrontation is difficult if not
daunting. However, the opportunities
are multiple because, as this brief history
shows, crises repeatedly erupt around urbanization both locally and globally, and
because the metropolis is now the point
of massive collisiondare we call it class
struggle?over the accumulation by dispossession visited upon the least well-off
and the developmental drive that seeks to
colonize space for the affluent.
One step towards unifying these struggles is to adopt the right to the city as both
working slogan and political ideal, precisely because it focuses on the question
of who commands the necessary connection between urbanization and surplus

production and use. The democratization

of that right, and the construction of a
broad social movement to enforce its will
is imperative if the dispossessed are to
take back the control which they have for
so long been denied, and if they are to institute new modes of urbanization. Lefebvre was right to insist that the revolution
has to be urban, in the broadest sense of
that term, or nothing at all.
First published in New Left Review 53
London (September/October 2008)






Robert Park, On Social Control and Collective
Behavior, Chicago 1967, p. 3.
For a fuller account, see David Harvey, Paris,
Capital of Modernity, New York 2003.
Robert Moses, What Happened to Haussmann?, Architectural Forum, vol. 77 (July
1942), pp. 5766.
Henri Lefebvre, The Urban Revolution, Minneapolis 2003; and Writings on Cities, Oxford
William Tabb, The Long Default: New York City
and the Urban Fiscal Crisis, New York 1982.
Richard Bookstaber, A Demon of Our Own
Design: Markets, Hedge Funds and the Perils of
Financial Innovation, Hoboken, NJ 2007.
Hilde Nafstad et al.,Ideology and Power: The
Influence of Current Neoliberalism in Society,
Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, vol. 17, no. 4 (July 2007), pp. 31327.
Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future
in Los Angeles, London and New York 1990.
Marcello Balbo, Urban Planning and the Fragmented City of Developing Countries, Third
World Planning Review, vol. 15, no. 1 (1993), pp.
Friedrich Engels, The Housing Question, New
York 1935, pp. 747.
Engels, The Housing Question, p. 23.
Harvey, The New Imperialism, Oxford 2003,
chapter 4.
Usha Ramanathan, Illegality and the Urban
Poor, Economic and Political Weekly, 22 July
2006; Rakesh Shukla, Rights of the Poor: An
Overview of Supreme Court, Economic and
Political Weekly, 2 September 2006.
Kelo v. New London, CT, decided on 23 June
2005 in case 545 US 469 (2005).
Much of this thinking follows the work of
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital:
Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails
Everywhere Else, New York 2000; see the critical
examination by Timothy Mitchell, The Work of
Economics: How a Discipline Makes its World,
Archives Europennes de Sociologie, vol. 46,
no. 2 (August 2005), pp. 297320.
Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, London and New
York 2006.
OECD Factbook 2008: Economic, Environmental
and Social Statistics, Paris 2008, p. 225.
Edsio Fernandes, Constructing the Right to
the City in Brazil, Social and Legal Studies,
vol. 16, no. 2 (June 2007), pp. 20119.


Public Action

Social Design
Public Action

order to displace established residents in

reasonable housing in favour of higherorder land uses, such as condominiums
and box stores. When this was challenged
in the US Supreme Court, the justices
ruled that it was constitutional for local
jurisdictions to behave in this way in order to increase their property-tax base.14
In China millions are being dispossessed of the spaces they have long occupiedthree million in Beijing alone.
Since they lack private-property rights, the
state can simply remove them by fiat, offering a minor cash payment to help them
on their way before turning the land over
to developers at a large profit. In some instances, people move willingly, but there
are also reports of widespread resistance,
the usual response to which is brutal repression by the Communist party. In the
PRC it is often populations on the rural
margins who are displaced, illustrating
the significance of Lefebvres argument,
presciently laid out in the 1960s, that the
clear distinction which once existed between the urban and the rural is gradually fading into a set of porous spaces of
uneven geographical development, under
the hegemonic command of capital and
the state. This is also the case in India,
where the central and state governments
now favour the establishment of Special
Economic Zonesostensibly for industrial development, though most of the
land is designated for urbanization. This
policy has led to pitched battles against
agricultural producers, the grossest of
which was the massacre at Nandigram in
West Bengal in March 2007, orchestrated
by the states Marxist government. Intent on opening up terrain for the Salim
Group, an Indonesian conglomerate, the
ruling CPI(M) sent armed police to disperse protesting villagers; at least 14 were
shot dead and dozens wounded. Private
property rights in this case provided no
What of the seemingly progressive
proposal to award private-property rights
to squatter populations, providing them
with assets that will permit them to leave
poverty behind?15 Such a scheme is now
being mooted for Rios favelas, for example. The problem is that the poor, beset with income insecurity and frequent
financial difficulties, can easily be persuaded to trade in that asset for a relatively low cash payment. The rich typically
refuse to give up their valued assets at any
price, which is why Moses could take a
meat axe to the low-income Bronx but not
to affluent Park Avenue. The lasting effect
of Margaret Thatchers privatization of
social housing in Britain has been to create a rent and price structure throughout
metropolitan London that precludes low-

Social Design


gentrification in New York. A process of

displacement and what I call accumulation by dispossession lie at the core
of urbanization under capitalism.12 It is
the mirror-image of capital absorption
through urban redevelopment, and is giving rise to numerous conflicts over the
capture of valuable land from low-income
populations that may have lived there for
many years.
Consider the case of Seoul in the 1990s:
construction companies and developers
hired goon squads of sumo-wrestler types
to invade neighborhoods on the citys
hillsides. They sledgehammered down
not only housing but also all the possessions of those who had built their own
homes in the 1950s on what had become
premium land. High-rise towers, which
show no trace of the brutality that permitted their construction, now cover most of
those hillsides. In Mumbai, meanwhile,
six million people officially considered as
slum dwellers are settled on land without
legal title; all maps of the city leave these
places blank. With the attempt to turn
Mumbai into a global financial centre to
rival Shanghai, the property-development
boom has gathered pace, and the land
that squatters occupy appears increasingly valuable. Dharavi, one of the most
prominent slums in Mumbai, is estimated to be worth $2 billion. The pressure to
clear itfor environmental and social reasons that mask the land grabis mounting daily. Financial powers backed by the
state push for forcible slum clearance, in
some cases violently taking possession of
terrain occupied for a whole generation.
Capital accumulation through real-estate
activity booms, since the land is acquired
at almost no cost.
Will the people who are displaced
get compensation? The lucky ones get
a bit. But while the Indian Constitution
specifies that the state has an obligation to protect the lives and well-being
of the whole population, irrespective of
caste or class, and to guarantee rights to
housing and shelter, the Supreme Court
has issued judgements that rewrite this
constitutional requirement. Since slum
dwellers are illegal occupants and many
cannot definitively prove their long-term
residence, they have no right to compensation. To concede that right, says the
Supreme Court, would be tantamount to
rewarding pickpockets for their actions.
So the squatters either resist and fight, or
move with their few belongings to camp
out on the sides of highways or wherever
they can find a tiny space.13 Examples of
dispossession can also be found in the US,
though these tend to be less brutal and
more legalistic: the governments right
of eminent domain has been abused in


Public Action

The cities everyone wants to live in

should be clean and safe, possess efficient
public services, be supported by a dynamic economy, provide cultural stimulation,
and also do their best to heal societys divisions of race, class, and ethnicity. These
are not the cities we live in. Cities fail on
all these counts due to government policy, irreparable social ills, and economic
forces beyond local control. The city is not
its own master. Still, something has gone
wrong, radically wrong, in our conception
of what a city itself should be. We need to
imagine just what a clean, safe, efficient,
dynamic, stimulating, just city would look
like concretelywe need those images to
confront critically our masters with what
they should be doingand just this critical imagination of the city is weak. This
weakness is a particularly modern problem: the art of designing cities declined
drastically in the middle of the twentieth
century. In saying this, I am propounding
a paradox, for todays planner has an arsenal of technological toolsfrom lighting to bridging and tunnelling to materials for buildingswhich urbanists even
a hundred years ago could not begin to
imagine: we have more resources to use
than in the past, but resources we dont
use very creatively.
This paradox can be traced to one big
fault. That fault is over-determination,
both of the citys visual forms and its social functions. The technologies, which

make experiment possible, have been

subordinated to a regime of power that
wants order and control. Urbanists, globally, anticipated the control freakery
of New Labour by a good half-century; in
the grip of rigid images, precise delineations, the urban imagination lost vitality.
In particular, whats missing in modern
urbanism is a sense of timenot time
looking backwards nostalgically but forward-looking time, the city understood
as process, its imagery changing through
use, an urban imagination image formed
by anticipation, friendly to surprise. A
portent of the freezing of the imagination
of cities appeared in Le Corbusiers Plan
Voisin for Paris in the mid 1920s. The
architect conceived of replacing a large
swath of the historic centre of Paris with
uniform, X shaped buildings; public life
on the ground plane of the street would be
eliminated; the use of all buildings would
be coordinated by a single master-plan.
Not only is Le Corbusiers architecture a
kind of industrial manufacture of buildings, he has in the Plan Voisin tried to destroy just those social elements of the city
which produce change in time, by eliminating unregulated life on the ground
plane; people live and work, in isolation,
higher up.
This dystopia became reality in various ways. The Plans building-type shaped
public housing from Chicago to Moscow,
housing estates which came to resemble

warehouses for the poor. Le Corbusiers

intended destruction of vibrant street life
was realised in suburban growth for the
middles classes, with the replacement of
high streets by mono-function shopping
malls, by gated communities, by schools
and hospitals built as isolated campuses.
The proliferation of zoning regulations in
the twentieth century is unprecedented in
the history of urban design, and this proliferation of rules and bureaucratic regulations has disabled local innovation and
growth, frozen the city in time.
The result of over-determination is
what could be called the Brittle City. Modern urban environments decay much
more quickly than urban fabric inherited
from the past. As uses change, buildings
are now destroyed rather than adapted;
indeed, the over-specification of form and
function makes the modern urban environment peculiarly susceptible to decay.
The average lifespan of new public housing in Britain is now forty years; the average lifespan of new skyscrapers in New
York is thirty-five years.
It might seem that the Brittle City
would in fact stimulate urban growth,
the new now more rapidly sweeping away
the old, but again the facts argue against
this view. In the United States, people flee
decaying suburbs rather than re-invest
in them: in Britain and on the European
continent, as in America, renewing the
inner city most often means displacing

velopment, once a city is freed of the constraints of either equilibrium or integration. These include encouraging quirky,
jerry-built adaptations or additions to
existing buildings; encouraging uses of
public spaces which dont fit neatly together, such as putting an AIDS hospice
square in the middle of a shopping street.
In her view, big capitalism and powerful
developers tend to favour homogeneity:
determinate, predictable, and balanced
in form. The role of the radical planner
therefore is to champion dissonance. In
her famous declaration: if density and
diversity give life, the life they breed is disorderly. The open city feels like Naples,

planner, those developers in London, as
in New York, who complain most loudly
about zoning restrictions are all too adept in using these rules at the expense of
communities. The contrast to the closed
system lies in a different kind of social
system, not in brute private enterprise,
a social system that is open rather than
closed. The characteristics of such an
open system and its realisation in an open
city are what I wish to explore in this essay.

The Open
The idea of an open city is not my own:
credit for it belongs to the great urbanist Jane Jacobs in the course of arguing
against the urban vision of Le Corbusier.
She tried to understand what results when
places become both dense and diverse, as
in packed streets or squares, their functions both public and private; out of such
conditions comes the unexpected encounter, the chance discovery, the innovation. Her view, reflected in the bon mot of
William Empson, was that the arts result
from over-crowding. Jacobs sought to
define particular strategies for urban de-

the closed city feels like Frankfurt.

For a long time, I dwelt in my own work
happily in Jacobs shadowboth her enmity to the closed system (though the
formal concept is mine, not hers) and her
advocacy of complexity, diversity, and dissonance. Recently, in re-reading her work,
Ive detected glints of something lurking
beneath this stark contrast.
If Jane Jacobs is the urban anarchist
she is often said to be, then she is an anarchist of a peculiar sort, her spiritual ties
closer to Edmund Burke than to Emma
Goldmann. She believes that in an open
city, as in the natural world, social and visual forms mutate through chance variation; people can best absorb, participate,
and adapt to change if it happens stepby-lived-step. This is evolutionary urban
time, the slow time needed for an urban
culture to take root, then to foster, then to
absorb chance and change. It is why Naples, Cairo, or New Yorks lower East Side,
though resource-poor, still work in the
sense that people care deeply about where
they live. People live into theses place, like
nesting. Time breeds that attachment to
place. In my own thinking, Ive wondered
what kinds of visual forms might promote
this experience of time. Can these attachments be designed by architects? Which
designs might abet social relationships


Public Action

Social Design

The Closed System And

The Brittle Citty

for planners of education as much as

planners of cities, as planning sins have
crossed the line between state capitalism
and state socialism. The closed system
thus betrays the twentieth-century bureaucrats horror of disorder.
The social contrast to the closed system is not the free market, nor is a place
ruled by developers the alternative to the
Brittle City. That opposition is in fact not
what it seems. The cunning of neo-liberalism in general, and of Thatcherism
in particular, was to speak the language
of freedom whilst manipulating closed
bureaucratic systems for private gain by
an elite. Equally, in my experience as a

Social Design


the people who have lived there thus far.

Growth in an urban environment is a
more complicated phenomenon than
simple replacement of what existed before; growth requires a dialogue between
past and present, it is a matter of evolution rather than erasure. This principle
is as true socially as it is architecturally.
The bonds of community cannot be conjured up in an instant, with a stroke of the
planners pen; they too require time to
develop. Todays ways of building cities
segregating functions, homogenising
population, pre-empting through zoning,
and regulation of the meaning of place
fail to provide communities the time and
space needed for growth. The Brittle City
is a symptom. It represents a view of society itself as a closed system. The closed
system is a conception that dogged state
socialism throughout the twentieth century as much as it shaped bureaucratic
capitalism. This view of society has two
essential attributes: equilibrium and integration.
The closed system ruled by equilibrium derives from a pre-Keynesian idea
of how markets work. It supposes something like a bottom line in which income
and expenses balance. In state planning,
information feed-back loops and internal
markets are meant to ensure that programmes do not over-commit, do not
suck resources into a black holesuch
is the language of recent reforms of the
health service, familiar again to urban
planners in the ways infrastructure resources for transport get allocated. The
limits on doing any one thing really well
are set by the fear of neglecting other
tasks. In a closed system, a little bit of
everything happens all at once. Second, a
closed system is meant to be an integrated
system. Ideally, every part of the system
has a place in an overall design; the consequence of that ideal is to reject, to eject,
experiences that stick out because they
contest or are disorienting; things that
dont fit are diminished in value. The
emphasis on integration puts an obvious
bar on experiment; as the inventor of the
computer icon, John Seely Brown, once
remarked: every technological advance
poses at the moment of its birth a threat
of disruption and dysfunction to a larger
system. The same threatening exceptions
occur in the urban environment, threats
which modern city planning has tried to
forestall by accumulating a mountain of
rules defining historical, architectural,
economic, and social contextcontext
being a polite but potent word in repressing anything that doesnt fit in, context
ensuring that nothing sticks out, offends,
or challenges. Thus, the sins of equilibrium and integration bedevil coherence,

Public Action

Id like to describe in some detail the

experience of passing through different
territories of the city, both because that
act of passage is how we know the city as
a whole, and also because planners and
architects have such difficulties designing the experience of passage from place
to place. Ill start with walls, which seem
to be structures inhibiting passage, and
then explore some of the ways edges of
urban territory function like walls.
a. Walls: The wall would seem an unlikely choice; it is an urban construction
which literally closes in a city. Until the
invention of artillery, people sheltered
behind walls when attacked; the gates in
walls also served to regulate commerce
coming into cities, often being the place
in which taxes were collected. Massive
medieval walls, such as those surviving
in Aix-en-Provence or in Rome, furnish a
perhaps misleading general picture; ancient Greek walls were lower and thinner.
But we also mis-imagine how those medieval walls themselves functioned. Though
they shut closed, they also served as sites
for unregulated development in the city;
houses were built on both sides of medieval town walls; informal markets selling
black-market or untaxed goods sprung up
nestled against them; the zone of the wall
was where heretics, foreign exiles, and
other misfits tended to gravitate towards,
again far from the controls of the centre.
They were spaces that would have attracted the anarchic Jane Jacobs.
But they were also sites that might
have suited her organic temperament.
These walls functioned much like cell
membranes, both porous and resistant.
That dual quality of the membrane is, I
believe, an important principle for visualising more modern living urban forms.
Whenever we construct a barrier, we have
to equally make the barrier porous; the
distinction between inside and outside
has to be breachable, if not ambiguous.
The usual contemporary use of plateglass for walls doesnt do this; true, on the
ground plane you see whats inside the
building, but you cant touch, smell, or
hear anything within. The plates are usually rigidly fixed so that there is only one,

Incomplete Form
This discussion of walls and borders
leads logically to a second systematic
characteristic of the open city: incomplete form. Incompleteness may seem
the enemy of structure, but this is not the

case. The designer needs to create physical forms of a particular sort, incomplete in a special way. When we design
a street, for instance, so that buildings
are set back from a street wall, the space
left open in front is not truly public space;
instead the building has been withdrawn
from the street. We know the practical
consequences; people walking on a street
tend to avoid these recessed spaces. Its
better planning if the building is brought
forward, into the context of other buildings; though the building will become
part of the urban fabric, some of its volumetric elements will now be incompletely
disclosed. There is incompleteness in the
perception of what the object is.
Incompleteness of form extends to
the very context of buildings themselves.
In classical Rome, Hadrians Pantheon
co-existed with the less distinguished
buildings that surrounded it in the urban
fabric, though Hadrians architects conceived the Pantheon as a self-referential
object. We find the same co-existence in
many other architectural monuments: St.
Pauls in London, Rockefeller Center in
New York, the Maison Arabe in Parisall
great works of architecture which stimulate building around themselves. Its the
fact of that stimulation, rather than the

fact the buildings are of lesser quality,

which counts in urban terms: the existence of one building sited in such a way
that it encourages the growth of other
buildings around it. And now the buildings acquire their specifically urban value
by their relationship to each other; they
become in time incomplete forms if considered alone, by themselves.
Incomplete form is most of all a kind
of creative credo. In the plastic arts it
is conveyed in sculpture purposely left
unfinished; in poetry it is conveyed in,
to use Wallace Stevens phrase, the engineering of the fragment. The architect Peter Eisenman has sought to evoke
something of the same credo in the term
light architecture, meaning an architecture planned so that it can be added
to, or more importantly, revised internally in the course of time as the needs
of habitation change. This credo opposes
the simple idea of replacement of form
which characterises the Brittle City, but it
is a demanding opposition. When we try
to convert office blocks to residential use,
for instance.

Narratives of Development
Our work as urbanists aims first of all
to shape the narratives of urban development. By that, we mean that we focus on
the stages in which a particular project
unfolds. Specifically, we try to understand
what elements should happen first, what
then are the consequences of this initial
move. Rather than a lock-step march towards achieving a single end, we look at
the different and conflicting possibilities
which each stage of the design process
should open up; keeping these possibilities intact, leaving conflict elements
in play, opens up the design system. We
claim no originality for this approach. If
a novelist were to announce at the beginning of a story, heres what will happen,
what the characters will become, and
what the story means, we would immediately close the book. All good narrative
has the property of exploring the unforeseen, of discovery; the novelists art is to
shape the process of that exploration.
The urban designers art is akin. In sum,
we can define an open system as one in
which growth admits conflict and dissonance. This definition is at the heart
of Darwins understanding of evolution;
rather than the survival of the fittest (or
the most beautiful), he emphasised the
process of growth as a continual struggle
between equilibrium and disequilibrium; an environment rigid in form, static
in programme, is doomed in time; bio-

diversity instead gives the natural world

the resources to provision change. That
ecological vision makes equal sense of
human settlements, but it is not the vision that guided twentieth-century state
planning. Neither state capitalism, nor
state socialism embraced growth in the
sense Darwin understood it in the natural
world, in environments which permitted
interaction among organisms with different functions, endowed with different

Democratic Space
When the city operates as an open systemincorporating principles of porosity of territory, narrative indeterminacy
and incomplete formit becomes democratic not in a legal sense, but as physical
experience. In the past, thinking about
democracy focused on issues of formal
governance, today it focuses on citizenship and issues of participation. Participation is an issue that has everything to
do with the physical city and its design.
For example, in the ancient polis, the
Athenians put the semi-circular theatre
to political use; this architectural form
provided good acoustics and a clear view
and of speakers in debates; moreover, it
made the perception of other peoples
responses during debates possible. In
modern times, we have no similar model
of democratic spacecertainly no clear
imagination of an urban democratic
space. John Locke defined democracy in
terms of a body of laws which could be
practiced anywhere. Democracy in the
eyes of Thomas Jefferson was inimical
to life in cities; he thought the spaces
it required could be no larger than a village. His view has persisted. Throughout
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,
champions of democratic practices have
identified them will small, local communities, face-to-face relationships. Todays
city is big, filled with migrants and ethnic diversities, in which people belong to
many different kinds of community at the
same timethrough their work, families,
consumption habits and leisure pursuits.
For cities like London and New York becoming global in scale, the problem of
citizen participation is how people can
feel connected to others, when, necessarily, they cannot know them. Democratic
space means creating a forum for these
strangers to interact.
In London, a good example of how this
can occur is the creation of a corridor connection between St. Pauls Cathedral and
the Tate Modern Gallery, spanned by the
new Millennium Bridge. Though highly

defined, the corridor is not a closed form;

along both the south and north bank of
the Thames it is generating regeneration
of lateral buildings unrelated to its own
purposes and design. And almost immediately upon opening, this corridor has
stimulated informal mixings and connections among people walking the span
within its confines, and has prompted an
ease among strangers, which is the foundation for a truly modern sense of us.
This is democratic space. The problem
participation cities face today is how to
create, in less ceremonial spaces, some
of the same sense of relatedness among
strangers. It is a problem in the design of
public spaces in hospitals, in the making
of urban schools, in big office complexes,
in the renewal of high streets, and most
particularly in the places where the work
of government gets done. How can such
places be opened up? How can the divide
between inside and outside be bridged?
How can design generate new growth?
How can visual form invite engagement
and identification? These are the pressing questions which urban design must
address in the Urban Age.
First published in Urban Age, Newspaper
Essay, Berlin, November 2006.


Public Action


Passage Territories

regulated, entrance within. The result

is that nothing much develops on either
side of these transparent walls, as in Mies
van der Rohes Seagram Building in New
York or Norman Fosters new London City
Hall: you have dead space on both sides of
the wall; life in the building does accumulate here. By contrast, the nineteenth-century architect Louis Sullivan used much
more primitive forms of plate glass more
flexibly, as invitations to gather, to enter a
building or to dwell at its edge; his plate
glass panels function as porous walls.
This contrast in plate glass design brings
out one current failure of imagination in
using a modern material so that it has a
sociable effect. The idea of a cellular wall,
which is both resistant and porous, can
be extended from single buildings to the
zones in which the different communities
of a city meet.

Social Design

Social Design

that endure, just because they can evolve

and mutate? The visual structuring of
evolutionary time is a systematic property
of the open city. To make this statement
more concrete, Id like to describe three
systematic elements of an open city: 1.
passage territories; 2. incomplete form; 3.
development narratives.



he worlds population is younger

than ever before. Cities of today and
tomorrow are inhabited by huge number
of young people, who will be the driving
force behind urban change. Many cities are, however, unable to provide their
large youth populations with equal access to economic, social, cultural and
political opportunities. This massive
number of youth can either be the burden or the force that will change our urban future. So therefore we need to ask

Public Action
Afaina de Jong, City of the Young, 2010

ourselves: what will the future City of the

Young be like?
Now that 85 percent of the worlds population lives in the rapidly urbanizing developing world, a new generation is born
in cities dominated by abandonment and
exclusion. This almost universal ghetto
life is an urban reality of many, not just
in the reported slums far away, but everywhere, even in the luxurious cities of the
West. Bred by exclusion of mainstream
urban life, emotions are turned into reac-

tion that we as outsiders either encounter

as urban phenomena or as nuisances in
the public realm. For instance, the fivethousand pichadores or taggers in Sao
Paulo who go to extreme heights to spray
paint their distinctive monochromatic
gothic lettering from top to bottom on
every high-rise faade in their city. These
pichadores use architecture as a canvas
to show their disrespect for society and
cover their citys facades like unwanted

realms in order to survive and thrive, re-igniting neighborhoods whose economies

have faltered and invent alternative ways
of living as an urban community.
But this urban community of the
global young is practical instead of ideological. The City of the Young goes beyond
demographics and is based on shared
interests and differing attitudes to what
life in the city should entail. Considering
this fact, underground culture and urban
culture are important factors that when
cherished, consulted and given the opportunity to grow can be of great importance
to the development of our future cities.
The detection of the link between urban phenomena, underground or counterculture and the social, urban and political reality are indispensable tools for
us as architects and planners to forecast
and implement design according to the
actual needs of the city of the young and
unmistakably the city of the future. To tap
into this ever changing array of youth driven cultural and social movements is the
fertile ground of urban innovation and
pinpoints the potential for social design
of the city that is actually needed instead
of desired.
Every city poses a set of limiting conditions upon its inhabitants. In theory
the cities inhabitants must use the city
within these set conditions, but in reality young and old often appropriate the
city or facets of the city according to their
needs. These reinterpretations create
new situations that are willed responses
on the part of the inhabitants to the deficiencies in their urban environment.
These responses constitute a will to appropriate: to take possession without permission and to re-use in an original way,
which thereby transforms the context of
the city. It is through this (in)appropriate
or metaphorical use of the city that urban
deficiencies are revealed.

Afaina de Jong, 2011, I want my future back, New York

in an internationally renowned location

for skateboarding and turned around a
neighborhood that had been troubled by
drugs and prostitution for decades.
The inherent drive of the urban youth
to release its frustrations into creativity,
along with the possibilities for appropriation present in the urban fabric leads to
the transformation of the city. And we as
architects and planners will either help to
adapt its structure to accommodate this
or be left out of the process for radical
urban change completely. The openness
of a city and its architects and planners to
adapt to these kinds of manmade urban
phenomena determines the citys level of
vibrancy and by extension the citys own
In many cities the responsibility for
social space is bit by bit given over from
the government to the commercial sector,
and genuinely public space is rapidly on
the decline. Public space is a vital element
for people to be able to interact with one
and another and when urban surroundings become a bombardment of consumerism, religion, and repression human
investment shrinks and the potential
for public space to serve as a communal
space disappears. On the other hand. now
that public space is being more and more
privatized and heavily monitored, visual
communication and human action and
intervention in public space have become
even more powerful.

As we saw in Istanbul on Taksim

square, where the government wants to
put its ideological stamp on this place of
public gathering, the youth is dedicated to
keep their citys few public spaces free of
ideology and religion. There is an intrinsic need for free paces in the urban fabric.
And cracks in the master plan of the City
of the Young give way to the value of freedom of expression and therefore enable
for public action. The Occupy movement
that started in 2011 in Zucotti Park on Wall
Street was unique in its manifestation of
a wide array of issues. Young people from
all around the globe responded by making the issues they deal with known in the
squares and parks of their own cities. And
although the Occupy movement is no longer present in public space, it has sparked
the mindset of many young urbanites.
The Occupy characteristics of raising a diverse set of issues and spreading rapidly
from city to city have in 2013 translated
to the urban youth of Brazil where in the
current protests more that fifty percent of
the protesters are below the age of twentyfive. What started as a protest about the
price of public transport has now become
a nationwide call, driven by the young, to
address the countries healthcare system,
education, and corruption.
For the youth to prosper and erect the
future of our cities we as architects and
planners need to reconsider our standpoint. For us as professionals it is crucial
to understand youth cultures and urban
lifestyles in order to connect and integrate into a larger vision. In that vision we
have to be the enablers of the real change
agents: the people and embrace that a
new social reality is created as a result of
the sum of all our individual actions.
The key is to develop better content instead of creating more hardware. Through
detection, connection, and storytelling,
we can contribute to organize community and to recreate the public realm as
needed. The city enables the communication of ideas and even the smallest intervention can have a big impact. Social
design is everywhere and has been here,
but amongst architects and planners the
awareness of the responsibility over the
choices we make in the design process is
finally kicking in big time.
As architects we need to redefine ourselves as inhabitants of this urban world,
and empower the youth that dictates the
future of our cities to be the curators of urban change. And if we can make sense out
of what we see happening around us and
manage to see in a new light what potential lies in the diversity of urban cultures,
we could find the key to challenge the status quo and create cities that are truly for
the people, by the people.


Public Action

Social Design



Take for instance Portland, Oregon,

where the Burnside Skatepark has grown
organically out of the efforts of the local
skateboarding community. The space under the Burnside Bridge was appropriated
by local skaters and over the course of
several years they laid down the concrete
to create their own self-buildskatepark.
Entirely unsubsidized or unaided by planners and architect, their efforts resulted

Social Design

Not only have physical and virtual

space merged, but the combination of
online and offline technology allow the
urban youth to take bits and pieces of different urban realities and paste them together. And free of place this new awareness brings a sense of togetherness to the
urban youth that goes beyond past confined communities. Instead, the youth
creates their own networks and public

n August 2012 in Berlin, on the occasion of the Nationalgaleries Architektonika exhibition at the Hamburger
Bahnhof, the artist Marjetica Potrc and
the architectural historian and curator
Andres Lepik held a discussion about
the future of the city. The starting points
for the conversation were Potrcs contribution to the exhibition, Caracas: Growing Houses (2012), as well as an exhibition that Lepik curated, Small Scale, Big
Change. New Architectures of Social Engagement (Museum of Modern Art, New
York, 2010), and a publication that he
edited, Moderators of Change. Architecture
That Helps (Ostfildern, 2011). They talked

the two fastest growing urban forms are

gated communities and informal citiesboth of these phenomena are organisms that have little to do with wide open
public spaces. The informal city thrives
on community space, and the gated community is about private space. Sennett
talked about the importance of having
spaces of encounters in times when the
world community is shrinking into parts,
and I mentioned the idea of the agora.
The agora used to be a space of gathering,
of encounters, and only later it became a
space of commerce. This is precisely the
kind of space we lack today. We desire the
ancient agora, a space where you are with



others who are different from you and

yours, where you talk about common issues that are larger than your own group.



MARJETICA POTRC: Modernism was organized


Public Action

top down. This was a time when people

were seeking universal solutions, and
now is a time when we are beginning to
act on the local. Modernism dwelt in the
idea of the individual, individualism, the
dream of the anonymous individual in a
metropolis. But what we are talking about
now is a city made of communities, and
this sounds scary, community is a scary
word to many.

Why is the word scary?


A month ago I had a conversation

with Richard Sennett in London,1 and I
talked about communities in a positive
way. Why? Because I see the potential in
communities to change the city from below. Richard Sennett stressed the scary,
uncomfortable side of communitieshe
talked about gated communities. Its true,
we are now beyond modern paradigm,
which aimed at social equality. Today,

Something similar happened here in Berlin with the

Prinzessinnengrten.3 This was formerly an empty building lot used as a place for drug trafficking. But a community
garden as a private initiative helped to change this completely. Do you think a singular intervention can change
neighborhoods or is there a long- term strategy that has
to follow?

MP: It has to be a long-term strategy. Work-

ing together with residents, artists can

create a project, what I call a relational
object. Its important that the residents
participate right from the startthis
makes it possible for them to take the proj-


about modernistic city planning and its

social consequences, as well as about future models of artistic and architectural
intervention in the urban space.

Modern architecture has been a driving force

regarding the development of our built environment in the
twentieth century and is still shaping many cities in the
developing countries. What is your idea about the future
of the city?

The community garden and community

kitchen, which ended up being the project, actually made the area safer .

A majority of us now live in these cities that are based

in many parts on a modernist idea of separation of functions. But how do we get this back to what you describe
about community-based structures? Could you give us an
example of public spaces that work for you?
Sure. A perfect example is a project I
co-organised in Amsterdam in 2009.2 The
Stedelijk Museum invited me to work in
New West, a part of the city that was undergoing dramatic redevelopment. This was
originally a beautiful modern garden city
conceived by Cornelis van Eesteren before
the Second World War, but today it faces
the usual set of problems of modernist
neighborhoodsimmigrants who are not
well integrated, high unemployment, and
so on. Perhaps most striking was the empty public space. We walked down the street
and there was no one around; no one was
using the public space. At the same time,
we knew that the residents came from
Turkey, Suriname, and other places where
people like to spend a lot of time outside,
on the street, so to speak. But they were invisible. We created a community space in
a fenced-off public garden and suddenly
this space of encounters worked very well.

ect over when the artists leave and make

it live on. It can be a community garden, a
dry toilet in a city like Caracas, or whatever.4 The relational object becomes a tool to
change the culture of living, and for me, this
is one of the most urgent tasks today. Just
take your example: Prinzessinnengrten is
only one of the community gardens, which
are so popular today in Europe and North
America. Thats fantastic, no? Theyre not
organized from above. People just want
to do this. Community gardens are community spaces, and for those who are involved with the gardening they are spaces
of ritual as well. Why would you, as a city
dweller, suddenly want to get your hands
dirty with planting potatoes and working
together? Youre performing a rite of transition; you are working to make a different
kind of city. But make a note: community
gardens are not the Schrebergrten, the
traditional allotments people are familiar
with in Germany.

The Schrebergarten is an escape fantasy for the modernist housing but then the people who live in small apartments have again their little parcel with a fence around. The
community garden is an open field, comparable to the one
on the Tempelhofer Feld, a former airplane field in Berlin.5
People come together and cultivate a little piece of land,
but they do it all together, there is this self-organization,
which is taking more responsibility.

Right: You start with the commuity garden but you might
end up with different results of the project. To take your
project in Caracas as an example, what was the impact on
the community in the end? Did you follow that up?


Its really about changing the culture

of living. Projects like the community garden in Amsterdam and the dry toilet in
Caracass informal city address a particular problem and propose an outside-thebox solution. Community gardens, for
instance, are not only about cultivating
land, they are a political schoolroom as
well. By being involved in the project, you
learn your rights, you learn the rights of a
citizen. You locate yourself in the process
of reclaiming your city. Thats one thing.
The other thing is that projects produced
in stressed environmentsAmsterdams
New West and the La Vega barrio in Caracas are considered places in crisishave
something to tell others, the larger society. Its never just about solving your own
problem. For instance, the lack of water
affects the whole of Caracas. Its not only
about one family living on top of La Vega
hill with no access to running water. The
dry toilet matters for the whole city, both
informal and formal. For me, its important that a couple of dry toilets have been
built in the formal city of Caracas by construction workers from La Vega. Its about
dealing with and living with water in a new
way. When you see a dry toilet, you think
about water. When you use it, you have to
change your behaviour; its a change in
your personal life. Thats a real challenge.

This educational aspect is interesting. Its not about

showing a finished object and having people learn afterwards. Rather, people learn through the process and you
believe in the capacity of understanding. Basically youre
very optimistic about human beings, right?

MP: We have to believe in humanity. Thats

the beauty of living, no? I often get asked:

How do you define your role as an artist?
Thats easy: Im a mediator. Your book has
a similar title, no? I talk about artists as
mediators and you talk about architects

as moderators of change.

The title is: Moderators of Change.6 I think that architects should become more like moderators of change. They
have the expertise and design, but lack the knowledge of
the problems on site. So they first have to learn about the
problems and then they can react to these problems with
their designs. To interact with the community in terms
of really allowing them to participate in the design. This
problem interests me. Most artists and architects act like
top-down designers, top-down decision-makers, with the
community being asked only at the last momentand then
sometimes refuses to accept. If you start with the process
very early and include the community, then the citizens
will have proposals. Even when they dont get through with
them, they still have the feeling of being involved in the
process of decision-making.


I often talk about participation, and

I realize that the word participation is
much overused these days. Participatory
design is where I see my practice situated.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk about
participatory democracy. Why do we use
this modifier with these words? Because
we lack participation. Similarly, the word
sustainability has been overused to the
point that its meaning is nearly lost. But
even so, sustainability is crucial for the
survival of our cities, so we need to rediscover what it means.

How would you describe participation for your work.

What does it mean?


Im a hands-on person. You have to

get your hands dirty. You dont change
much if you just talk. Doing things brings
change. This is where the relational object
comes in: it is this something that people engage with, and it produces social
change. Thats how I understand it.

In the architectural field I would describe different levels of participation. Theres this kind of fake participation
where the city planner gives two options to a community:
either A or B. Participation for me means listening to the
community first, before starting a plan at all. The second
step is involving the community in the design process. And
the third step is involving the communities in the construction process. The last level is giving over responsibility to
the community. At this point the architect or artist has to
step back and say: Now Im out of it. This is my rather optimistic vision of how participation can work. It takes a lot
of energy and time and thats exactly why many developers
and politicians avoid participatory planning in the deeper
sense of the definition. Politicians in democratic countries
think about election terms. If they start a building project
they want to cut the ribbon before the next elections.


In 2006, I was in Amazonia in Acre, a

very special Brazilian state that borders
Peru and Bolivia.7 The government didnt
follow neoliberal policiesit was opposed
to the over-exploitation of the forest. The
land was distributed to local communities living in the forest. These territories
are called extraction reserves, which are
self-managed and sustainable. One of the
government officials told me: If people
survive in the forest, the forest will survive
as well. The same can be said of cities: If

people survive in the cities, the city will

survive as well. During the last century,
modernism created the idea that architecture is the most important thing. But
in Acre, there was not much architecture
to look at. Instead, the social architecture
became visible. This was a beautiful experience. Today, if I ask myself what comes
first, the chicken or the egg, the city or the
citizens, I say its the citizens. We have to
listen to the citizens when they want to
transform their city, when they want to
own their city. Prinzessinnengrten is telling us something. On a practical level, cities need more engaged residents at a time
when the social state is receding.Do you
think that the projects you describe in your
book can also be called relational objects?
Clearly, they are much more than a form.

They start from process and they address these social

questions, but then they keep aesthetic quality as a goal. In
these underserved communities, like in the informal settlements in Caracas or in the townships in Africa, if you show
people a building that is functional and beautiful they know
the difference from a simply functional building. They see
what beauty is and they are proud of it, if its happening in
their community. Aesthetic quality is an important value to
a social project that shouldnt be forgotten. But architects
focus not only on design. They bring in the meta-level of
planning beyond individual buildings that is often missing.
People move in large numbers into these informal settlements but they dont form public space, they just form their
own houses. Thats a big problem in many of the slums in
India and Africa. There is no open place where people can
meet. And thats again about the social values of the city. It
needs public spaces, thats very important.

Usually, the difference between the

formal and the informal city is described
in terms of the different architectures.
Instead, I would suggest that the difference lies in two different cultures. Culture
produces architecture, not the other way
around. Caracass urban culture has produced the modernist city. The rural culture has produced the informal city. The
interesting thing is that the construction
workers from the barrios are the same
people who built the modern city, so they
could have translated this knowledge into
their own informal city if they had wanted
to. But they didnt. They rejected it. They
continued to build things their own way,
no doubt because rural architecture produces village communities and not a city
of anonymous individuals. Now for me, it
was really interesting that the residents of
New West in Amsterdam and the residents
of the La Vega barrio in Caracas identified
more with a shared or community space
than with the public space. They saw the
future of their city in small, strong neighborhoods. No one talked about the metropolis. Forget about it. The metropolis
was a dream of the twentieth century. For
them, it was left behind.




The informal settlements worldwide grow much faster

Public Action

Allotments and community gardens

do have something in common, however.
They tell us that the city is undergoing
profound change. The Schrebergrten
took root during the emerging industrial
city. Similarly, the success of community
gardens is a sign that our cities are in transitionnow from a city of production to a
city produced by residents. New values are
being born. Instead of going shopping,
you cultivate land, and you cultivate land
together with others in the middle of your
own neighborhood. And this is where they
differ: the Schrebergrten are located in
an unused, dysfunctional space in a functional city. Each garden belongs to a single
family. A community garden is a located
smack in the middle of the neighborhood
and is cultivated by the community.

Social Design

Social Design


I was very inspired by Rural Studio.

Especially by the projects initiated by its
founder Samuel Mockbee (1944 2001).
He had an unusual, groundbreaking vision for the time.

Yes, but Rural Studio has changed a lot in time. Mockbee

was really working project by project, and Andrew Freear
is trying to build up a sort of system. Not only to realise
exemplary projects, but to think about the wider implications of this idea for low income households in general. He
wants to make people aware that you can build a house for
$ 20,000 almost by yourself that has a good design. The
same is happening in Germany with Van Bo Le-Mentzels
Hartz IV Mbel, this social design furniture.9 Thats a good



Public Action

Another example is the idea of the

Growing House, where residents become
partners in the production of the city.
In the first half of the twentieth century
in the modernist movement there was
an opening, a different approach to the
mainstream modern city that we know today. Yona Friedman and Joe Plecnik, for
example: they distanced themselves from
the production of social housing where
the city provides everythingthe housing
and the infrastructure. Yona Friedman
proposed housing for India in which the
government would construct a framework
and people would then build their own
living spaces inside the framework. In the
1940s, Plecnik drafted a project for Ljubljana which he called A Common Roof;
the idea was that the city would build a
roof and provide the infrastructure for a
neighborhood and residents, then, would
build their own houses, each one different, beneath the common roof. South
Africa had a similar idea after apartheid,
when there was an immense influx of settlers into the cities.
A roof and the essential infrastructure
were provided to individual families, and
the residents built the houses themselves.
Another example from South Africa is the
core unit. The city provides service core
unitsutility systems for drinking water,
energy, and sewageand the residents
build their own homes. They are collaborators and not just receivers. This model
may well be successful for the future.

I think it will. And it has a longer history. In 1932 Martin

Wagner organized an exhibition in Berlin. It was about the
Growing House.10 A lot of architects like Walter Gropius,
Erich Mendelsohn, Max and Bruno Taut were engaged in
projects for incremental housing. But this all came soon to


You talk about Latin America. I was

truly inspired by Antanas Mockus, who
initiated major social changes in Bogot,
Colombia, when he was the citys mayor.
He turned to unconventional ideas to improve the situation; when he took office,
Bogot was considered one of the most
dangerous cities in the world and had
the highest number of kidnappings. He
changed the city by speaking directly to
the residents. For example, instead of just
enforcing regulations and handing out
traffic tickets, he hired mimes to make
fun of traffic violators, to remind people
that they themselves are the city. And it

I think this touches a really interesting point I was also

following recently, this problem of over-regulation we have
in cities and in countries of our developed world. Many of
the projects Ive researched are in areas that have either
no building codes at all or nobody who enforces them. So
the architects can just go off by themselves, with students
or with some artist like you, and start building. If they had
had to ask for permissions they would never have done it.
Architects are trained to learn the rules and to follow them.
But they can also influence the codes. This is something we
should learn in the future. We should degrow the regulations. That would help people to come in and bring in their
ideas and take ownership for one corner after another, and
then they would identify themselves more with the city.
Just take a public bench in a public park and then you post
a sign above the entrance saying that one is not allowed
to sleep on this bench. Thats over-regulationit turns
against everyone.


Over-regulation and deregulation

are things we are focusing on right now
in Guelph, a small city near Toronto in
Canada.11 We have been working in the
Brant neighborhood, which is one of the
citys poorest; it has been stigmatized as
a place you want to get out of as soon as
possible. If you stay, youre considered a
failure. The residents are struggling with
overregulation. For example, the children
who have a garden in the front yard of their
school arent allowed to eat the vegetables
they grow there. It doesnt make any sense.
Weve been organizing workshops where
the residents talk with people from various disciplines to imagine how to develop
initiatives, how to change their environment. They want to do things, but theyre
afraid to because at every step they bump
into regulations and bylaws. The laws are
counterproductive; they make you feel
helpless. If people want the neighborhood
to prosper and grow, they need to be more
engaged. Now is the time for it, too: the
city is pulling back its financial support
and the neighborhoods are left to fight for

funding among themselves. Its not only

about residents struggling in a small city
in Canada. European cities, too, need residents to be more engaged, to be empowered. One tool for moving ahead is to work
with people from different disciplines and
backgrounds. This is different from when
some specialist comes in and tells you
what you need to do. Whats important
is exchanging knowledge, talking to each
other, and working together to construct a
new way of doing things. I agree that projects like the ones I do and the ones youve
assembled in your book represent a very
small part of whats going on today in art
and architecture. But nevertheless, I think
theres a movement among artists and
architects who think in this way. An artist
can be the moderator between the residents and institutions, the government,
and so on. This involves much more than
just listening to their problems and helping out. The artist can mediate peoples
vision of the city they want to live in. If you
follow the process step by step, if you are
engaged with people from the beginning,
the project will be successful. And places
of crisis will become an inspiration for
others; they will become places of hope.

Im really tired of this iconic architecture thats generally covered by the media. What is the idea of architecture
behind this? Is architecture a profession to produce largescale luxury objects? Or is architecture a discipline thats
engaged in the problems of society? Only a tiny fraction
of the global society is currently served by architects.
But they are highly trained professionals in design, multiskilled and intelligent people. They have a responsibility to
the rest of society!


Caracas: Growing Houses, my contribution to the Architektonika exhibition,

is a case study in informal architecture.
For me, these architectural case studies
are portraits of cities. I believe that by
reading architecture you understand the
values of the society. Self-built cities have
something to tell us. I come from the former Yugoslavia. In 2006, I co-organized a
research project called The Lost Highway
Expedition, in which a group of architects
and artists travelled through the Western Balkans.12 We looked at cities that, in
some cases, had been totally rebuilt after
the political changes and the wars. In this
new society, modernist architecture and
the social state had been left behind. The
modernist architecture we were so proud
of in Yugoslavia was now abandoned and
left to decayliterally. The cities were selfbuilt. Informal cities showed off heroic
houses, not unlike the case study I show
at Architektonika. We looked at cities the
residents themselves were producing, the
new society that was emerging. I like to
say that the 1960s and 1970s were a time
of manifestos, when there were numerous
social projects developed by architects

and lots of ideas about serving the world

community. Then, in the next forty years
or so, roughly from 1968 to 2008, for some
reason, Im not sure why, neoliberalism
gradually took over. Since the financial crisis of 2008, we have been living in another
period of opening. Suddenly, all these
ideas from 1968 are re-emergingtotally
remade of course. Before, there were largescale utopias, like the idea of ecology; now
there are much more down-to-earth strategies, more personal, more existential, on
a small scale, and local. But basically, its
the same vision: to create a city together
with the citizens, to serve the citizens.

Right, its the same direction. Its just less politically engaged, its more pragmatic, lets call it: radically pragmatic.
As you said, some architects are working in Caracas, some
architects are working in Bogot. They care about the communities or about the society but not about the political
system. And in this case Im very positive about the power
of an architect.


When I was working on the Amsterdam project, I learned that the city had
given the public land in New West to the
housing corporations. The problem was
that the municipality was serving the developers and their vision of the city, while
the residents were being left to fend for
themselves. Democracy was broken. But
its important that the link between residents and government works. Democracy, after all, is a social construction.

Lets face it. The financial crisis broke out with the crash
of the housing market in the US. As the housing market
turned into a speculative business that lost its relation
to the real needs of society it became the reason for this
global crisis. And thats why I totally agree when you say
the government cannot draw back from responsibility, like
taking care of affordable housing, of social space, of these
questions. Theres a responsibility of politics for the built
environment. Years ago everybody believed in the future
of cars, for example. The US gave up public infrastructure
completely, like public transport and light-rail and bike
lanes and all these things and theyre now desperately
trying to get back to it. But they lost 60 years of city development, destroyed even what they had. So if you go to St.
Louis, just to give one example that stands for many other
cities in the US, you go to the center of the city but there
is no center any longer in the sense of that word, there
are only garages, some office buildings and empty space
in between and no people on the streetsonly in cars.
Suburbanization has driven people out of the center and
produced the need for cars. Now the inner city houses are
empty and cities like Denver and many others are rapidly
shrinking, theres no identity of the city any more. We have
to think more about what is the social space, not just the
public space of the city.


Yes, its about social space. Lately, we

talk a lot about place-making. A group that
wants to be recognized in a society needs
to have a physical spacethats placemaking. Space isnt an abstract concept
any more; its physical and existential. At
the same time, communities reach beyond their local place by using communi-

cation media. I am thinking specifically

about the project Barefoot College in India.13 Do you know it? Its a self-sustainable rural community, which, again, was
founded in the 1970s and is now being
quietly recognized. Its one of the success
stories of self-organization. The village is
completely solar- powered and practices
rainwater harvesting. The idea they had
was simpleinstead of migrating to cities, to become part of the urban poor, villagers would stay in the village and lead
a dignified life through a combination of
traditional practices and high technology: They demystify the hi-tech. They train
women to become solar power engineers.
They know how to maintain the technology themselves. The interesting thing is
that Barefoot College makes use of globalization in its own way. They target rural
communities around the world and teach
them how to use solar panelling and practice rainwater harvesting. They dont go to
cities and teach urban people how to use
solar panelling. Theyve built their own
network, a sort of parallel society. They are
firmly grounded in the local, but they also
have a global network. So its not about rejecting globalization; its on another level
entirely. I would suggest that the rural condition is an agent for change in the twentyfirst century. The twentieth century was all
about cities, but today cities are experiencing fatigue; they are weighed down by the
civilization they created. And the ideas
coming from rural areasIm thinking of
community gardens and informal cities
here tooare outside-the-box ideas. They
are making a difference in the search for a
more sustainable existence.

I know about Barefoot College, its a very interesting

project, but I think its very limited in its impact. Its just
one community with some networks, but it didnt have an
impact on the way of living in Europe or in America.


No, on the contrary. Theyre having a

big impact, but they only target rural communities, not cities. If you look at their
website, youll see that they are working
with perhaps fifty rural communities
around the world. Barefoot College is one
of many projects that seek to empower
communities; its just that they dont get
much media attention because theyre
not about making money. Theyre not
power-brokers, because they dont produce a lot of capital.

Im totally confident that these are the more relevant

projects at the moment for the future of the society and the
future of the city in general. And thats why its important
for me to show them in exhibitions. It is the responsibility
of the curator to pick these examples and to bring them to
the publics attention. The museum is a cultural and social
place for meeting with art and other people. The number of
museum visitors is constantly growing. But why? Because
people are tired of virtual realitiesthey want to gather in
a space that gives them a real experience, some new ideas

and inspiration for their lives, something they can share

with friends. And this is more and more important: creating
spaces for physical and social encounter to change the city
in the future.

Exactly, encounters. Clearly, there is

a trend: people want to be more engaged;
they want to be part of a design process that
allows them to envision the city they want
to live in. They dont want to just inhabit
the city; they want to produce it. We have
to change our way of living, which is much
more difficult than building a house.
The conversation between Marjetica Potr and
Richard Sennett took place as part of the Wide
Open School Project at the Hayward Gallery,
London, 16 June 2012.
2 The Cook, the Farmer, His Wife and Their Neighbor, 2009, part of Stedelijk Goes West, in the
Nieuw West district of Amsterdam. The project
was organized by Marjetica Potr and Wilde
Westen (Lucia Babina, Reinder Bakker, Hester
van Dijk, Sylvain Hartenberg, Merijn Oudenampsen, Eva Pfannes, and Henriette Waal) and
supported by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam,
Far West (Amsterdam), and the Netherlands
Architecture Fund (Rotterdam).
3 Prinzessinnengrten (Princess Gardens) is
a community garden in Berlin that has been
launched by the non-profit company Nomadisch
Grn (Nomadic Green) in 2009. (21 Sept. 2012).
4 Dry Toilet (2003), a collaborative project by
Liyat Esakov and Marjetica Potr, in Caracas,
Venezuela, supported by La Vega community in Caracas, the CARACAS CASE stipend
programme of the Federal Cultural Foundation
of Germany, and the Venezuelan Ministry of the
5 The Tempelhofer airport in Berlin ceased operating in 2008. 2010 the runways were opened to
the public. (21 Sept. 2012).
6 Andres Lepik (ed.), Moderators of Change.
Architektur, die hilft. Architecture that helps,
Jahresring 58. Jahrbuch fr moderne Kunst,
Ostfildern 2011.
7 On an artists residency at the invitation of the
27th So Paulo Biennial (How to Live Together),
So Paulo, Brazil.
8 Rural Studio was founded in 1993 within Auburn Universitys School of Architecture (US).
The studio is conceived as a strategy to improve
the living conditions in rural Alabama while
imparting practical experience to architecture
students. (21 Sept. 2012).
9 Van Bo Le-Mentzel (ed.), Hartz IV Moebel.
com. Build More Buy Less! Konstruieren statt
Konsumieren!, Ostfildern 2012.
10. Cf. Martin Wagner, Das wachsende Haus. Ein
Beitrag zur Lsung der stdtischen Wohnungsfrage, Berlin 1932.
11. The Brant Club (2012), mural, public debates
and workshops, by Marjetica Potr and Lucia
Babina, supported by the Brant Community and
developed as part of the Guelph Program of the
Musagetes Foundation.
12. Lost Highway Expedition (2006), a research
journey through nine cities in the Western
Balkans (Ljubljana, Zagreb, Novi Sad, Belgrade,
Skopje, Prishtina, Tirana, Podgorica, and
13. Established in 1972, the Barefoot College is
a non-governmental organisation that has
been providing basic services and solutions
to problems in rural communities, with the
objective of making them self-sufficient and
(21 Sept. 2012).


Public Action

Social Design


an end when the Nazis took power. Only the politicisation

of architecture in the 1960s led to a renewed interest in
this question. There was this PREVI housing project in Lima
in Peru, where James Stirling and others were invited. A
military putsch stopped this programme, only 500 houses
were built, but theyre still there.

Social Design

at this moment than the formal settlements. Two billion

people are living in self-constructed shacks, and due to political conflicts and many other reasons these numbers are
rising. I was amazed to find out that you also worked with
Rural Studio,8 a programme in which architecture students
are trained to design and build in teams for underserved
communities in a very poor neighborhood in Alabama. For
me its very important that the architects during their studies already get some idea of the social relevance of their


rently, no word exists for the action of destroying peoples homes and/or expelling
them from their homeland. We suggest
the neologism domicide, the deliberate
destruction of home, that causes suffering to its inhabitants. 2 The authors distinguish extreme domicide from everyday
domicide. Unlike extreme domicide. the
everyday variety comes about because of

the aesthetic attractions of slums are implicated in both the growth and its aesthetization of an urban surplus value. As early
as 1884 the word slumming appeared in
the London Oxford Dictionary. It referred
to a distinct form of tourism which did
not choose go visit the hegemonic and
representative sites of palaces, churches
or museums, but rather went to see the




Public Action

the normal, mundane operations oft he

worlds political economy. It is brought
about, first by the inequalities based on
the division oft he world into rich and
poor, colonizer and colonized a, city and
countryside. Anyone living in the capitalist worldwhich is, for all intents and
purposesd, the whole world at the turn oft
he twentieth century is aware that large
corporations, transnationals, and banks
can alter landscapes and lives almost at
will. This is a world of power that brooks
little opposition.3 Urban renewal, slum
clearance, eviction, dispossession and
relocation have not only become the recurring, almost cyclical patterns of urban
transformation but have also been based
on corresponding legal frameworks, urban policies and governmental strategies.
Both, the legal urban renewal and the
physical urban renewal are implicated in
the complex cycles of domicide, eviciton,
and relocation.
It was such a combination that first
produced the American federal program
known as urban renewal, which began in
1949 and continued into the late 1960s.
This program provided city renewal agencies with federal funds and the powers
of eminent domain to condemn slum
neighborhoods, tear down buildings, and
resell the cleared land to private developers at a reduced price. The slum dwellers
were relocated to decent, safe and sanitary
housing 108 In light of domicide as the
most unsustainable, a critical historiography of the history of urban transformation could impact on the reorientations of
urban policy making which in turn could
impact on urban growth now harnessed
to feeding the urbanization machine of
neoliberal capitalism.
Secondly, I want to understand how

squalid and crowded living conditions

of the urban poor and immigrants. Whitechapel in London or the Bowery or the
Lower East Side in New York offered up
the attractions of life under conditions
of poverty, and, as I would like to add,
its dimensions of a specific aesthetics of
informality and poverty. As early as 1911
there were organized tours to the favelas
of Rio, as the photographic documents
of the feminist prototourist Alice Schalek
show. This type of tourism still prevails in
different parts of the world like Brazil, India or Indonesia, to name just a few. More
importantly, I think, the fascination of
the informal building techniques of slum
dwellings have reached an epitome of
capture in the global art world. The temporary aesthetic surplus value of urban informality returns to urban centers in the
guise of an art work by renowned global
artist Takashi Kawamata from Japan and
his work Favela Caf commissioned by
the Art Fair Basel 2013.
Basels Messeplatz that since lately is
dominated by architects Herzog & de Meurons new fair halls, Kawamata created
the Favela Caf, a composition of walkways and 18 crudely constructed huts,
arranged around the water well of the
square. The public sculpture offered food,
coffee, drinks, and seating. The Favela
Caf was realized in collaboration with
Swiss architect Christophe Scheidegger.4
The surplus value created is a complex layering of the ingredients of refuelling the
energy of the urban based on attractions.
Informality married with poverty is used
as an artistic strategy by a global artist on
the circuit of biennales and triennales.
The Favela Cafe, as implied in the title
of the art work, created a site of aesthetic
experience, food consumption, leisured


Public Action


arxist geographer David Harvey

equates urbanization and the production of surplus.
From their inception, cities have arisen through geographical and social
concentrations of a surplus product.
Urbanization has always been, therefore, a class phenomenon, since surpluses are extracted from somewhere
and from somebody, while the control
over their disbursement typically lies
in a few hands. This general situation
persists under capitalism, of course;
but since urbanization depends on the
mobilization of a surplus product, an
intimate connection emerges between
the development of capitalism and
urbanization. Capitalists have to produce a surplus product in order to produce surplus value; this in turn must
be reinvested in order to generate
more surplus value. The result of continued reinvestment is the expansion
of surplus production at a compound
ratehence the logistic curves (money, output and population) attached
to the history of capital accumulation,
paralleled by the growth path of urbanization under capitalism.1
Urban imagery invoked to describe
the expansion of cities very often relies
on a specific vocabulary borrowed from
the description of nature: cities grow.
This reference to a seemingly natural (or
naturalized) growth veils the conditions
of economy, exploiatation, labour and
sweat. The better part of this so-called
urban growth is a growth owed to the investments and the cheap labour of the
bodies of many who perform the process
of urbanization. Future slum dwellers are
the ones who not only build their housing
in what is then termed as a slum, but are
also part of the incremental urban expansion which is perceived as growth. The
naturalization of the very production and
economic and material history through
the terminology of urban growth projected on slums allows for an ultimately perilous line of thought to enter. Natural (or
seemingly) growth needs to be controlled,
needs to be domesticized. The conflicts
oft he nature and culture dialectics are
played out on the urban ground of slums.
Growth and the ideology of control, nature and the ideology of taming, nature
and the ideology of resource extraction,
nature and the aesthetic surplus logic
mark the battlefield on the urban ground.
Firstly, I want to understand how the
conflicts of the dialectics I sketched out
between growth (natural/naturalized)
and control (cultural/civil/civilized) are
played out in the battlefield of urban redevelopment. The example I use for this
is what has been called domicide. Cur-

Social Design

Social Design

Brillembourg Klumpner


Public Action

The taming of the informal strategies of

the building culture of the urban poor is
embodied in the art work of Kawamata
demonstrates that its aesthetic minus the
lived conditions of poverty, exploitation
and squalor add to the heightening of the
urban experience. This sanitized form of
slum tourism takes out the danger and
captures the image of an urban imaginary
of conflict that can be tamed, controlled,
and above all, consumed legitimized as
an aesthetic experience of an art work
by a renowned global artist. The inherent ethical and highly political issues of
this aesthetized Favela Cafe installation,
which I want categorize under the rubric
Favela Chic or Gecekondy Chic (the latter
term was coined by urban antrhopologist
Derya zkan) were immediately understood by local activists and protesters.
They erected ad-hoc informal add-ons to
the Favela Caf and laid a banner on the
ground which read Respect Favelas. The
occupiers co-opted the installation by
setting up their own DJ booth, after which
they proceeded to dance and drink. Art
Basel initially allowed the revelry to proceed, but then sent in riot police to clear
the space. Protesters were liberally coated
with pepper spray, while a few of them got
kicked as they lay on the ground. Food and
other debris was thrown at the police. The

festo was published by Oswaldo de Andrade in 1928), anthropophagy called for

a cannibalization of European culture in
Brazil.6 Following the Anthropophagic
Manifesto I am proposing the critical
utopia of a yet to be written Oikophagic
Manifesto. This future manifesto, to be
written and practiced, collectively will put
forward a critical strategy of oikophagia
cannibalizing the spatiality of neoliberal
capitalist growth and counteracting the
capture of the informal aesthetic resources of slums or favelas.


David Harvey, The Right to the City, in: New Left
Review 53, September-October 2008 http://
Douglas Porteous and Sandra E. Smith, Domicide. The Global Destruction of Home, (Montreal:
Mc Gill Queens University Press, 2001), ix.
Ibid. 106.
When I spoke with local Baselers about this,
they described the police action to me as a
police action of the local riot police la Taksim
Simone Osthoff, Lygia Clark and Hlio Oiticica.
A legacy of interactivity and participation for a
telematic future, in: Corpus Delicti. Performance Art of the Americas, edited by Coco
Fusco, (London and New York: Routledge 1999),


Cities around the world are growing rapidly; a projection that we have all
heard time and time again. While megacities, the likes of Tokyo, New York, Cairo,
Mexico City, and Lagos will likely always
experience a certain level of incoming
immigrants bound for their centers in
search of the opportunities associated
with urban living, these are not the areas
where mass flocking will occur in the next
few decades.1 Second tier cities are the
sites of extreme growth, most of the fastest growing cities in the world at the momentBeihai (China), Ghaziabad (India),
Lubumbashi (DRC)fall into this category of mid-sized cities and it is toward
these environments that architects and
urban planners must turn their attention
to best serve the expanding urban, global
Informal cities have become mid-sized
cities of their own right within the formal city. They are an integral part of this
growth and yet are most often excluded
when it comes to implementing smart
solutions. One billion people live in
squatter communities worldwide, a num-

ber expected to double by 2030.3 This

effectively means that 50 percent of total
urban growth will be informal. Christian
Werthmann of the Harvard Graduate
School of Design highlights that, Only an
estimated five percent of the design profession is occupied with the phenomenon
of informal urbanism. An imbalance does
not only exist in the global distribution of
material wealth, but also in the provision
of design capital.4
As this informal sector within the urban framework of mid-sized cities continues to grow, innovation and exploration
in the fields of infrastructure are desperately needed. Informal communities are
drastically lacking in adequate healthcare
facilities, available public space, sustainable housing, water, and sanitation facilities, the list of basic services continues.
Though the lack of all of these contributes
to the maintenance of the stratification
between classes, no single actor plays a
more dominant role in the divide between
the haves of the formal city and have-nots
of the informal city than unemployment.
It is understandably difficult to have a job

when physical mobility between where

positions are located (formal city) and
where those in search of gainful employment are located (informal city) is limited.
Mobility between the informal and the
formal city must also be a part of the investment made in informal infrastructure
in the future.
Informal settlements tend to not only
be separated by a clear divide in socioeconomics, but physically separated by
a change in geological make-up as well.
Flood plains, steep slopes, marsh lands,
these environments are not easily navigated and are typical areas of informal
growth. Retrofitting these areas with infrastructure models that were originally
suited for formal citiesroads, tramways,
subways, railwaysin many cases is neither innovative nor sufficient. Creating
modes of transit both throughout these
settlements and between the informal
and formal sectors of the city, as connectivity should always be a goal of infrastructure development, must originate from a
bottom-up design strategy. As the formal
world aims to become increasingly intel-

Public Action

Social Design

next day, Favela Caf was back up and running as if nothing happened (complete
with falafel at reassuringly exclusive
Thirdly I want to propose an Oikopophagic Manifesto. The conflicts I pointed out in both the strategies of domicide
and favela chic lead me to invoke the terminology of the Brazilian Anthropophagia avant-garde group. They critically used
notions of cultural cannibalism. Anthropophagia literally means cannibalism.
As employed by the Brazilian avantgarde
of the 1920s (the Anthropophagic Mani-

Social Design


conviviality, and a temporary shelter from

rain or storms. The spatial juxtaposition
of Herzog & de Meurons spectacular addition to the fair and the temporary addition
of the Favela Caf as spectacular imagery
of urban informality and poverty played
out the conflict inherent in neoliberal
urbanization processes as enhancement
of the aesthetic experience as surplus
value. Urbanization, update or renewal
of urban centers, as embodied in the use
of spectacular star architecture, very often resulted in what I discussed earlier
with reference to domicide and eviction.

Smart City vs. the

Growing, Learning City


Public Action

The terms smart and intelligent

have become part of the language of urbanization policy, referring to the use of
IT to improve the productivity of a citys
essential infrastructure and services and
to reduce energy inputs and CO2 outputs
in response to global climate change.
LED lighting, electricity powered cars,
facial recognition security surveillance,
home automation, tintable smart glass,
space-saving folding vehicles, and fuel
cell technology are just a few examples
from the past three years of technological
innovations that cities are incorporating
in an effort to become smarter.6 Implementing many of these technologies
in the growing informal sectors of midsized cities would be about as far from
smartas possible. A car that can shrink
to half of its size when parked is about as
useful in the favelas of So Paulo (where
passageways are rocky, steep, and far too
narrow for most vehicles) as a submarine
is to the landlocked country of Mongolia.
There are clear limitations to design solutions that depend heavily on advanced
technology. This speaks to the need for
a rethinking of what smart design and
development truly is.
What, then, would constitute smart
design in informal cities? One example,
related to housing in particular, is modular design. By effectively solving problems
of construction and deployment in the
design stage, modular housing can be extremely effective in the informal setting.
This tactic allows for the negotiation of existing buildings and steep slopes. Small,
workable units allow the owner of a home
to also be the investor and the builder
of a project. This allows for low-costs,
community involvement, and maximum
catering to the needs of the residents.
Additionally, and potentially most impor-

Emerging Mobility
Solutions from the
Informal City

MetroCable Caracas. Photography by Iwan Baan

tantly when keeping in mind inevitable

expansion, modular constructions allows
for add-ons as they become necessary. A
unit built of two modules for a family of
five can be expanded upward with an additional module should relatives move
in and the family expand to eight, for example. There is unquestionable intelligence is such a highly adaptable design.
Informal economies supply 60 percent of jobs in the Global South.7 With
such staggering statistics, it is reasonable to project that housing needs in
these areas will increase at an astounding
rate. How can urban areas accommodate
such an influx of inhabitants in a smart
way? In Caracas in 2005, Urban-Think
Tank partnered with St. Marys Anglican

Torre David Caracas. Photography by U-TT Archives Daniel Schwartz

Church to provide emergency housing.

The goals of the project were clear: housing needed to be low cost, quick and easy
to construct, expandable, and sustainable. The solution was a growing house.
The intention was to design the concrete
frame, electricity, drinking, and wastewater services at each level, and then allow
the users who will inhabit the apartments
to fill in block closures and complete the
designs themselves. Expanding a concrete frame vertically and using a steel
shelf-type system in between the floor
gave the design flexibility for future adaptation. This idea was inspired by both the
real examples of squatting in buildings
under construction and by the 1980s New
York artist loft scheme that left raw space

to be fitted out by the user. The project

also incorporated a kindergarten, a cafe,
meeting halls and several shops, giving
the premises space to create a working
community.8 In this case, the benefits to
modular design (low costs, adaptability,
resident autonomy) as a means to accommodate informal expansion spoke for
It is not the case that cutting-edge technology has no place in the informal city. IT
can contribute to successful development
in favelas and barrios as well as metropolises. It may simply be a matter of which
stage in the process it is implemented in.
Algorithms that assess risk zones, track
social movement, map topography, and
posit future growth can provide develop-

ers with invaluable insight into construction needs as well as limitations.

When it comes to intelligent infrastructure, specifically, transit systems
must avoid being imposing, destructive,
and invasive. In short, they must not go
against the grain. In the specific case of
San Agustin, a barrio of Caracas, the provincial government proposed the construction of a road through the slum that
would require tearing down 30 percent
of housing and the bringing of cars into
what was essentially an exclusively pedestrian community. In July of 2003, UrbanThink Tank organized a symposium at
Caracas Central University to protest the
government road plan and begin the process of exploring other possible solutions.

In addition to being minimally invasive, intelligent infrastructure in informal settings must multitask.
Torre David, a 45-story office tower in
Caracas designed by the distinguished
Venezuelan architect Enrique Gomez,
was almost complete when it was abandoned following the death of its developer, David Brillembourg, in 1993 and the
collapse of the countys economy in 1994.
As of 2012, over 750 families, approximately 3,000 residents, inhabit the first
28 floors of this structure. Its unfinished
layout provides a world of possibilities.
Squatters have established different ways
of dividing space, sectioning off public
and private areas, providing general services to the towers community. Residents
have only settled up to the 28th floor so far
up because this skyscraper has no elevator system. Highly adaptive by nature, the
community came up with a mobility solution of their own, using the adjacent parking structure to ferry goods and people up
and down, building foot bridges between
the parking garage and the tower. Motorcyclists play the role of taxis drivers and
transport walkers, but way of the garage,
up and down the first 10 floors. Torre
David is not the only structure in the city
that has made transportation-specific infrastructure into so much more. Today,
retrofitted parking garages are a new vernacular in Caracas (an oil-based economy
that over anticipated the amount of automobile dependence that would arise after
the millennium) and have been occupied
by Chinese restaurants, dry cleaners, doctors offices, hairdressers, nightclubs,


Public Action

Social Design

The symposium resulted in the creation

of a task force consisting of an organized
group of community volunteers and the
U-TT team. In relatively short order, the
task force selected, from among several
suggestions, a cable car system that travelled across the barrio and connected to
the citys formal public transportation at
the foot of the barrio. It was of the utmost
importance that whatever system was to
be put in place not only increase internal
mobility within the settlement but also
make external mobility easier. This plan
was seen by the community as well as the
design team as being ideally suited to the
terrain, minimally invasive, accommodating of the existing fabric of the settlement, highly sustainable, and flexible. In
a word, smart.

Social Design

ligent in its urban design green designs,

increased sustainability, minimized carbon footprintsone must rethink what
it means to design intelligently in such
environments. We cannot assume we
know the needs of a city until we know its
residents. We cannot possibly hope for
sustainability without getting the on-theground community involved first-hand.
Bottom-up, adaptable design is intelligent design in informal cities just as
much as, say, taking into account the influence of the fillerbitumen ratio on performance of modified asphalt mortar is
intelligent design in formal cities.5

Public Action


Growing House Prototype, Caracas

James Shore, a software development

team leader, preaches a practice that is
well aligned with how informal development should be treated going forward:
Incremental design applies the concepts
introduced in test-driven development to
all levels of design. Like test-driven development, developers work in small steps,
proving each before moving to the next.

sired destination. Able to weave through

narrow openings unnavigable to a car all
while avoiding the expensive and environmentally damaging use of gasoline
Time Square starts to sound quite a bit
like Brazils favelas.
Prof. Alfredo Brillembourg and
Prof. Hubert Klumpner.
Research assistant: Lindiwe Rennert.
Urban-Think Tank / ETH Chair of Architecture
and Urban Design
City Mayor Statistics: Worlds Largest Cities.
2 City Mayor Statistics: Worlds Fastest Growing
3 Werthmann, Christian. Green Infrastructure in
the Non-formal City. Harvard University, 2012
4 Werthmann, Christian. Green Infrastructure in
the Non-formal City. Harvard University, 2012
5 Qui, Hongsheng. Journal of Modern Transportation: Influence of fillerbitumen ratio on performance of modified asphalt mortar by additive.
Springer Science and Business Media, 2013.
6 Freshome: Design & Architecture. 20 Smart
City Technologies for 2013 and Beyond.
7 Brillembourg, Alfredo and Hubert Klumpner.
Moderating Urban Density. Exhibition, Berlin.
Aedes, 2006.
8 Brillembourg, Alfredo and Hubert Klumpner.
Moderating Urban Density. Exhibition, Berlin.
Aedes, 2006.
9 Brillembourg, Alfredo and Hubert Klumpner with
Alice Hertzog and Daniel Schwartz in association with ETH Zurich Department of Architecture and Urban-Think Tank. Beyond Torre David:
Informal Vertical Communities.Exhibition.
Berlin: Aedes Gallery, 2013.
10 Shore, James. The Art of Agile Development.
OReilly Media Inc., 2008.


Public Action

Social Design

This takes place in three parts: start by

creating the simplest design that could
possibly work, incrementally add to it as
the needs of the software evolve, and continuously improve the design by reflecting on its strengths and weaknesses.10
Design that follows this vein of thinking
allows for the creation of infrastructure
that is never necessarily finite. Rather, it
has adaptive traits that make possible a
metamorphosis of function as different
needs present themselves. A structure intended as temporary housing for cars in a
vehicle heavy era may need to transform
into a market one day, a school the next,
a nightclub when the area changes age
demographic, and a retirement facility a
few years down the line. With the rate of
expected growth in informal cities, the
best design projects are those that can be
seen as works in progress; not because
they are incomplete, but because they are
able to evolve and multitask along with
the communities that they serve.
Stepping back from the idolizing of
technological advancement as our only
way toward progress, it becomes clear
that there is value in the downgrading
of infrastructure (technologically speaking) as well. Poor areas of cities tend to
be in the most need for improvements in
mobility (both physical and social mobility). Problem solving urban design needs
to be case-specific and localized to particular situations rather than make-shiftly
repaired with a one-size fits all, generalized approach. In informal urban areas,
implementing a regulated tuk tuk or
motorcycle taxis system may do more for
people than a tram system that displaces
40 percent of an informal community.
Urban infrastructure in the future must
be the meeting point between upward social mobility for the poor and downward
adaptability of todays obsession with advanced technology.
Ultimately, the success of intelligent infrastructure in informal cities is
dependent upon how well it meets casespecific needs, how much it involves the
on-the-ground community, how easily
adaptable it is (to the constant and rapid
growth seen in informal environments),
and how well it can multitask. Once all of
these parts come to together, formal cities
may find themselves lacking in comparison and may seek to borrow transportation methods from the informal sector. In
fact, such is already the case. If you have
ever tried to get around New Yorks Times
Square on a Friday or Saturday evening,
your best bet is not to hail a taxi or trudge
into the depths of the subway. Your fastest and most cost-effective choice is to
hop on the nearest rickshaw and have the
young man steering it run you to your de-

Social Design

real-estate agents, and much more.9 This

adaptive approach to parking structures
offers small businesses a cheap and central location and allows customers to
drive right up to the storefront. This innovation converts the drive-in to a drive-up
typology. But why stop at the interweaving of transportation and commerce?
Growing mid-sized cities will inevitably
face housing crises over the course of the
next decade. Why not look to pre-existing
infrastructure for the solution. Housing
units within parking garages are indeed
feasible in a less formal setting as well.
That said the process of incorporating living arrangements into these structures,
originally intended for transportationrelated use, is not without its challenges.
Ventilation, sanitation concerns, use of
public space, and security all need to be
addressed in the long-run. Similar to the
case of housing discussed earlier, the
success of this system lies in its modular
formatting. As individual homes or facilities are being constructed, the rest of the
parking complex remains fully functional.
Displacement is minimal. The true intelligence of this design lies in its ability to
anticipate the direction that urban living
may be heading. As cities increase their
interest in reaching a post-carbon energy
system, making use of what already exists
rather than the practice of demolition and
new construction will surely become common place. This method recycles resources and minimizes the carbon footprint
left behind by construction processes.
Transportation systems in both formal
and informal cities are strongest when integrated into programming that catalyzes
human interaction. As a typology, this
parking garage adaptation could function
like a street in the sky. Such treatment
could allow infrastructure hubs to become pivotal spaces in the city, connecting different urban planes, and adapting
to various modes of transport and needs.
Infrastructure initially intended for transit becomes the destination rather than
simply a means to an end.

Public Action

irst generation city was the human

settlement in straight connection
with nature and dependent on nature.
The fertile and rich Taipei basin provided
a fruitful environment for such a settlement. The rivers were full of fish and good
for transportation and the mountains
protected the farmed plains from the
straightest hits of the frequent typhoons.
The second generation city is the industrial city. Industrialism granted the
citizens independence from naturea
mechanical environment could provide
everything needed for humans. Nature
was seen as something unnecessary or
as something hostileit was walled away
from the mechanical reality.
Third Generation City is the organic
ruin of the industrial city. The community gardens of Taipei are fragments of the
third generation urbanism when they exist together with the industrial surroundings. Local Knowledge is present in the
city and this is where Ruin Academy focuses its research. Among the urban gardeners are the local knowledge professors
of Taipei. Third Generation City is true

when the city recognizes its local knowledge and allows itself to be part of nature.
The Ruin Academy (Taipei 2010- ) is set
to re-think the industrial city and the re-

lationship between the modern man and

nature in the urbanized Taipei Basin. It is
looking from the local knowledge for the
seeds of the Third Generation City.

Ruin is when man-made has become

part of nature. This is the subconscious
desire of the industrial city and the collective trauma of the modern man. Taipei is
currently presenting the most advanced
industrial co-existence of a modern city
and uncontrollable organic anarchy; nature, including human nature, is pushing
through the industrial surface and turning the city towards the organic according
to a post-human design and ecological
sensibility. To understand this force, the
reinforced and divided academic disciplines are of no use. Neither is centralized
politics providing any tools. Communication needs to find another way.
Ruin Academy has focused its re-

search on the unofficial life-providing

systems within the official mechanical
city. These spontaneous and citizengenerated systems are constantly ruining
the official Taipei. These are systems that
are, through punctual interventions, fermenting and composting the city. From
the organic top-soil produced by these
composts the Third Generation City will
emerge, the organic ruin of the industrial
city, an organic machine. In Erik Swyngedouws terms: Nature and society are in
this way combined to form an urban political ecology, a hybrid, an urban cyborg
that combines the powers of nature with
those of class, gender, and ethnic relations. The smelliest parts of unofficial


Public Action

Social Design

Social Design


Taipei contain the highest level of energy

and life still in connection with nature; at
the same time, the official industrialism
aims for a sterile and fully controlled condition. This brings to mind Andrei Tarkovskys maxim in Stalker: When a tree is
growing, its tender and pliant. But when
its dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and
strength are deaths companions. Pliancy
and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened
will never win. These urban composts
are the corners that are maintaining the
essence of the Local Knowledge, a constructive interaction of nature and human
nature in the built human environment.
This local knowledge is suggesting the
ways of the ruining processes for Taipei
towards the Third Generation City.
Different disciplines of art and science
are meeting in the Ruin Academy following the multidisciplinary research +
design methodology of the Aalto Universitys SGT Sustainable Global Technologies centre. Cross-disciplinary knowledge
building has proven vital on the research
of the Third Generation City. Ruin Academy co-operates with the architecture department of the Tamkang University, sociology department of the National Taiwan
University and with the SGT centre of the
Aalto University. Besides these, teams and
individuals have been joining the work
from various different backgrounds. Ruin
Academy is unofficial, pliant, and weak, in
contrast to academic strength and hardness. The Ruin Academy is a basic shelter
for academic squatting, stripped down
from disciplinary focusing and institutional strength. Most important is the
connection to the Local Knowledge, the
site-specific wisdom of sustainable human presence in the Taipei Basin. This
knowledge seems to be in straight connection with the collective memory of
the First Generation City, when the built
human environment was dependent on
nature and dominated by nature. The Local Knowledge is the driving force for the
organic penetrations through the industrial layer of the Taipei Basin today. Local knowledge is the force tuning the city
towards the organic. Our communication
center is the public sauna on the 5th floor
of the Ruin Academy building.
We are looking for the seeds of the
Third Generation City:
What are the processes that are ruining the industrial Taipei turning it towards the organic third generation city?
What are the systems that are bringing
life into the modern machine?
What is the life-force/Chi that keeps
the city alive and how can this Chi be
negotiated with by means of Urban Acupuncture?


Urban acupuncture is characterized

by punctual interventions through the
official surface of the city which aim to
establish contact between the urban collective conscious and the life-providing
systems of nature, including human nature. The networks of illegal community
gardens and urban farms of Taipei present a fine example of urban acupuncture.
These gardens are the urban acupuncture
needles that manipulate and manifest
the collective underlying organic Chi of
the industrial city and turn the mechanical city towards an organic machine.
The spontaneous, unofficial and self-organized community gardens are strong
representations of anarchy through gardening. The collective gardens are reflections of Habermas Life World vs. the
surrounding city as the System World.
For Habermas the Life World is the realm
of communicative action deeply rooted
in the self organized and organic local
knowledge building; that which the System World is aiming to colonize through
faceless industrial rationalization.

Illegal Architecture

Public Action

The Instant Taipei is self-made architecture using the official city as a growing
platform and energy source, attaching
itself like a parasite in order to leach electricity and water. The illegal architecture
is so widespread and deep rooted as a
culture in the Taiwanese cityscape that
we could almost speak about another city
on top of the official Taipei, a parallel
cityor a Para-City. This DIY built human
environment is tied directly to human
nature and motivated by basic human
instinct and mandated only by desire and
availability. Paradoxically, the illegal settlements such as Treasure Hill are living
in a more balanced relationship with the
natural environment


The urban nomad is the antithesis of

Walter Benjamins flneur, who is numb
and absent in the capital-driven urban
surroundings. The urban nomad is on
the move, harvesting and trapping in a
city that he views as a landscape wherein
seasons and energy concentrations are
constantly changing. The urban nomad
can operate alone or in larger camp-like
concentrations, such as the night markets. He is faster and lighter than the
official control mechanism of the city,
which tries to prevent him from operating. Besides trading, the urban nomads
are also harvesting the city of its trash and
left-over goods for recycling. This hit-andrun unofficial economy is leaching on the
steady material streams of the structural
city and is presenting a form of street-level
anarchy through business exchange. A series of activities are on the move or popping up and disappearing in Taipei, these
include the night markets, under-bridge
activities, street vendors, spontaneous
karaoke, gambling, puppet theatre, massage, barber, monks, beetle-nut booths,
and even moving godsall very sensitive
to the urban energy flows and hot-spots of
urban acupuncture

Ruin is when man-made has become

part of nature. The ruining processes of
Taipei are keeping the city alive. A weed
will root into a crack in the asphalt and
eventually ruin the city. The crack is the
acupuncture point and the weed is the
needle. The mechanical surface of Taipei
is dotted with ruins and holes reflecting
a larger vision of an organic machine, the
organic ruin of the industrial city. People are constantly ruining the totalitarian control architecture of the industrial
mind, which they subconsciously feel as
a threat to the human nature. To understand the dynamics of the ruining processes of a city is essential for the growing
of the Third Generation built human environment. Treasure Hill is a high-density
ruin, a fragment of the Third Generation
City. In the settlement, the same space is
shared by people and jungle and the complex three-dimensional power balances
between the different species, including
humans, is delicately changing day by day.
Treasure Hill also lives on a flood bank
and does not view the river as a threat. It is
inhabited by urban nomads who are harvesting the surrounding city. The whole
settlement is an urban acupuncture needle for Taipei.
Local knowledge is an element that is
pushing through all the layers of the 3G
City, a connection between the modern
man and nature. Following Fritz Lang in
Metropolis: The mediator between the
head and the hands must be the heart.
Local knowledge is the mediator that is
tying the Third Generation citizen with
nature and which operates as the subconscious natural agent on the collective conscious of the civilized man.

River Urbanism
Taipei (1G) exists because of the river
and the fertile flood plains. The industrial
city (2G) claimed independence from nature and turned the river into an industrial sewage site. A reinforced concrete wall
of twelve meters high was constructed
in-between the built human environment and the river nature. Third Generation City aims to reunite the river and city
through the natural restoration of the
river environment. The river shall run as
an ecological corridor through a city that
is pulsating together with its hydraulics.
The city will be re-developed from the view
point of the river. Local knowledge still remembers the time when the water of the
rivers was drinkable and people washed
themselves in the rivers. Every family had
a rowing boat and the river was full of harvest. This is still a living memory for some
in Taipei, but for the industrial generations the river has become a fiction.
The Phoenix bird has not yet come and
the River has not yet revealed its divine
nature: this is the end of me.

The way towards the Third Generation
City is a process of becoming a learning
and healing organization and to reconnect the urbanized collective conscious
with nature. In Taipei the wall between the
city and the river must be gone. This requires a total transformation from the city
infrastructure and the centralized power
bureaucracy. Citizens on their behalf are
ready and are breaking the industrial city
by themselves already. Local knowledge is
operating independently from the official
city and is providing punctual third generation surroundings within the industrial city and by doing that providing self
organized urban acupuncture for the stiff
official mechanism.
The weak signals of the un-official collective conscious should be recognized
as the futures emerging issues; futures
that are already present in Taipei. The official city should learn how to enjoy acupuncture, how to give up industrial control in order to let nature to step in. The
local knowledge based transformation
layer of Taipei is happening from inside
the city and it is happening through self
organized punctual interventions. These
interventions are driven by small scale
businesses and alternative economies
benefiting from the fertile land of the Taipei Basin and of leaching from the material and energy streams of the official city.
This acupuncture is making the city weaker, softer, and readier for a larger change.

Social Design

Social Design


Urban Nomad


Public Action




Public Action

t a time when the thinking about

housing in South Africa is shifting
towards upgrading versus the eradication of informal settlements, the need for
suitably experienced professionals, community planners and officials who can
engage in a process of participative planning is becoming increasingly urgent. Although notions such as Participative Action Research (PAR) and Designing for
the Other 90% have been on the agenda
of universities and professional bodies
for some time, the immense complexity
and contradictions revealed through real
world engagements across social and economic classes certainly challenges this
goal significantly. The dominant realities
of cities, especially in the global south,
demand that academic and professional
institutions engage with this set of challenges, not least of all the transformation
of the institutions themselves.
This article expands on the INFORMAL
on in-situ upgrading developed at the University of Johannesburgs Department of
Architecture in 2012 during which 51 architecture students worked with community planners living in informally settled
warehouses and open plots of Marlboro
South, a former industrial buffer strip
between Alexandra and its wealthier surroundings. The basis of the studio was
to provide a defined service (in the time
available) which would support a process

of development driven by residents themselves and aided by non-governmental

organizations (NGOs) and community
based originations (CBOs).
Whilst the process of engagement is
by no means simple or benign, it holds
the promise that cities, however flawed,
can and should be modified by ordinary
citizens. Central to this promise is the necessity that professionals and the institutions which educate them, shift towards
modes of education and practice which
are more responsive the the reality on
the ground. INFORMAL STUDIO: MARLBORO SOUTH presents a case study which
aims to describe the events and relationships which emerged and the outcomes,
challenges and opportunities a participative approach to planning made evident.

targets). The Department of Human Settlements recent call for tenders for the drafting of upgrading plans for 46,000 informal
households, in Johannesburg alone, pays
evidence to this shift and the recognition
that the formal subsidy system is too slow
and does not provide a holistic housing solution to the poorest members of society.
Furthermore the conditions of deprivation in informal settlements pose a serious threat to political and social stability.

National Context
In the face of a 2.3 million backlog in
the delivery of state-sponsored formal
houses, the upgrading of informal settlements is being given credence by the state.
This is evidenced in the National Upgrade
Support Programme (NUSP) called into
being to assist the government in reaching its target of upgrading 400,000 households in well-located informal settlements
around the country (as part of Outcome
eight of the National Delivery Agreement

Fig. 1:
Backlog Graph (by 2610 south Architects)
Graph showing ever increasing backlog in formal
subsidized housing which has ostensibly been met by
the informal city.

Nationwide service delivery protests

have increased in frequency from two per
month to two per week from 2008 to 2012.
High unemployment rates, eight times
higher infant mortality rates and three
times higher HIV infection rates are only
some of the symptoms of under serviced

The Housing and the Informal City
project initiated in 2008 by 2610 south Architects in partnership with the GoetheInstitut, Johannesburg has evolved over
successive years from a purely researchbased project (investigating informal urbanism) into a university course which
has engaged with people-driven development processes in two separate informal

Fig. 4:
Ruimsig Studio (image by Alex Opper)
The university studio was trans-located into an existing
informal church within the settlement. At least half of
the studio sessions, workshops, and many meetings
and debates involving students, residents and city
officials took place here.

Fig. 3:
Diepsloot Shack (image by 2610 south Architects)
Illegal road-side business offering cooked meals and
housing. A house can be delivered in 1-2 days at 5% of
the cost of a subsidized house.

One of the many challenges facing

NUSP is a lack of suitably qualified professionals skilled in methods of participative
planning, understanding and engaging
with the needs, expertise and knowledge
residing in communities. New methods
of education and engagement need to be
developed in which ordinary people are
recognized as equal role-players and stakeholders in setting the agenda for research
and practice. This is a tall order in a soci-

In 2011 the first course was developed

together with the University of Johannesburgs (UJ) Department of Architecture,
housed in the Faculty of Art Design and Architecture (FADA). It was held in Ruimsig,
an informal settlement west of Johannesburg. Here sixteen architectural masters
students engaged with the Community
Organisation Resource Centre (CORC),
Ikhayalami and the Informal Settlement
Network (ISN), as well as local residents
and community leaders. A collaborative
process of mapping and design served to
articulate proposals for short- and longterm improvements in the settlement.
Whilst the proposals took cognisance of
the goal of achieving security of tenure
and incremental formalisation over time,
a re-blocking strategy was drawn up which
recorded community-driven proposals for
immediate improvements to be under-

Fig. 5:
Ruimsig Re-blocking Map (image by 2610 south
A re-blocking map produced by students and residents
was the outcome of the seven week course. Here it is
displayed at an exhibition and film screening attended
by the multiple stakeholders vested in the project. The
public display of the studio results and process forms
and important aspect lending agency and legitimacy to
the communitys development process.


After the course residents, assisted

by NGOs Ikhayalami and CORC, systematically began to tackle the physical upgrading of their surroundings. To date
65 structures have been moved and upgraded from the most congested part of
Ruimsig to better positions within the
settlement through support secured via
the NGOs.

Fig. 6:
Ruimsig Re-blocked (by 2610 south Architects)
This map shows the dwellings moved (into better
positions) in the six months period following the studio.
These adjustments to the fabric of the settlement were
carried out by residents assisted by CORC (NGO).

Critical to this engagement was that

UJ (students and staff) acted as service
providers to residents. The Ruimsig community was already mobilised towards
improving its own environment through
existing grassroots methodologies pro-

Public Action

Social Design


Participatory planning, in which inhabitants play a central role in co-determining outcomes specific to their own
needs, is seen as an important component in developing upgrading strategies
ensuring more sustainable livelihoods. A
simple example is that the provision of a
top structure (house) delivered through a
subsidy system may not be the immediate
priority, when taking into consideration
the slow process of delivery, the low densities and high costs for a shelter which
people are (and have been) quite capable
of providing for themselves in the face of
the housing crisis. These costs could thus
be better spent on immediate improvements to existing settlement by means of
retro-fitting essential services with a view
towards long term formalization and integration with the city.

taken by residents themselves. The main

objectives of re-blocking in the context of
Ruimsig are: the equitable distribution of
land, addressing overcrowding and the
activities of slumlords; the adjustment of
movement routes to suitable road widths
(for improved circulation and passage of
emergency vehicles); and the creation of
improved public and semi-public spaces.
Following on from an accurate mapping
of the existing conditions, a re-blocking
map was developed together with community planners living in the settlement.

Social Design

Fig. 2:
Sewerage Map of Reception Area, Diepsloot (by 2610
south Architects)
7.2 kms of daylight sewerage flow from oversubscribed
communal toilets in the Reception Area, a formally
laid out but informally settled area in Diepsloot, one
of South Africas largest post-Apartheid settlements
comprising approximately 200,000 inhabitants. The
promise of formal subsidized housing coupled with a
lack of tenure (and the very real threat of evictions)
has resulted in an illegal limbo in which residents are
reluctant to invest in land they do not own.

ety which generally identifies expertise in

the form of degrees and is itself stratified
in a class (and race) system manifest at a
massive scale. To this effect two university
courses, collaboratively developed, question and review the traditional role of the
university as the primary center of knowledge; the profession as experts; and communities as passive recipients of development. This shift would ultimately allow
theory and practice to be combined in real
world partnerships focused on the co-production of the built environment by ordinary citizens, the state, and professionals.

vided by the ISN and the NGOs involved.

A guiding principal of the Informal Studio educational model is that residents
are recognised as legitimate experts of
their own living conditions. Central to
this relationship is the empowerment of
communities to take part in the necessary
decision-making and design processes.


Through the association with the university and the production of the re-blocking plan Ruimsig has received increased
attention from city authorities, who now
show more support of the community of
Ruimsigs focus on upgradingto the
extent that the area has been declared
an experimental zone in which certain
municipal standards and by-laws may be
re-defined in order to meet the very different spatial demands and needs of the settlement. An example which precipitated
this ruling is the excessive road reserve
width the citys roads agency insists on
in order to install services. Would these
widths be implemented throughout the
settlement, most households would need
to be relocated.

In 2012, based on a request from NGOs

actively working with informal residents
in the area, a course was developed for
and held in Marlboro South (MS). A similar engagement model was employed,
but at a larger scale, with more students,
partnering with a large group of volunteer
community planners. Over the past 20
years MSs status as an apartheid buffer has been gradually eroded by people
making their homes on vacant plots and
in dis-used or hijacked former industrial buildings. The result is a squatted industrial no-mans land with an estimated
1,545 households (Fed-Up enumeration
report, 2011) living in precarious conditions, without adequate municipal services and under constant threat of eviction.

Fig. 11b:
Diagram of Typologies (by 2610 south Architects)
The different typologies existing in Marlboro South
ranging from formal business to hybrid conditions of
business and living to walled and open lots with live

Fig. 10:
Occupied Warehouse (image by Ryan Bosworth)
An example of an occupied warehouse with informally
constructed mezzanine level.

Public Action
Fig. 8:
Map with Road Reserve (by 2610 south Architects)
Map shows the extent to which a legal road reserve
width would displace further households. The drawing
became a tool of negotiation with city officials who
subsequently declared Ruimsig an experimental zone
in terms of town planning regulations.

Informal Studio: Marlboro South

Fig. 12:
Land-use Map (by 2610 south Architects, based on
work by students)
The land-use map formed the main deliverable, demonstrating the many new uses which have humanized
the industrial landscape through the introduction of
housing, livestock, restaurants, crches, churches,
sports fields, etc.

Fig. 11a:
Warehouse diagram (by 2610 south Architects after
students work)
Drawn example of an occupied warehouse with informally constructed mezzanine level.

A deal was made (facilitated by the

partnering NGOs) between UJ and the
community: namely, that the course outcomes would include a detailed and accurate land-use map; a conceptual spatial
development framework; and proposals
for short- and longer-term spatial and
infrastructural strategies. All of these deliverables seen together would articulate
the potential for the area to become an
integrated neighborhood, offering safer,
healthier, and affordable housing for its
current residents. The outcomes were envisaged as an instrument with which the
community and the NGOs could table valid
information and proposals around which
to ultimately engage city authorities.

During the post-course engagement a

re-settlement plan for 390 evicted households was drawn up at short notice. This
plan was prepared by the lecturers and architects involved in the course following
an indication from a Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Johannesburg
Housing to make available to the community open, state-owned sites within Marlboro South. This plan was then tabled
to the MEC by the community itself. The
re-settlement plans, whilst not definitive,
indicate what a re-settlementwhich anticipates growth (and tenure), mixed uses
and better communal defensible spacesmay look like. Whilst the layout options prepared during the design process
are being adapted by the community and
NGO for the immediate resettlement on
evicted stands, the power of the image of a
settlement which is laid out around open
spaces, allows for growth (formalization
over time) as well as economic activity has
lent a measure of credence to the seriousness of the communitys efforts.

(One of the biggest challenges is the
energy, time and cost associated with running a course of this nature. This places
a significant limit on what can realistically be achieved during the course in
terms of benefits for both the students
and the community partners involved. A
clear deal had to be made which defined
the concrete deliverables to the community in relation to the learning outcomes
for students. Furthermore the conceptual
nature as student projects had to be explained and that only, one or two of these
could likely be developed further. As it
happened, the resettlement plans drawn
after the course drew on many of the ideas
and findings collectively generated during the seven-week period.

Re-settlement Workshop (photo by: Delite Visual
Models used to workshop settlement layouts with
evicted households. Residents won a court interdict
against the Citys evictions orders and are legally able
to re-settle land in the area.

Fig. 14:
Re-settlement Models (photo by: Guillermo Delgado)
11 settlement options were produced by 2610 south
Architects & BOOM Architects. Each option shows a
starting and end condition (after growth). Residents
decided on 10msq room sizes as these could be affordably self-constructed. The various settlement options
thus explore future growth and expansion from 10msq
to 20, 30, and 40msq. 40msq is the size of a subsidized

Through the collaboration with the

Goethe-Istitut (G-I) UJ funds could be
extended to cover the pre-course preparations as well as the post-course engagement on the development of the resettlement plans. Through formatting the
exhibition (again, supported by the G-I),
the material produced by students could
be presented in a consistent and accessible way to the community (in the form of
this newspaper). G-I support also made
possible the documenting, on film, of the
studio process, and the professional editing of the raw material for the purposes of
the exhibition.)

Public Action

Social Design
Fig. 7:
Ruimsig Resident presenting Project at Final Reviews
(image by Alex Opper)
Albert Masibigiri, one of the 8 community planners
involved in the course shown here presenting his
groups work. An important aspect of the INFORMAL
STUDIO is that residents are engaged throughout the
process which ostensibly forms part of their larger drive
for development.

Social Design

Fig. 9:
Marlboro South Figure Ground (by 2610 south
Figure ground showing the domestication of the former industrial buffer strip through informal housing.

Fig. 17:
Process & Engagement Map (by BOOM Architects)
This timeline, produced by Eric Wright and Claudia
Morgado, charts the course and documents the key
events such as meetings, agreements, evictions,
court battles, protects and victories which took
place before, during and after the course. It also
shows the sheer number of people (approximately
100) which were involved in the process.

Social Design

Social Design


Public Action

Another challenge is the inexperience

and essentially middle-class mind-sets of
most students. To overcome this potential
draw-back students were thoroughly immersed in the context through hands-on
site work (measuring, interviewing, drawing-up) as well as the integration of the
subject matter across most of their other
university subjects. On the other hand
the openness and willingness of young
students to engage played a great part in
bridging the divided worlds of university
and Marlboro South. In this aspect the
role of the NGOs is critical in that it sets
the tone and principles of engagement
to which the partners need to adhere in
order for a mutually beneficial set of outcomes to be achieved. A guiding principle,
and one which the NGOs ensured is maintained on a continuous basis, is that the
mobilisation or empowerment process
within communities is maintained and
that the course benefitted from a well-informed and motivated client. Whilst the
internal politics of communities are often
complex in their own right all parties need
to be able to maintain clear communication and verify the relevance of agreed outcomes during the process. During the MS
studio repeated evictions of participating
members of the community posed a great
threat to the studio and on several occasions all parties had to reconnect, discuss
and confirm the best way forward. This

implies a very open but principled flexibility in order for the studio to be able to
adapt to changing circumstances.
A challenge specific to lecturers of
this course is the pervasive emphasis on
the image of architecture and the overstatement of the importance of individual (one-off) buildings as perpetuated in
blogs, magazines and books. The resulting aesthetic overload makes it difficult,
especially for students, to focus on the
unspectacular. The field of informal
settlement upgrading requires an almost
invisible but by no means less important design as support approach; one
in which sensitized architects have an important role to play.

Part of the purpose of this exhibition
is thus to make accessible the underlying
dynamics and principles of participative
design to students and institutions and
to convey the nature of collaborative/participative design as a dynamic and contextually-rooted process of un-learning
and re-learning for both professionals
and community partners. The exhibition
also seeks to demonstrate the value of
participative design practice in developing contextually well founded and achievable approaches to city making through
a set of retro-fitting moves and adjustments which acknowledge rather than do
away with the imperfect and contingent
aspects of ever-evolving cities.


Fig. 16:
Exhibition at Goethe-Institut (image by Kutlwano
The exhibition, curated by Anne Graupner of 2610
south Architects, contained drawings, maps, text,
a graphic narrative, models, student proposals as
well as four films depicting the views of STUDENTS,
TEACHERS. Connecting a multiplicity of insights and
opinions across the divide of an unequal society was
an important motivation in the curatorial strategy. The
exhibition became a site for community discussions as
well as media coverage.

Action Learning/practice-led research/

participative action research are terms
coined to describe the development of
new modes of teaching and learning
which combine theory and practice in
order to break out of the sometimes selfreferential corner academia and the profession has painted itself into. Academics
and professionals do not live or have to
survive in the marginalised contexts they
study, design for or regulate and the documentation of the course seeks to open up
a debate on potential alternative forms of
education and practice which may bridge
this divide.

Public Action

Fig. 15:
Re-settlement Proposal (excerpt from comic produced
by student Jaco Jonker)
The final splash page of comic (illustrating the entire
studio process) shows the resultant resettlement proposal (by 2610 south Architects & BOOM Architects).
This proposal was presented by evicted residents of
Marlboro South to the city.

Social Design

Social Design

Public Action

ova do Vapor is a small fishermen

community settled in the Almada
county. Situated opposite of Lisbon bank
side of river Tejo its historically much
more industrial with shipyard, freight
harbour and manufacturing, governed
since 1974 by the Portuguese communist
party. Although the coast line is less developed with mainly worker or fishermen
settlements and small farms compared
to Cascais, Sintra and Belm, it is very
closed to the city of Lisboa, in fact the
land is under high economic pressure
and the coast of Caparica touristically
considered and interesting for promoters, investors and tourism industry.
Settled in an area of high erosion on
river Tejo estuary, since the first construc-

tions in 1940 some of the houses erected

on the sandbanks of the river had to be
moved back several times to gain more
stable ground, but suddenly localized on
communal or even private owned land.
Due to the evolution and needs of extension or adaptation each house looks differently and showing very well the sense
of form and creativity of the house owners, who are themselves the constructers,
merely getting help from the neighbors.
The common, informal architecture
in Cova is a conclusion to the absence of
a legal and officially guilty cadastral map
and urbanists rules, which would lead to
the permission for a residential usage.
With the declaration to a natural protected area partly where the settlement

moved to, now its not allowed to build

anything on itnot even for the private
proprietor. Which is in a sense a protection for the already existing constructions
as building permission for investor projects shouldnt be given in this area. The
instance of this irregular status of double
illegality led to a good working, self-organized structure, and social conscience in
the community. The Associao de Moradores da Cova do Vapor not only organizes different activities in benefit of the
local community equally as it fills the lack
of municipality presence and take responsibility for the evolution of a good working infrastructure: as water and electricity
system as well as the paving of the main
road or drain water systems.

Public Action


While the constructLab took place in

May, free of charge and one day long educational workshops, planned in a synergetic manner to be accorded to the construction-process for kids and grown ups
started to develop activity. And also the
portuguese section of urban sketchers followed the building activities with drawing
sessions. These local and shared knowledge oriented workshops will be ongoing,
also longer stay residency will be in place
from July throughout the summer, bringing international artists and researchers,
who can stay for periods of two or three
weeks, living in the Casa do Vapor, working in this unique situation and making it
a relevant place to meet and share.
According to the almost zero budget
situation, lots of difficulties to get the
wood transported and the search for adequate and appropriate tools and materials sponsors, the working process took
much longer than expected. A fact that
might not be desirable on a common
building lothowever in this case it lead
to a slow and intense initiation for the
project. This fact led the inhabitants of
Cova not only the time to engage, but as
they also could feel the lack of financial
support they could even teach the collective ways to deal with this situation!
That brought a sense of responsibility,
appropriation and identification with the
project. The Casa do Vapor is almost only
financially supported by its inhabitants
and guests!
Casa do Vapor seeks to provide a
large bandwidth of activities and through
its actors and visitors creates a good working synergy. With its diversity of attractions it acts above all as a local Forum for
political discussions and questions about
public space and common goods. For the
community its the incubator of ideas,
gives new possibilities to the local development and brings together the different
groups who are either living the site or
visiting the area: fishers, residents, politics, tourists, and many more from near
and far, it gives a place and a strength to
the people to start an open dialogue for
a possible future of this not existing
place. Although the structure itself is conceived as a temporary project, the Casa do
Vapor will develop and be transformed. It
strives to bring all its initiated activities
gain sustainability and be permanently
embedded in the local territory.

Filipe Borges de Macedo. Out of the box. A
arquitectura participativa de Filipe Balestra.
Lisboa, FAUTL, Setembro, 2011, pp. 15 25


Public Action

Social Design
Public Action

the village to be officially registered in the

cadastral map.
TISA is planned as a social instrument
for collective evolution that helps architects to develop solutions in an informal environment and let non-architects
enhance their ideas with a little more
expertise. One of their focuses is to get a
better basis to the community where they
intervene and to find well working solutions with the help of the residents.) 2
During summer 2012 while the Curators Lab in Guimares was active, the
exyzt collective met people who were seeking to generate and self initiate a community based project in the village of Cova
do Vapor, a process of team building and
project self-management began, based
on the construir juntos team experience,
improved and extended by people from
Lisbon and the idea of Casa do Vapor
came up during a first site-visit guided by
one of the core team members, living in
Cova do Vapor. Through this local connection and the previously done work of TISA,
the people in Cova were already a lot more
open to temporary intervention ideas and
the contact to the local community was
quite easy to achieve.
The Casa do Vapor is an extension of
the local association area and works as a
collectively shared space with an emphasis on creativity, activity, and local production. It is placed on an empty triangle of
sand between the village and the beach.
Composed by different small wooden
structures and linked to an already existing open square used for many public activities and sports. An abandoned, but in
the past with the water-system connected
house Casa curva will now serve as location for the public usable toilets and
showers units near to the beach which will
stay as permanent public facility for the
community. The two new wooden buildings for Casa do Vapor are situated along a
small wall, which divides the association
open space from the beach. In-between
a small open-air stage was placed. It also
serves as a step to access and connect the
square on the other side of the wall. These
small wooden edifices take inspiration by
the appearance of local buildings.
One contains a little public library, a
bicycle workshop run by Rui, a boy from
Cova do Vapor and a multi activity common space with a terrace on its roof. The
second one, closer to the little existing
associations building, provides an apertured kitchen Cozinha do Vapor that in
its daily mode shall follow a low-budget
concept and works together with the local
restaurant, local producers and food markets. The kitchens concept won a price in
the Crisis buster for the Trienal in Lisbon 2013.

Social Design


Temporary actions and participative

building projects work as new forms of
architectural interventions, that often
open a social process while transforming
the public space into a stage, or at least
a better working common groundfor
residents and visitors. 1
This conversion gets interesting in the
moment it doesnt only take place in one
situation, but also connects the actors,
locations and ideas to each other. Like
it worked in the case of Guimares (Portugal), the European Capital of Culture
2012, where a scenography for the Curators Lab has been collaboratively built
with exyzt and students from local universities. In exyzt collective people of different nations work together under the same
principles of sharing knowledge, abilities
and interests. It is a platform for multidisciplinary creation and the realization
of projects in which cultural and social
behaviors and shared ideas and innovation mix and elaborate in a mostly temporary conceived and collectively build
up common space. Several initiatives are
composing exyzt working forces, among
is the constructLab, where people come
together to build. One main idea is to let
the construction-process be a meeting
and communication moment to activate
a project and give initial input before the
actual public opening of an installation
or scenography. So far the concept phase
and the activity phase of a project strives
to be connected by the building period,
not only by the constructing of the physical space but also by the building of a
context and situation related dynamic of
The Construir Juntos project in Guimares was a first intervention of exyzt
in Portugal, building up a team of almost
50 interested people who shared together
a one month long collaborative building
experience. As the project was conceived
in a way that almost 100% of the wood
material would be re-usable, the team afterwards organized the transport through
the country to be the core structure of
Casa do Vapor and to proceed the idea
of the primal project in bothmaterial
and notion.
Casa do Vapor [steam house] is
embed in Cova do Vapor on the Atlantic
ocean coast. The small settlement Cova
do Vapor have been already served as research field and place for an architectural
project in 2011, when TISAthe informal
school of architecture took place, mapped
the whole village and built a model of it.
This work was done with a group of students and pupils from the local area and
gave a tool for the inhabitants to initiate a
process of legalization of their houses and
shelters. It helped half of the buildings of

Social Design

Social Design

Interview with Marco Clausen by Kito Nedo



Public Action

nd of September 2012: a late-summery autumn day at Moritzplatz in

Berlin-Kreuzberg. Just a few years ago,
this place was a wasteland, a roundabout
with discount markets in an urban no
mans land. Then, in 2009, the Prinzessinnengarten sprouted on an urban
brownfield and everything was different.
The city has decided to sell the Prinzessinnengarten plot to the highest bidder,
causing a big stir not only in the neighborhood. An open letter was circulated on the
Internet and was signed by over 30,000
people in the first weeks. Kito Nedo met
in the autumn of 2012 with Prinzessinnengarten co-founder Marco Clausen in
a small grove of robinias, to talk about
the Berlin garden whose name has spread
to Shanghai and New York, and why its
worth fighting for its preservation right

Mr. Clausen, since 2009 you and your colleagues have

operated an open urban garden initiative at Moritzplatz in
Berlin-Kreuzberg. At the end of August 2012, you started a
petition to save the gardenwhy?

We learned that this cityowned plot is to be sold by the Property

Fund to investors from the creative industry in the near future. Due to the short
sales period, we had to assume that we
have no viable future here. Based on this
situation, we have written an open letter,
in which we refer to the already precari-

ous conditions of the gardenbut also

what this garden has already achieved for
the district and the city as a whole. We
emphasize the need to create long-term
planning perspectives for this and other
places of neighborly involvement.

Is it just about the Prinzessinnengarten?


The many responses to our letter not

only show the popularity of the Prinzessinnengarten, but also that many people
in Berlin currently asking, generally: How
can we ensure that we still have what the
Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, once
called the beautiful and wild Berlin in
ten years time?
That means: How can we establish
open spaces for this type of social commitment, for new forms of urban life
together, in the long term? How can we
protect such places of collective producing, of exchange, of learning and shaping
the city?

Originally you founded your urban farming project here on

a 6,000-square-meter brownfield as a mobile operation:
with transport logistics and movable raised beds. Why do
you suddenly want to stay at Moritzplatz?

We do not necessarily want to remain

here forever. That is not our core demand.
When we started the Prinzessinnengarten
in 2009, almost no one believed that it
could work. Urban agriculture was not a
topic at the time. It wasnt only a few who

told us: nice idea, but actually complete

nonsense. It was only through our work
here that we realized what it means to be
a pioneeryou dont really know what
youre getting yourself into. So we ourselves were surprised by the success of


In what respect?

This success is not only measured in

the thousands of visitors who come here
or in the hundreds of volunteers. Success
is also reflected in the feedback we get,
particularly from the field of alternative
urban development and urban studies. In
the meantime, we have been represented
in many exhibitions. In dealing with many
different partners, we have sensed the
potential that lies in the Prinzessinnengarten when contemplating tomorrows

What do you mean?


It comes down to the question of

how to support the social context in our
neighborhoodhow to care for a specific
mixture and for exchange, and how to
establish new forms of education. These
are important fields of experimentation.
Another question is: How can you prepare
the city for the upcoming changes, which
we know will come, but we dont yet know
what the consequences will be, or how
we will react to them? Among these are

Public Action


neighborhood as an opportunity. Therefore, we demand citizen participation, not

only formally, but as a serious discourse
with the local people, their needs, their


The symbolic pat on the shoulder is

not lacking. The value of the garden and
the international reputation, which reflects on Berlin, is unquestioned. We are
displayed in the brochures of the City
Council when they talk about the sustainable use of green spaces. The city uses us
to promote itself on tourism sites on the
Internet. The question that arises is: how
can this be converted into long-term planning security for us?
We are not alone with this problem
just think of the Allmende-Kontor, a large
communal garden on the Tempelhof airfield. We have to get past a pure image
policy, and understand projects like the
Prinzessinnengarten, which successfully
explores new possibilities, as part of urban planning.
such issues as climate change, scarcity of
resources, the increasing cost of oil, demographic change, social displacement,
such as in access to housing, access to adequate health care, and education. Thats
why were no longer talking about temporary use, but of pioneer use.

What is pioneer use?

MC: Were sitting here in this grove of robi-

Public Action

nias: this is so-called pioneer vegetation.

It is characterized by the ability to grow
on very barren ground and get by with a
little, thus creating the conditions for
something that will follow. We say: an urban garden like the Prinzessinnengarten
is something like a pioneer use, because
it shows what is possible in such places.
It also shows what kind of social needs
exist, which may not have been perceived
so clearly before. Such a place can open
paths for a certain way of thinking about
the city.
The potential that we have developed
here should not simply be covered up with
concrete. We even should really ask how
this development can be taken up in a way
that continues to support what has been
achieved here. For us, such a development
should include, for example, a very strong
neighborhood-oriented approachthat
you cant continue to tear apart the social
context here, but must instead try to understand and engage the diversity of the


What could enable this shift in policy in Berlin?

MC: There is a general lack of interfaces be-

tween grass-roots initiatives and the administration. Theres actually no means

of communication. We do not talk to each
other, because that is not intendedthat
people take part in developing their own
city. There is a certain fear that people
will just do things themselves: which is
effectively unregulated, uncontrolled and
not standardized or professionally approved. This has to change, because we
know that cities, especially when they are
broke, tend to go in completely the wrong
direction. The land on which a functioning project works is simply to be sold off.
Thats how to lose the options for shaping the city in the long-term. If you want
to retain such options in the face of tight
budgets, however, you have to include the
people who are active in the city. It is the
job of politicians to find instruments for
this. With the Prinzessinnengarten, there
is now the chance to try it out.

Recently, the Berlin Senate announced a new approach to

property policy. Now the sale of city land should not merely
go to the highest bidder, but urban policy objectives are to
be taken into account. How do you assess such announcements?

Here, the policy did not moveit was

moved. Decisive for the present willingness for discussion was the initiative from
people in the most different of positions,

who said: What you are doing here is selling out the cityand we urgently need
to change that. Whether the planned
transparent property policy actually
means a departure from pure budgetary
policy in urban development will have
to be demonstrated through its concrete
implementation. These are still merely

What do you demand?


A demand of many initiatives is that

the people who are actively committed locally must be involved in the allocation of
land. As a first step, there is a round table
on property policy with representatives
from civil society and politics. There must
be an instrument for future exchange and
cooperation, with clear rules. Currently,
only the short-term financial needs of the

city are the decisive factor in what will

eventually lead to enormous costs in the
long run. To tear apart the social context
of a cityto have no green space, no more
places for education: such developments
will be cost much more in future, for the
city as a whole, than the revenue received
in the short term for the sale of property.
There are people who say that the revenue
from the sale of city land only just covers
the cost of interest. In other words: in ten
years time, having sold off 5,500 plots of
land, theres not a penny less debt, yet
only a few spaces which can be decided
over democratically.
First published in German in Art, Das Kunstmagazin:

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design

In a short time, the Prinzessinnengarten has become

known and admired beyond the city. You have an average
of 50,000 visitors per year, you were invited to the project
at the Expo in Shanghai, a book has now been published by
a major art publisherthe politicians must surely appreciate you as an integrative model project?


Public Action

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design



Public Action

Public Action

Social Design

Social Design



We believe that architectures worth

is based not only in itself but in what it
produces, in its capacity to perform more
than in its capacity to represent and this
is why we think of a design that is defined
by what it does and not by its substance.
Inducing actions, happenings and relationships; this will allow us to develop
forms, patterns or open material organizations that act in the construction of
social actions, not as the application of
authoritarian functional schemes, but
rather as sponsors of new everyday rela-

strategy that permits changes, accidents

and exchanges, thought out more like a
method than as a permanent form and
that exist only by virtue of their ability to
In Colombian design, relationship to
landscape is a fundamental theme for its
variety and strong presence. More than architectonic objects, we see our designs as
landscapes themselves, related to the urban geography and topography in which
they are inserted; we aim at finding new
premises of organization to develop projects that favor a new natural contract.
We fold, tear, study the topography; We
perform operations that create architecture and landscape simultaneously, reformulating the relationships between background and figure, in a quest for alternate
ideas that will contribute to this new social contract, tuned into a landscape and
a natural order.
As an example of how we think an urban renewal should start, there is Bosque
de la Esperanza. In a site composed of


Public Action

tionships; an architecture that is capable

of generating new behaviors and relationships, encouraging people to act, mentally and physically, in ways they would have
never thought possible.
Our projects aim to be instruments
that generate spatial, social and environmental exchanges; an architecture based
on open and adaptive configurations; a
practice that operates in and amongst the
world of things.
This instrumentality isnt the product
of functional efficiency but rather a place
for intermediation between the projects
and the complexities of the actual world;
organizations that achieve new, diverse
and contradictory human activities within the same time and space frame.
More than a finished and closed architecture, we propose the development of
open and adaptive systems made of associative modules and patterns, capable of
adapting to the most diverse situations,
either topographic, urban or pragmatic.
This generates buildings with the capacity to grow, change and adapt according to
particular or temporary circumstances, a

small illegally-erected brick houses and

residual green areas, as a result of the
massive slopes which make the land unfavorable for construction. This setting
produces a monotonous and uniform city
weave devoid of landmarks or referential
city elements. Our aim was for the canopy
to stand out in the city as a landscape element and an icon. Starting out from the
idea of geography-landscape-forest as an
element of hierarchy and architecture as
a texture, the project stages an urban set
whilst working with the existing tension.
As it is visible from most of the context,
the project stands as a symbol, helping its
inhabitants to identify their sector and
build a deeper sense of belonging.
Additional to the construction of an
iconic landmark clearly distinguishable,
the aim was to develop a structure in
which the interior would transport the
user into another realm without violence
and poverty through its warm and healthy
Bosque de la Esperanza is a sports center in the outskirts of Bogot where the
community can practice several sports


Public Action


owadays, societies face the challenge

of how to adjust their living conditions so to keep on inhabiting todays not
humanized cities and the world. Therefore, the question on how improve peoples interaction and community action
keeps coming to peoples minds, seeking
for options on how to achieve more sustainable and equal ways of living.
Cities keep on growing to accommodate the constantly increasing population, but the speed of the demand is not
the same as the velocity of the urban
change, therefore the process results in
the appearance of slums and the deterioration of their natural surroundings.
Along with these existing conditions
there is a community with deep social
conflicts, lack of infrastructure and very
little opportunity to evolve. This is a situation that affects the urban settlements
as they expand, but also has an impact
on the rural ground as migration takes
place. Countries keep being transformed
from agrarian to urban expansions, the
land that was previously lived in, is now
being industrially exploited. These are
situations that can be found around the
world. It is interesting to see how from
different perspectives, be them political, urban planning, cultural programs,
to a building, society responds to these
Social inequality and urban conflicts
have been targeted by several strategies
that go from the policies, whether they are
urban, social or cultural onto the architecture itself as the face of the transformations. Traditional approaches have long
been applied, but contemporary exercises show how the attention and involvement of the community is needed for the
transformation to take place. Currently
the process involves all the varied scales,
from the regional to the architectural
one, the idea is to integrate them all so to
get the best result. It has previously been
proved that only applying one of those
ideas is not enough to obtain the welfare
required. As it has been understood that
the realms are not independent but have
tight relationships.
We, at El Equipo de Mazzanti, as a design team, have always been concerned
about working in areas of conflict and
urban peripheries, because we believe
that architecture and material practices
are powerful mechanisms of social inclusion and transformation. Our goal is not
only to improve living conditions and social well being in complicated areas, but
also to restore the sense of pride to the
communities and to help create financial
competitiveness in deteriorated environments as response to the contemporary
dynamics we are living in.

Social Design

Social Design

Social Design

Social Design

made to apply the capacity of the design to

activate events can be multiplied.
Experimenting with designs or programs and setting them up in abnormally
contradictions, can allow the fostering of
new forms of behavior. From the creation
and scheduling of community activities
to dialogue, to learn and to leisure, such
as playing or sightseeing within a library,
swimming in a laboratory and developing

ways to be used. As the people made it

their own by perceiving it and taking ownership of it, the structure is sometimes a
sports field or a church, there can be kids
playing or a concert is being performed,
the canopy is now the school event center
and tomorrow a bazaar.
At the end, the nature of public design
is for it not to be empty, the value of this
only exists if it is occupied, used or filled.
Only new ways of occupation not necessarily regulated by the state can seek new
forms of use from the common or community; opening doors for more participatory public spaces.
As designers, we must work in more
democratic horizontal ways, where residents can build concerted and common
action with planners and architects, this
project allows more space in line with the
current requirements for citizen participation; for example: how to develop productive public space for poor communities that surround them without actually
privatizing them? In this way, could the
promotion of urban agricultures in public spaces, such as green areas, as means
of social inclusion, generate new forms of
common use and experiment with democratic expression in neighborhoods and
public spaces? Could a common space
generate forms of education and dialogue
amongst a community?



private food production activities in public spaces. We used actions in contradiction to foster new relationships between
users and the place, for this review we
were concerned with the value of condition; indeterminate, unfinished, empty,
unused, etc.
In our Canopy, the model designed
was able to propitiate different kind of


n a time of accelerated globalization

and rapid changes in our environment,
where neighbourhoods become sites of
contestation, where different conditions
of power are inscribed, where everything
seemed to be locked up by over-regulation and populist images prevail, people
are increasingly feeling de-invested and
excluded from their own daily environment. There is a serious disconnection
between ordinary people and governmentality. Taken together, these things
call into question traditional methods
of artistic interventions in the city. Today
there is an urgent need for us (artists and
our co-producers) to re-engage and witness to the invisible vectors of power that
shape the territory and the faculty of pub-

licness, to reorganize systems of urban

interaction and to challenge the political
and economic frameworks.
The question is are we capable of creating a place and associated capacities for
public facultya public domainwhere
we can research, debate, face up to the
confrontation, and address one another
as co-producers of the city? Can we make
this area of tension visible and develop instruments to enable intervention in that
area. In order to create models that allow
for people to become participants in the
process of visualizing the dynamics, complexity and diversity of the city they live in
and collectively develop a narrative about
the city in which everyone has a place?
Can alliances between politics and art, be

imagined, tested, and based in practices

that establish narratives for a democratic,
post-national, inclusive society?1 I often
refer to forms of urban acupuncture (hit
and run tactics) that will allow the sensitive places in our society to emerge and
blocked relational energies to flow again.
Developing instruments that enable people to fill in this place and deepen, sharpen or question that narrative. So they can
face their world in progress (not as consumers but as creators) and become actors in their own surrounding, being able
to act up, to be an active citizen.
It seems to me that is really important to ask how an engaged practice can
address and mobilize the existing local
physical and socio-cultural capital and

Public Action

Public Action
and take part of different recreational and
academic activities that lead to a cooperative and inclusive community.
The other reflection here was wondering what the role of the common space is
as public scenario of diversity in the construction of the world today. Strategies
such as the design of programs, protocols, use and exchange are basic concepts

Hope Forest consists of a 1,744 m2 horizontal surface and a 700 m2 spatial structure,
which acts as a structural bunch of trees. The
dimensions of the canopy are approximately
22.7 30.8 m, with a perimeter of 138,198 m.
Each of the modules is a polyhedron of 12 surfaces which multiply to form the canopy. The
structural canopy functions as a beam plane,
supported over the two axes of the columns.
Materials used are expanded mesh, round metal
pipe, and translucent tile.
This project was made possible thanks to the
foundation Pies Descalzos founded by the
well known singer Shakira and the Spanish
ONG Ayuda en Accin.
Client: Piez Descalzos Fundation
Project year: 2010
Design development time: 3 months
Construction year: 2011
Build area: 800 sqm
Cost per sqm: 700,000 COP
As our main interest is what the architecture
can produce, part of our design process is to
learn from what happens with our projects after
they are built and used. For that we have done a
series of documentaries where the inhabitants can express what they think and how the
project has changed their environments.

Public Action

The key concepts underlying an engaged practice are in my opinion acting,

meeting, learning, confronting,
and communicating but these are all
activities that demand mutual responsibility. Rick Lowe, who has taught me a lot
in this area once explained to me I began
to learn to shift from creation in splendid
isolation to collaboration, when I became
part of the audience myself. For this I had
to develop the ability To listen on how
to interject or intervene with my own creative energy.
To intervene in such a way that the people who are participating can increase the
number and intensity of their ties, may
seem a simple act to perform. However
during the course of my practice, I have
learned how difficult it can be to create
in collaboration with a community you
are addressing and to be dependent upon
the communitys continued involvement
for sustainability. It also involved all of us
learning together how to take collective
responsibility to make the information
gathered work significantly in the social
and political context too. These processes
are always long and sometimes painful, as
we have to learn about each others ideas
and different viewpoints. This is a process
of collective learning about how to unlease the potential of people to engaging
with different creative energies for collective action in order to become a shaping
force in our immediate environment.

What Did I Learn

(A Few Notes on
Some Projects)
So what did I learn from different communities? While there is a growing faith
in the potential of greater community
participation to develop models and instruments for city-building, it is too often blind to the naivety of the notion of
transformation based on harmonious togetherness. It seems to me that offering a

The Resistance of Small Happiness, reclaiming a public position, Werthacker, 2010-2011

It Runs in the Neighbourhood, a soap series written, acted, and filmed by hospital staff addressing the ethical
dilemmas of the hospital, Stavanger, 2008 2009

menu of choices is just the last convulsion

of the idea of supply-side transformability
that still treats the citizen as a consumer.
To enable the individual or the community their right to participate in building
the city means more than merely presenting them with a few choices and allowing
them to communicate through public
consultative channels, demonstrations or
standard procedures. In fact it is precisely
these conditionsthe notions of how we
wish to and are able to live togetherthat
we should be able to question again and
again within this process. It is exactly here
where people teach me what it takes to become active citizens.

they raised the necessary amount of money to do the building work. I learned that
the program of action (a offline form of
crowd funding) and multipliers of images
which make up the work, made it possible
for a community to maintain itself in its
own indetermination and at the same
time, to multiply its links with a outside
world that it continually approaches.

Face Your World

In an intense process of more than a
year, youngsters worked hard to rewrite
the brief and with that the design of their
neighbourhood park. While the City
Council wanted it to be a quite green zone,
the young people went to look for what the
community really needed and introduced
the concept of Active Green. Green
that allowed for a lot of activities such as
sports, play, and gathering for different
generations and groups. Trough their
production of different viewpoints they
argued for the communities need. This
might have taken a long intense time but
it generated enough friction to change the
political process in the end. Finallyfive
years latertheir new park was opened.
The local Health and Sports Counsellor
took this opportunity to launch his campaign to fight obesities and praised the

park because of its contribution towards

Samia, one of the pupils, whispered in
the background Sure like we didnt know
what the community really needed. I
learned that when a community starts
to articulate its own voice and aesthetic
and begins to self-organise, it quickly
becomes apparent that they know what
they really want and need. And that in facilitating this process we might be able to
pass on tools to reshape their world-inprogress.

Ruhr 2010
By working with a small community
living in the middle of one of the largest
motorway intersections in the Industrial
Ruhr area in Germany I learned a lot about
the way in which small happiness can
be a resistance force. In a time where the
Ruhr area wanted to put itself on the map
as a creative Metropole, they effectively
fought to retake an empty church to create
a community centre within. Together, we
created a large table (at which it was possible to seat the whole village) to serve both
as a council table, a beer garden and most
of all as a place to publicize their ongoing
fight to be recognized as a viable community and to be taken serious for that. We
are the Ruhrgebiet. We are people open
to the world and determined to act in solidarity. We are the heartland of Europe par
excellence. You have to take us in account
while dreaming up a new Metropole.
While at the same time, through selling
beer, coffee, cakes, marmalade, and socks

Stavanger University
The same counted for the employees of
one of the largest university hospitals in
Norway. They used the opportunity to be
part of the public art project Neighbourhood Secrets, in order to tell their own
narrative on the ethical and moral dilemmas they face every day, but which have no
place in the official information the hospital is supplying to the outside world.
After collecting stories from within the
Hospital, an Open Call for Actors (players) was made and over 80 people both
working as well as being patient in the
hospital showed up for audition. It took
two years to shoot (completely in house,
actors, camerawork, musical score, scene
locations) an hospital sitcom series episode. Imagine how difficult it is to have
seven volunteer actors play in a real time
operating hospital and at the same time
to shoot a scene. But all the actors/players always found a way to be there. When I
expressed my concern, that we might take
time away from more urgent matters, they
had to tell methat besides saving lives

the way in which the hospital performs

and to discuss the sensitive issues publicly is also important. So they told me to
just do my job and do it well.

The Afrikaander district was one of the
first in the Netherlands with a population
mostly of foreign origin. In the 1990s, the
Rotterdam City Council started a major
urban development scheme adjacent
to the area, and while one architectural
feature after another rose up around it,
with the slogan Clean, Whole, and Save
stricter regulation were put in place and
the economic activity in the Afrikaander
district itself died out. In order for the Afrikaander district to survive the expansion
of the creative cityand to thrive from
itFreehouse actively challenged this
new regulation imposed by the local government in doing over 300 interventions.
Freehouse helped to set up small-scale
skill based projects to regenerate the area
and its market, by improving products,
services, market interactions, and social
integration in order to retain its intimate
local character and cultural diversity. In
collaboration with residents, artisans,
artists, and designers new sustainable
infrastructures were different skills and
knowledge were combined were created
such as a neighbourhood workshop for
making and designing clothes, a communal kitchen area, a neighbourhood shop
selling local products and a small-scale
delivery service, which at present offering 40 jobs and various internships in the


This text formed part of Jeanne van Heeswijks

acceptance speech as she was awarded the
Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change in


In reference to Gottfried Wagner, The Art of Difference: From Europe as a cultural project to EU
policies for culture, 2011.
My own lesson from practices about the
contemporary state of the public domain is that
it will require nothing less than making private
public during this state of exception

Public Action

Social Design

Artist Practice

community. But more important by radicalizing local production people together

created a different image of success showing that a skill based city could be a viable
alternative to the creative city.
The money of this prize is also going
to the Freehouse project, as it is exactly
the amount we needed to establish a local
holding to ensure the duration and sustainability of the different cooperatives.
For my practice, becoming part of the
community and being part of the whole
process of change a neighborhood is undergoing, is key. Learning how at a deeper
level we can face todays broken circuitry
between people, culture and the political
process. To take collective responsibility, to learn from each other, to produce
change, and to understand how this can
work in a larger social political context as
well. Encouraging people to make in their
own territory an environment in which
they can create, produce, disseminate,
distribute, and have access to their own
cultural expressions. So that the energy
generated through people acting out in
their own environment will lead to a network of support, a critical reading of ones
own surroundings and an involvement in
the changes that take place. Finding ways
to re-set the public value of the arts, its
public faculty as a contributor to greater
solidarity. And for this you need to continuously go back, again and again to create
an understanding of public domain as a
shared space, a space that everyone can
contribute to and change.

Social Design


use it as the performative basis for a city

under development. It should provide a
platform for artist and non artist exchanges, for participation and real/ honest communication, that underpins a broadly
supported, inclusive and integral idea
about living together in the community,
as a condition or possibility for bringing
about changes, and preferably improvements, in social structures.2

What questions did we ask locals?

Actually, being two large Dutch guys,

the hat itself is the last thing to look out
of place.

I think that we are often perceived as a bit weird at first,

but mostly harmless. These two guys that come and want to
paint. It makes little sense, but hey. Oftentimes the projects
are very intense, and we spend a lot of time working and living within a community. Very quickly this creates a strong
bond of trust and friendship. Very often we have a lot of fun.
Most of what we have learned in life comes from the people
in the communities we lived in.


People often assume you become good at something by

knowing all about it. I think we got better at what we do by
realizing that one can never know how another community
functions. The less baggage you bring to a new project, the
easier it becomes to build a plan. We became better in basically asking everyone about everything. Not only did we
learn very fast how we should organize our plans, we also
build projects that are based on local thought patterns,
which means the projects themselves become local. Obviously this might create some other problems, especially in
the planning phase. What will you paint? a partner wants
to know often followed (sometimes preceded) by What
will it cost? We can only answer that we have no clue.
The project will kind of have to figure itself out, including
ambitions, dreams, possibilities. After several successes it
becomes easier to explain. As every project starts pretty
unclear, the work stays adventurous.

How do they see you?

What mistakes have we made?


A Self-Questioning Session


Public Action

remember an inaugural speech my father gave at the technical university in

Delft when I was about 17. At one point
the words knowledge is prejudice were
projected behind him on the screen in
the huge auditorium. Many times when
I think of my father, these words come
to mind. Please allow me to quote freely
from his original speech. When one
thinks one knows, one learns less. Knowledge and prejudice have in common with
most religions that they provide certainty.
Accepting uncertainty is for me an essential element of a scientific attitude. Science is communicating systematically
so that we can efficiently learn from the
experiences and insights of others.
Dre and I have worked together on the
Favela Painting project over the last eight
years or so. While living in Rio, we filled
many a paper tablecloth with plans and
sketches and wet rings from beer bottles
and glasses. During one of these sessions
one of us, I dont remember who, came up
with the word stupidtelligence. In the
same way that Knowledge is prejudice
stuck with me, stupidtelligence struck
us as a good encapsulation of our work
method then and still does. Be intelligent
about what you do, but dont try to outsmart anyone. Allow for stupid ideas and
stupid questions because often they turn
out to be quite intelligent. Favela Painting came to life as a result of one of those
what if questions. What if we would paint
the entire hill? What if they would paint it
with us? What if?
My father ended his speech by freely
quoting Robert Kennedy: Some men see
things as they are and say why. I Dream
of things as they never were and say why

Here are some questions which we

asked ourselves over the years while working on projects in Rio de Janeiro and Philadelphia.

Dre, what is the problem with painting houses blue?

Dre: An interesting case of being lost in color translation
happened in Rio during our very first painting, Boy With
Kite. As the walls were in bad shape, they had to be plastered. As we needed a blue base for our painting, we added
pigment to the chalk and made a bright blue wall. We loved
it, as it reminded us of the work of Florentijn Hofman, who
painted a row of houses in Rotterdam in a similar shade of
blue. Filled with the feeling of accomplishment, we had a
beer and looked at the scene, as the people who lived in
the houses returned from work. They were shocked to find
their houses painted blue, as that color represented police
stations and prisons. Little did we know, that was not the
best option in a community that was the stronghold of the
Comando Vermelho, one of Rios three drug gangs. Scared
they might shoot up the house, we quickly added some
of the design and other colors and peace returned to the
project site. A quick lesson that every place, every culture
looks at everything from a totally different perspective. It
did not say anything about this in the books on color theory.

When our Boy With Kite painting was shot in the head,
we wondered whether it was symbolic of the climate in Vila
Cruzeiro or if we should restore it, which we eventually did.

After one of the many shootouts that sometimes lasted

hours, between the police and drug gang took place, the
houses of the Boy With Kite mural were badly hit. The worst
being a bullet hole straight in the forehead of the kid. Pretty
horrible, as we had painted the kid to be a symbol for every
child in the community. O pipeiro morreu (the kiterunner
died) was heard all over Vila Cruzeiro and the once happy
symbol turned into a very grim one, showing one of the
worst horrors of the situation in Rios favelas where every
year countless children are hit by stray bullets. Most of the
time these casualties never make the newsor worse
the paper will read seven gangsters died or similar. While

looking at the damage, we thought about repairs, could we

just patch it up? Someone suggested a giant band aid as a
temporary fix. Our friends back home in Holland all thought
we should leave it alone. It was part of the artwork now.
Interesting thought is that, from a western standpoint, this
somehow seems to make some sense, but once standing in
front of the artwork, one realizes that it doesnt. The painting was intended to be a source of happiness, something
positive. We decided to completely repaint it, as the many
bullet holes and years of weather and sun had taken a
heavy toll on the mural. We returned with a teammate from
Philly, financed by a donation from Amsterdam. Using new
techniques, we traced the intricate parts of the design on
parachute cloth, then completely resurfaced the wall and
placed the design back using a special paste, smuggled in in
our luggage. A sort of artistic bypass surgery, that took only
a week to restore what had taken several months to paint
What did we think we know, which ended up being useless knowledge?

After we had worked for several years in Vila Cruzeiro while there was a war going on between the Comando
Vermelho and the police, we felt we had a decent understanding the dynamics of such a perilous environment.
What you can do, but mostly what you shouldnt do. Who
can you approach and what can you ask or say. What things
shouldnt you talk about at all. When is it OK to go out in
the street and when isnt it. In most cases, when violence
erupted you would know by the fireworks exploding at one
of the entrances of the favela. You could go inside and wait
out the few hours of gunbattle.

We then moved to Philadelphia where

we conscious that we werent moving into
an easy going type of neighborhood. You
could immediately tell, but it paled in
comparison to Vila Cruzeiro. Having been
there for a few months it became clear to
us that the kind of threats that people live
with in North Philadelphia are in many
ways similar to Vila Cruzeiro but at the
same time the dynamics are drastically

What is our position working in an area of violent


To work in and with a specific community, means working extremely close with locals and emotionally becoming
very close to the community. One automatically positions
oneself within their community and therefore adapts to
their standpoint. Obviously we have no ambition whatsoever to be in any way involved in any conflict. We are both
pretty pacifistic and tend to avoid any physical fights. In
places like Rio and Philadelphia, where the local inhabitants tend to fall victim of systematic oppression, it is hard
not to become very critical towards the local governing
forces. In Brazil, invading police forces would shoot at
anything that moves, including painters. In Philadelphia
our community members were systematically arrested and
incarcerated . The key is to try to balance between neutral
and loyal, while also trying to stay safe. The biggest problem is the realization that one is putting a large burden of
trouble on ones family and loved ones back home.


Can what you wear influence how people will see you?

In many ways, clothing and image play a role in our work.

One example is our funny hat theory. In a situation where
people rely on instinctive perception to decide whether to
trust, talk, rob, work with or whatever, sometimes a small
visual intervention can play a large role. Wearing a funny
hator a weird shirt, large tattoo or whateveris unexpected and therefore you will not fall within any presumption. Very often this split second is enough to start building

I think one of the main mistakes we keep making is

coupled with one of our strengths and has to do with
trust. It is important to instill trust in the people around
you. Sometimes just simple trust like not being taken advantage of. Other times you trust someones decisions in a
life threatening situation. Very often you also put trust in
people that want to help with their time or money. To trust
that their intentions and ambitions are the same as ours
has very often backfired. When their assistance is needed,
they are either too busy or there isnt any money to help. If
you have an ambition or dream, its important to realize that
all dreams are personal and you can never expect someone
else to put in the same effort to make it come true without
them catering to their own ambitions.


What are the dangers of working with sponsors?

Working with sponsors can be great if everything is done

right and both parties are catered for. We have had great
success thinking up creative co-operations, made films
and even our own line of sneakers, together with a Dutch
shoe company. However, if ambitions dont match and a
company is just trying to sell more product and not willing
to really understand the project, sponsorship can actually
be very harmful. These are interesting times, where companies are looking for intelligent ways to fulfill their social
responsibility, at the same time a place like Rio de Janeiro,
in anticipation of World Cup and the Olympics becomes a
battlefield for commercial visibility. To paint someones
home as a social art project is very different than using it
as a canvas to broadcast a commercial message.

Why would you rather have post traumatic stress syndrome over a regular job?

It is true that versions of stories people in Vila

Cruzeiro told me replayed themselves for a long time in
my Dreams as if they were happening to me. I never saw
anyone actually get shot but the sensation of being in the
line of fire, hearing bullets fly past you, or the fear that bullets could fly right through the walls of the hollow brick
house where you are sitting with a whole family watching
TV, waiting for the shooting to stop, is not a sensation you
can easily forget. Why would we choose to go through this?
There are so many stories I could tell about all the
amazing people we met, all the good times we had. I think
Dre and I both feed off these things and value all the experiences we are so thankful for, including the bad ones.

To be able to step in the midst of others whose lives are

so drastically different from yours is very valuable to me.
Could you go to school for this? Can what youre doing
be replicated academically?

With every project we do, this is one of

our greatest difficulties. We are often asked
what we are contributing to the lives of
those working with us. We can answer that
by saying they earn money while actively
enriching and improving their surroundings. Or talk about having the opportunity
to work in the arts etc. All things we believe
the project actually does. At the same time
the larger question that looms above our
heads is what can we do better?. How
can we continue to contribute even after
the project ends and we leave? We are constantly thinking about this. The project
could be a gateway for so many forms of
education and training. From becoming a
professional painter, to art class to film and
photography or even writing business plans
for say starting your own daycare center. All
these things could somehow be plugged
into the project and we plan to do so in our
next project which will be of a large enough
scale to start including these things.

As great as it is to make a new place your own, isnt it

hard to leave? How often can you commit to a new home
in one life?

There is a downside to this way of life. Over the years

we have made many friends in the different places where
we have worked. Some are definitely friends for life, especially since we went through so many intense situations
together. Keeping in touch with these friends as much as
I would like is difficult so I feel a constant pressure to go
back. In a way this is good because going back is the only
way you can see what has happened to the people and
places where you have worked. Like I said before if you
want to know what the effect of your project is, the only
way to know is to go there and ask people.



Haas&Hahn are growing older. You have a child, mine is

on its way. Does that change your lifestyle regarding work?

When we first started we had a great technique for

making plans. Just book a ticket. That is your deadline. Be
ready to go and just go. We needed this freedom to come up
with the ideas and actually go do them. There was nothing to
tie us down. Now of course things are different. I am based in
Rotterdam so I can spend as much time as possible with my
daughter and whenever I travel, things have to be arranged
and organised around that. At the same time we have become more structured in our way of working because we
are doing way more things at a time than we used to, running several projects at the same time while raising funds
to reach our ultimate goal. To paint a whole hillside favela.

Ultimately, I think we have become

more professional and efficient. Having
a child forces your mind into a perpetual
state of optimism that I am very thankful
for. It helps me Dream about what we can
achieve in the future.

Public Action


a different relationship.

Social Design

different. The randomness with which violence can erupt anytime on any corner or
street, possibly directed at someone you
are talking to or friends with. This fosters
an environment where youre constantly
very alert and dependent on the people
around you to keep you informed of possible danger. The conflicts that take place
in such neighborhoods are often between
streets or even individuals, as opposed to
a whole neighborhood against the police
such as it was in Rio. The best thing to do
in both cases is to keep your ears to the
street and your mouth shut.


Social Design



Interview with Rick Lowe by Rixt Woudstra

Lets start at the beginning, how did Project Row Houses
come into being? Can you describe the situation when you
first came to Houstons Third Ward? And could you tell something about the Third Wards history as a neighborhood?

Public Action

After years of making work that

reflected the social and political conditions of working class communities, I was
challenged by a young visitor to my studio
to use my creativity to make real change
instead of just reflecting on societal problems. At that point I sought to find a way
of working that was reflective, symbolic,
and poetic, but at the same time had a
practical application. I decided to find a
community where I could explore creating such work.
The Third Ward seemed to be the most
interesting because of its history. It is a
historically African-American neighborhood just two miles southeast of downtown Houston, Texas. It was and still is
the hub for African-American culture with
longstanding institutions such as, parks,
schools, a hospital, and churches. It was
known for its music venues, musicians,
and the largest black professional class
in the city. Third Ward like most AfricanAmerican neighborhoods near the city
centers was neglected for decades. When

I first got involved with the neighborhood,

there was little investment in it. Now, it is
one of the hottest real estate markets in
the city.
Third Ward became a place where I
was able to reconnect with my AfricanAmerican heritage. I volunteered at one of
the communitys most respected community centers where I helped with community organizing, advocacy, and political
campaigns. In 1992, a group of community leaders invited me to join them on a
tour of dangerous buildings that needed
to be torn down. I attended the tour and
saw the site that they called the worst in
the neighborhood. That site happened to
have 22 shotgun style houses on it. While
I agreed it was the worst site on our tour,
but I felt there was something special
about this it. My intuition suggested that
this place would be an interesting site
to explore Josef Beuys concept of social
sculpture. I mentioned the site to a few
artists and everyone felt a connection to it,
so I set out to develop a conceptual framework for developing a project for the site
and community.

Instead of tearing the derelict shotgun shacks at Houstons

Third Ward down, you decided to preserve the buildings.


Even thought the little houses were

said to be the worst in the neighborhood,
even in their derelict state, there was
something beautiful about them. In the
process of exploring ways to engage the
site, I decided to inquire about the shotgun house architecture. For my first inquiry, I spoke with John Biggers, a Houston artist who made lots of work featuring
shotgun houses. He discovered a connection of the shotgun house architecture
to a West African style of building huts
with the front and back doors in line with
each other. He found that the architecture
style traveled to the United States via the
slave trade, from West Africa to the West
Indies into the Southern part of the U.S.,
mainly New Orleans. By the early 1800s,
the housing type could be found throughout the south because the alignment of
the doors helped ventilate houses in the
warm Southern climate. This is a signature element of the shotgun house design
that made it so popular. This historic
context became the foundation of for the
project that became Project Row Houses.

How did the project unfold since 1993?

Since its inception, Project Row Houses property has

grown from 22 houses to 40 properties, not only including artists spaces, but also new low-income housing. Why
did you make the decision to build new duplexes and what
makes Project Row Houses way of building different than
a housing development company?

The success we attained within the 22

houses made it possible to explore further development. When we decided that
we would try developing new houses, we
wanted to do it in a way that was symbolic
and poetic in addition to fulfilling the
need for housing. We thought that careful architectural consideration would provide a symbolic and poetic element to our
housing effort. In general, low-income
housing means bad design. We wanted
to carefully design our houses to carry the
life and history of the original shotgun
houses. We also wanted to use housing
development as a way of learning how
to connect design to the contemporary
lifestyle of low-income residents while
remaining connected to the traditional
design of the shotgun houses.

I see the main distinction between our

housing and other development companies is that our first priority is to design
and build houses to understand design
and the social context of housing, providing housing is secondary, and making money is a long third priority. Most
housing developers first priority is either
making money or providing housing.
Rarely do development companies have
understanding design and social context
of housing as a priority for their developments.

How was the project received in the area? Was there cooperation and communication from the beginning onwards?

First of all, when the project began, I

knew I wanted to do something that connected with the community, but I was not
experienced in doing socially and community engaged art. I was approaching
the start of the project as an activist doing an art project, not an artist doing a
community project. So I went to the community leaders I had volunteered with to
get their approval. When they did, I proceeded to develop the project with other
artists. It was the community that showed
me the value in connecting with them in
the process. First, children came into the
process by helping clean the site. Then


Representative Coleman and I have

discussed this issue a number of times.
We understand the desire for communitys to grow and change. However, the
negative impact of gentrification is its
propensity to wipe out existing communities and replace them with a new community. It has little regard for continuity.
So if a neighborhood like Third Ward is
predominately low-income with Black
residents, having new people come who
are upper-income and of different racial
groups move in can be seen as progress,
but if its done in a way that pushes all
the existing community out, the value
of history, legacies, and human value is
discarded. So we encourage new people
of diverse income and racial and ethnic
groups so long as they come in accepting
and connecting with the existing context
of the community.

Part of Project Row Houses is now also a program for young

mothers. How are they part of project and are they involved
in the artistic practice as well?

Our young mothers residential program is integral to our artist projects, education, and housing program. First, the
program challenges them to think of their
lives as sculptures. The daily choices they
make determine the level of beauty and
positive growth. So from the very outset,
they are connected to the artistic process
the week seek to employ in the broader
community. It is the young mothers who
set the stage for visiting artists. Artists im-



parents of many of the children came to
help. I realized during this process that
having children and parents around in
conversation with artists while we worked
together to clean up, they were a valuable
resource for creatively generating ideas
for what the project could become. So
community residents quickly became collaborators on the project.

In response to the rapid gentrification that took place in

Houstons Fourth Ward in the 1990s and 2000s, State Representative Garnet Coleman stated on the Third Ward that
we want to find people who will make this community [the
Third Ward, red.] better by becoming part of the fabric, not
by changing its fabric. Do you agree?

mediately get to know folks from the community who are available as a resource to
them in understanding our community.
They engage with the arts and education
programs in a number of ways from assisting artists to being featured in projects.

How did the project transform the community of the Third

Ward? In what ways?

It would be stretching the truth to say

that Project Row Houses has transformed
the Third Ward. In fact, that is not our
main goal. Our goal is to be catalysts for
changing the way people see the possibilities for Third Ward. Our goal is to
show people that Third Ward could have

Public Action


As I framed the concept of the project as an effort to preserve an unpopular

but important part of African-American
history, a group of artist, architects, educators, lawyers, historians, arts professionals, and residents join in to help with
various aspects of the project, such as,
the legal issues, deeper understanding
of the history and architecture, site clean
up and renovation, and artistic interventions with the site. Groups of volunteers
from the neighborhood and around the
city came together to clean and clear the
site to make it less dangerous. Some artists and architects began renovating one
of the houses to see if it was possible to
preserve them. Arts professionals sought
funding to support the renovation. Artists came up with ways to distinguish our
effort as an art project. We put together
exhibitions such as the Drive By Exhibition where the broader public who was
afraid to come to the neighborhood could
visit an exhibition on the site without leaving the safety of their cars. It was also one
of the first exhibitions held in the community for local residents.
Once we established the site as an art
project, we focused on other important
issues such as education by establishing
a mentoring program for youth that eventually turned into an after-school and
summer education program. To further
respond to the needs of the community,
we established a transitional housing
program for single mothers. These programs combined with our Artist Projects
program gave the project a holistic quality that dealt with all aspect of a vital community.

Social Design

Social Design


Social Design

ing up with creative solutions. I try not

to place myself above anyone else in ability to creatively come up with solutions
of societal problems. Im just fortunate
enough to be aware of the possibilities
of creativity because of my training as an
artist. Most people dont go through that
training therefore, many are not aware of
their own potential. So my task is to create
ways that opens up the creativity of folks
that we dont generally call artists.

Social Design

an identity of a cultural destination, that

the history could play a role in future of
the community, that it can be a place with
interesting architecture, that is can be
a place where people from different income levels and different racial and ethnic groups could come together. So in that
sense, weve transformed on some level
how people think about the neighborhood because of our efforts of bringing
artists into the community, preserving
and developing interesting architecture,
and highlighting the history of the neighborhood.

Do you see Project Row Houses as part of a larger, new

approach in art and architecture developing innovative
solutions for major social problems of our time?

Turning to the role of the artists; are most exhibitions related to matters that are an issue in the neighborhood? For
example, I had to think of the exhibiton Round 34: Matter of
Food of 2011, which touched upon the fact that Project Row
Houses is located in a so-called food desert.

You once said that Josph Beuys notion of social sculpture

was a source of inspiration for you. Could you elaborate
on this?

Public Action

As I mentioned earlier, Joseph Beuys

concept of social sculpture is the foundation on which I understand my work as
an artist. Thinking about our neighborhoods and communitys as material for
art has made it possible for me to engage
the Third Ward as a sculptural project. It
also provides a framework for expanding
the understanding of art for people in our
community. Our young mothers can see
the way they live their lives as art, seeing
the work that we do in shaping our community as art. This empowers an extended
group of people engage in aesthetic concerns daily.

Do you consider it your task as artist to come up with creative solutions for society at large?

No. I see my task at this point being to

offer conceptual frameworks that helps
others find their creative voice in com-




n October 2009, eight 10 year-old children from a small village named Lordi
Dejgara near Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India,
stopped sixteen child marriages.
In 2010, a few 11 year-old students
from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, U.S.A partnered with the local government to design
bicycling paths in their city to tackle obesity.
In 2011, five 13 year-old students from
Taipei, Taiwan revisited their culture and
taught the adults a heritage song that noone knew about.
There are thousands of such stories
from different cultures and countries.
The one thing that runs through all of
them is the power of children displayed
in the actions that changed their communities. Or in the words of Kiran Bir Sethi,
founder of Design For Change, The spirit
of I CAN.
DESIGN FOR CHANGE (DFC) is a global movement designed to give children an
opportunity to express their own ideas for
a better world and put them into action.

Initiated by Kiran Bir Sethi at the Riverside School, Ahmedabad in 2009, the
movement now reaches out to over 35
countries and 25 million children worldwide.
Kiran is a designer who became a teacher, a principal who grew into an education
reformer, an advocate who morphed into
a social entrepreneur. A trained graphic
designer from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, she comfortably uses
the language of designiteration, prototype, design specsto develop not only
curriculum innovation, but also community-based social programs.
After realizing the need for an education revolution and to provide for the
best education environment for her own
daughter, Kiran founded the Riverside
School in Ahmedabad, India in June 2001.
Riverside School is viewed as a laboratory
to prototype design processes that enable
exceptional teaching and transformative student participation, in Kirans exuberant vocabulary.

All curriculum development is custom, developed year-by-year, tested with

student feedback and then modified:
both processes and outcomes are captured on paper, documented for future
use and refined. The school has received
several national and international awards
and recognition.
It was here at Riverside, that one day
the idea for Design for Change struck Kiran over a phone call. It seemed absurd
that children have no opportunity to be
able to contribute to the change in the society. She immediately decided to partner
with the Joy of Giving week and launch
DFC, what was then called Design For
Giving as a contest seeking stories of
children putting their ideas for a better
community into action, in October 2009.
To make this happen, Kiran, with her
team, demystified the design process into
a simple framework of Feel, Imagine, Do
and Share (FIDS). She believed that this
was necessary for the children to engage
with the problems more closely and per-

Public Action


We try to keep the doors wide open for

artists to bring their highest level of creativity to our community. So most of the
time it is wide open. However, sometimes
if there is a particular issue we think it
might be interesting to address, we will
look for artists that we know have an interest in that given issue. The Matter of Food
round was a response to the communitys
continual dialogue about the lack of food
options in our community. But as I said,
the majority of the time we dont have a
particular focus so artists through their
own investigations can inform the organization of community issues that may have
not been our focus.

Yes. I see Project Row Houses as part

of a growing awareness of the role art and
architecture plays in building better communities, cities, and possibilities for individual growth. However, our approach
is not to impose art and architecture on
communities but to create situations
where individuals and communities can
see the value of art and architecture has
on the quality of their lives.


Public Action

parts of the world joined the movement

and initiated DFC in their own countries.
In just three years, DFC has managed
to spread to over 35 countries reaching
out to over 25 million children. It has also
won among many international mentions
and recognitions, the prestigious INDEX:
Design to Improve Life, Award 2011 and
the Rockefeller Foundation Innovation
Award 2012.
Ask Kiran about how this was made
possible; she says It was quite unexpected. The program is so flexible that anyone
can take part in it. Also all our design materials and toolkits are available on our
website for free, which makes it a free
idea for anyone and everyone. I think this
is why people have made it their own idea
and taken it up so easily and willingly.
Today, with toolkits in 10 Indian languages, Braille and several major international languages, DFC is one of the most
inclusive ideas of change.
The DFC website puts together thousands of stories of change
from all over the world and all the resources are free to download.
DFC has received over 8,000 thousand
stories from all parts of the world. These
stories have come from villages and cities,
public schools and private schools, from
several different cultural communities.

mented by the teachers for an entire academic year allowing the students to work
on more long-term solutions.
This year marks the beginning of the
5th year of Design for Change. There is
much energy amongst the team members and the participants due to the new
formats, a brand new website and most
importantly the very first Be The Change
Conference on September 28th 29th
2013, at NID, Ahmedabad leading to Mahatma Gandhis Birthday on October 2nd.
This year DFC calls for action to re-imagine Gandhi Jayanti as Be The Change
Day as a celebration of being good. Kiran says, Our schools often applaud the
fastest, the smartest, the tallest etc. but
never has been a childs goodness been
spotlighted. Through the BTC conference, we want to celebrate the goodness
that resides in every child and the ideas
of change that children all over the world
have very courageously implemented.
Student teams from all over the word
will fly down to Ahmedabad and share
there inspiring stories of change.
Maverick international designers,
young achievers and artistes will retell the
stories of courage and inspire students
with the I CAN spirit.
Eminent designers will also conduct
Design Thinking Workshops for students

and teachers to help them dwell deeper

into the process that changes the mindset
from CAN I? to I CAN.
In process of launching the DFC India
School Challenge 2013, DFC has already
started training teachers through various
schools and NGOs working with DFC.
Through the months of March to August, DFC will train over 10,000 school
teachers in India to implement Design for
Change in their classrooms.
This is a great step in empowering the
teachers with the necessary design tools
to empower the children with the I CAN
With all the remarkable success and
growth of DFC, the true thread of children
changing the world remains the focus of
the team and the partners.
Happy but not overwhelmed, Kiran
says, This is a beginning of a new world.
Soon we will see and believe that Every
Child Can!

ecently, growing global awareness

has led to increased calls for collective action to confront current and future
challenges, such as global warming, depletion of fossil fuels and other natural
resources, economic recession, population growth, housing and employment
crises, growing social and economic divides, and geopolitical conflict.2
These calls have been amplified in the
context of the current economic crisis
and, while governments and institutions
seem to be taking too long to reach agreement and to act, many initiatives have
started at the local level.3 These initiatives are nevertheless confronted with the

we have proposed the project to various

municipalities and to grassroots organizations in cities and towns. We conceived
it as a participative strategy based on local ecological cycles that activate material (e.g., water, energy, waste, and food)
and immaterial (e.g., local skill, socioeconomic, cultural, and self-building) flows
between key fields of activity (e.g., the
economy, habitation, and urban agriculture) that exist or are implemented within the existing fabric of the city. R-Urban
started in 2011 in Colombes, a suburban
town of 84,000 inhabitants near Paris,
in partnership with the local municipality and a number of organizations, and

the consumerist, car-dependent lifestyle

of more affluent suburbs with generally
middle-class populations. Nevertheless,
Colombes also has a number of advantages: despite its high unemployment (17%
of the workforce, well above the national
rate of 10.2% in 2012), Colombes has
many local organizations (i.e., approximately 450) and a very active civic life.
R-Urban, drawing strength from this
civic activity and from Colombess cultural and social diversity, started by launching several collective facilities, including
a recycling and reusing unit, cooperative
housing, and an urban agriculture hub,
that are working together to set up the


difficulty of changing current economic

and social models based on global-scale
economics, which are premised on increasing consumption and the exclusion
of those who cannot consume. How can
we support initiatives that oppose current
consumption Order ? How can we construct a more socially equitable economy?
How can we begin to act? What tools and
means can be used at times of crisis and
scarcity? How do we reactivate and sustain cultures of collaboration and sharing
in our current individualistic and competition-based society? How can progressive
practices be initiated while acting locally
and at a small scale?
These are some questions we asked
within R-Urban, a project initiated in
our research-based practice, atelier
darchitecture autogre (aaa), as a bottomup framework for resilient urban regeneration. After three years of research,

involving a range of local residents. The

project is intended to gradually create a
network around three pilot units, each
with complementary urban functions,
bringing together emerging citizen projects. This bottomup strategy explores
possibilities of enhancing the capacity for
urban resilience by introducing a network
of resident-run facilities.4
Colombes offers a typical suburban
context with a mix of individual and social housing estates. Suburbia is a key territory for R-Urban: although specific to a
modern conception of the city, suburbia
is today one of the most crucial territories
to be redeveloped and regenerated in the
interest of resilience. With its mix of individual and social housing estates, Colombes combines all kinds of suburban
problems, such as social and economic
deprivation and youth crime, typical of
large-scale dormitory suburbs and of

first spatial and ecological agencies in

the area. Their architecture showcases
the various issues they address, such as
local material recycling, local skills, energy production, and food growing. The
first three pilot facilitiesAgrocit, Recylab, and Ecohabare collectively run
and catalyze existing activities aiming to
introduce and disseminate resilient habits and lifestyles that residents can adopt
and practice at the individual and domestic levels, such as retrofitting dwellings to
accommodate food growing and energy
Agrocit is an agrocultural unit comprising an experimental micro-farm,
community gardens, pedagogical and cultural spaces, and a series of experimental
devices for compost heating, rainwater
collection, solar energy production, aquaponic gardening, and phyto-remediation.
Agrocit is a hybrid structure, with some

Public Action

Social Design

The students stories can be broadly put

into sixteen different categories including Social Issues, Inclusion, Infrastructure, Health and Nutrition, Education etc.
and the list is growing.
Design for Change is available for
teachers and students to be used in two
The Design for Change School Challenge is a one-week challenge that asks
children to identify anything that bothers
them and provide a solution to it. This is
the first step where children learn to say I
CAN instead of CAN I?
The other format is the DFC Citizenship Curriculum, which can be imple-

Social Design


sonally. The idea was to let children not

only to empathize but also to act on this
In the very first year, DFC reached out
to over 30,000 schools in India. Inspiring
stories of change led by children came
pouring in from all parts of the country.
For the very first time, not only did the
children say that they could but also their
parents believed in the power of I CAN.
In late 2009, Kiran was invited for a talk
at TED India in Mysore, India. She was a
star at the conference, where she movingly told stories of how she champions children. TED exploded the idea of DFC into
a different orbit. People from different


Public Action

components running as social enterprises (e.g. the micro-farm, market, and cafe)
and others being run by user organizations (e.g. the community garden, cultural space, and pedagogical space) and local
Recyclab is a recycling and eco-construction unit comprising several facilities for storing and reusing locally
salvaged materials, recycling and transforming them into eco-construction elements for self-building and retrofitting.
An associated fab lab5 has been set up
for resident use. Recyclab will function as
a social enterprise.
Ecohab is a cooperative eco-housing
project comprising a number of partially self-built and collectively managed
ecological dwellings, including several
shared facilities and schemes (e.g. food
growing, production spaces, energy and
water harvesting, and car sharing). The
seven dwellings will include two social
flats and a temporary residence unit for
students and researchers. Ecohab will be
run as a cooperative.
The R-Urban collective facilities will
grow in number and be managed by a cooperative land trust, which will acquire
space, facilitate development, and guarantee democratic governance.6
Networks and cycles of production
consumption will form between the collective facilities and the neighborhood,
closing chains of need and supply as locally as possible. To overcome the current
crisis, we must try, as French philosopher
Andr Gorz (2008) states, to produce
what we consume and consume what we
produce (p. 13).
R-Urban interprets this production
consumption chain broadly, going well
beyond material aspects to include the

cultural, cognitive, and affective dimensions. The project sets a precedent for the
participative retrofitting of metropolitan
suburbs, in which the relationship between the urban and the rural is reconsidered. It tries to demonstrate what citizens
can do if they change their working and
living habits to collectively address the
challenges of the future.
Resilience is a key term in the context of the current economic crisis and
resource scarcity. In contrast to sustainability, which focuses on maintaining the
status quo of a system by controlling the
balance between its inputs and outputs,
without necessarily addressing the factors of change and disequilibrium, resilience addresses how systems can adapt
and thrive in changing circumstances.
In contrast to sustainability, which
tends to focus on maintaining the environmental balance, resilience is adaptive
and transformative, inducing change that
offers huge potential to rethink assumptions and build new systems (Maguire &
Cartwright, 2008).
R-Urban is thus not about sustainable
development but about societal change
and political and cultural reinvention,
addressing issues of social inequality,
power, and cultural difference. A city can
only become resilient with the active involvement of its inhabitants. To stimulate
the democratic engagement of the largest
number of citizens, we need tools, knowledge, and places for testing new collective
practices and initiatives and for showcasing the results and benefits of a resilient
transformation of the city. In this, architects have a role to play. Rather than acting merely as building designers, they can
be initiators, negotiators, co-managers,
and enablers of processes and agencies.

R-Urban claims that urban sustainability is a civic right. In this sense, R-Urban creates the conditions for this right
to sustainability to be exercised not only
as a right to access and consume sustainability (provided by the welfare state) but
as a right to produce sustainability (allowing citizen involvement in decision making and action). Sustainability is on the
agenda of many urban projects today, but
this does not mean that all these projects
are political in their approach to the issue.
A political ecology approach, like that
of R-Urban, does not just positively and
uncritically propose improved development dynamics, but also questions the
processes that bring about inequitable urban environments.7 People such as David
Harvey (2008) argue that the transformation of urban spaces is a collective rather
than an individual right, because collective power is necessary to reshape urban
processes. Harvey (2008) describes the
right to the city as the citizens freedom
to access urban resources: it is a right
to change ourselves by changing the city
In this sense, R-Urban follows Harveys ideas and facilitates the exercise of
this right through processes of appropriation, transformation, networking,
and use of city infrastructure. R-Urban
perhaps differs from Harvey in scope, as
it does not seek to instigate a large-scale
global movement to oppose the financial
capital that controls urban development,
but instead seeks to empower city inhabitants to propose alternative projects where
they live and to foster local and trans-local
networks, testing methods of self-management, self-building, and self-production. Here R-Urban is perhaps closer to
Lefebvres idea of the right to the city.
Lefebvre imagines a locally framed emancipatory project, emphasizing the need to
freely propose alternative possibilities for
urban practice at the level of everyday life.

Ecolomy of the Commons

R-Urban participative networks will
generate a multitude of micro-social dynamics (e.g., bottomup, local, trans-local, rural, and urban). Based on trust and
solidarity, these participative networks
should gradually increase the capacity
for action across various social and cultural milieus and structures, giving birth
to a new long-term social pact. As Stiglitz
(2010) demonstrates, we need to orient
ourselves toward a new political economy
that will reconstruct the balance between the Market and the State, between
individual and collective, between man
and nature, between means and goals
(p. 516). The current market economy
should quickly evolve into an ecological economy, i.e., an economy driven by
ecology or, more precisely, by principles
of political ecologywhat we call an ecolomy.8 It is the direction to be taken if
we want the economy to be adapted to
different territorial scales and developed
on a long-term basis under principles of
solidarity and sharing. This attitude will
change not only how we manage our economy but also how we manage our lives.
By introducing a capacity for multiple
collective production (e.g., green productive spaces, active dwellings, and local
economic hubs), R-Urban enables new
forms of ecolomy within the existing urban conditions and the production of a
range of new commons.9 The question of
the commons lies at the heart of discussions of democracy today. In some recent
texts, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
(2004) define the commons as something
that is not discovered but is produced
biopolitically: We call the current dominant model biopolitical production to

underline the fact that it involves not

only material production in straight economic terms, but also that it affects and
contributes to producing all other aspects
of social life, i.e., economic, cultural, and
political. This biopolitical production
and the increased commons that it creates support the possibility of democracy
today (authors translation; pp. 910). A
sustainable democracy should be based
on a long-term politics of the commons
as well as on social solidarities understood as commons. Creating value today
is about networking subjectivities and
capturing, diverting, and appropriating
what they do with the commons that they
began (authors translation; Ravel and Negri, 2008, p. 7).
According to Ravel and Negri (2008),
the contemporary revolutionary project
is about this capturing, diverting, appropriating, and reclaiming of the commons
as a constituent process. It is at the same
time a reappropriation and a reinvention.
This undertaking needs new categories
and institutions, forms of management
and governance, space and actorsan
entire infrastructure that is both material
and virtual.
R-Urban tries to create this new infrastructure, which is at the same time a
reappropriation and reinvention of new
forms of commons, ranging from collective self-managed facilities and collective
knowledge and skills, to new forms of
groups and networks. The facilities and
uses proposed by R-Urban will be shared
and disseminated at various scales, progressively constituting a network open
to various users, including adaptable
elements and processes based on opensource knowledge. The resilient city is
a city of sharing, empathy, and cooperation: it is a city of commons.



This chapter is a revised version of Tyszczuk,
Smith, Clark, and Butcher (2012); it is reprinted
with permission of the editor and publisher.
One of the first occasions marking the emergence of this global awareness was the first
UN Conference on the Human Environment in
Stockholm (1972), followed up by the Nairobi
(1982), Rio (1992), Johannesburg (2002), and
Rio+20 (2012) meetings. In recent years, such
summits have multiplied and diversified in
both scope and participants. The Copenhagen
Climate Change Conference of 2009 recently
exemplified the blockage resulting from the
growing conflicts between and opposing interests of major international actors (e.g., governments, corporations, and NGOs), blockage that
paralyzes decisions at the global scale.
Transition Towns, Incredible Edible, Continuous
Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs), and
Ecovillage Networks are a few such initiatives
that have started at the local scale and developed into extended networks.
For more information, see
Fablab is short for fabrication laboratory, a
small-scale workshop equipped with various
fabrication machines and tools that enable us-


ers to produce almost anything (Fablab, n.d.).

For more information about the R-Urban cooperative land trust, go to
Some of these ideas were developed in Brass,
Bowden, and McGeevor (2011).
We borrow the term ecolomy from architect
Bjarke Ingels (2010, pp. 5566). Ingels draws
inspiration from the idea of an economy of
ecology, based on production and consumption rather than reduction and abstention. He
promotes a sort of cradle-to-cradle approach
that channels new flows and establishes closed
cycles. However, our understanding of ecolomy
extends his idea of economy of ecology to
its inverse: an ecology of economy, i.e., an
economy aware of the relationships it creates
and driven by ethical principles.
The commons traditionally defined the natural
resources of an environmental spacesuch as
forests, the atmosphere, rivers, and pasturethe
management and use of which was shared by
the community. It constituted spaces that no
one could own but everyone could use. The term
has now been enlarged to include all material
or virtual resources collectively shared by a
Brass, C., Bowden, F., & McGeevor, K. (2011).
Co-designing urban opportunities (SCIBE
Working Paper No. 4). Retrieved 14 February
2013 from
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1980). Capitalisme
et schizophrnie 2: Mille plateaux [A Thousand
Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia]. Paris:
Les ditions de Minuit.
Institutes. A Report to the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust. Bourneville: The St George P
Gorz, A. (2008). Manifeste utopia [Manifeste
Utopia]. Brest, France: Edition Parangon.


Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2004). Multitude: Guerre

et dmocratie lge de lEmpire [Multitude: War
and Democracy in the Age of Empire]. Paris: La
Harvey, D. (2008). The right to the city. New Left
Review, 53(910), 2340.
Hopkins, R. (2008). The transition handbook:
From oil dependency to local resilience. White
River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Hopkins, R. (2009). Resilience thinking. Resurgence, 257,12-15.
Ingels, B. (2010). The joys of ecolomy: How to
make sustainability a haven of hedonism. In I.
Ruby & A. Ruby (Eds.), Re-inventing construction , Berlin: Ruby Press. 5566.
Lefebvre, H. (1996). Writings on cities. New
York: Blackwell.
Maguire, B., & Cartwright, S. (2008). Assessing a communitys capacity to manage change:
A resilience approach to social assessment.
Retrieved 14 February 2013 from http://adl.brs.
Ravel, J., & Negri, A. (2008). Inventer le commun
des hommes [Inventing the Common] (Multitudes No. 31). Paris: ditions Amsterdam.
Stiglitz, J. (2010). Freefall: Free markets and the
sinking of the global economy. New York: Norton
& Company.
Tyszczuk, R., Smith, J., Clark, N., & Butcher, M.
(2012). ATLAS: Geography, architecture and
change in an interdependent world. London:
Black Dog Publishing.

Public Action

Social Design

The Right to Resilience

He proposes a new methodology, called

transduction, to encourage the creation of experimental utopias. Framed
by existing reality, this would introduce
rigour in invention and knowledge in utopia, as a way of avoiding irresponsible
idealism (Lefebvre, 1996, pp. 129130).
Lefebvre (1996) underlines the key role
of urban imaginaries in understanding,
challenging, and transforming the urban
and opening the door to a multiplicity
of representations and interventions. RUrban is a bottomup approach based on
the aggregation of many individual and
collective interventions that complement
each other, forming metabolic networks
that stimulate circulatory changes and simultaneously determine each other. Such
networks will accommodate multiplicity
and valorize imagination at all levels.

Social Design

Concentrating on spatial agencies

and pilot facilities, R-Urban tries to supply tools and spaces that will manifest
citizens existing resilience initiatives
and practices. Spatial design processes
contribute to expressing ecological cycles
in tangible ways and help facilitate citizen
experiences of making and doing. Democratic governance principles are as such
associated with concrete hands-on actions whose consequences are visible and
measurable. More than just adaptation,
resilience is for R-Urban a catalyst of urban activation, innovation, and creativity.

Social Design

Materials Bank
with re-useable materials and objects to
be used in the construction

Local Builders and

to help promoting local employment &
the projects themselves

Reflective and Experimental Design Stages

all strategies have to be constantly


should be created in such way it will involve a subject we want to learn about



Small Products
make each stage of the design process
into a product by itself

Temporary, Small Scale

and The City

A Playful Mind
so you can create playful spaces and

in the chosen city and that urge some


On-Site Observation and



Public Action

done by ourselves or with the help of an


We usually follow the steps described

below according to the order that most
suits our projects



as designers and ambassadors of the


We start preparing a brief and make

that into the first proactive step of our
project. As we feel we can only engage
people if you we are genuinely engaged
ourselves, we create a project that embeds
a subject we are eager to explore. In [ table
for 100s ] we intended to investigate the
different spatial and social relationships
that happen around dining tables both

Participation and
from local people and organizations

Normally no project will be developed
just by ourselves as one of our ultimate
aims is to learn and share experiences
and knowledge with others. Depending
on what we want to investigate, we try to
mix people from other fields and get them
to collaborate, nourish the project and
bring in new ideas. In [ alfacinhas ] we
worked with cooks and organic farmers
who helped developing innovative ways of
portraying lettuces in various forms, from
seed to compost. In [ estrias andantes
] puppeteers, actors, dress-makers and
writers were involved in the re-invention
of Portuguese folk tales that would lead to
the design of temporary theatres around
Ajuda, Lisbon. A good relationship with
the collaborators is crucial for the success
of the project.


instead of the conventional architectural


from different creative fields/disciplines

Misused Urban Spaces

in Japan and in Portugal, so we prepared

a brief that allowed us to learn about different subjects linked to the theme. It
was prepared in such way it would have
several stages so we could overlap various disciplines in-situ and through correspondence. The briefs are always fairly
flexible as the process will keep informing
the projects development.

Social Design

his recipe is one of many that can be

used in the preparation and delivery
of projects that aim to engage people in
the public realm through design. It has
been elaborated using the ingredients
that atelier urban nomads normally use
when we set up a new project. It is not
intended to be perceived as the recipe
for social engagement, but a a possible
recipe. It refers to some of the projects
we have done up to now as examples of
socially engaging projects. It is our work
strategy under construction, as each
project implies an ongoing revision of
this recipe depending on the ingredients
available and what the aim for a particular scenario is.

Misused Urban
Most cities have a multitude of sites
that shout for an intervention to happen
so they can regain life and use. We look
for our own sites rather then expect to
be given one. We normally choose areas
in, or around, the city that reveal some
lack of care or use. Those are located and
mapped so we can then identify the owners, private or public. Normally, those are
not in the most obvious locations, what
results from our desire to unravel unknown urban areas. Both in [ a linha ] and
[ jogos de rua ] different run down neighborhoods in Lisbon were surveyed so that
new proposals for temporary interventions could be created to respond to the
sites needs, both physical and social. As
part of the interventions strategy, we created networks of sites so that the projects
could have a broader impact around the

Public Action



Children are sources of energetic, optimism and creativity. Their naivety and innocence is a source of inspiration for designs that aim to be inventive and playful
so they can contribute to free people from
pre-conceived ideas. All our projects involve children so we can be inspired, but
also so we can inspire them and contribute to their education. They become part
of the design team and they are always
some of the key users, as we experienced
in [ jogos de rua ]. The way we involve
them depends on the nature of the project and the research topic, but ultimately
all projects can be perceived as pedagogic
tools for a more holistic understanding of
pubic spaces and our role as participant

Participation and
Public Action

Participation is the ultimate objective

and also the hardest task in any project.
Whether in a romanticized way or a more
activist way, the ethos of all our projects
lies in trying to get people out onto the
streets, use them, transform them, appropriate them in imaginative and serendipitous ways. Having tried different methods, we are far from coming up with a
technique to involve people and get them
to want to participate that we can be reassured will work regardless of the project.
Time and visibility are key, as people want
to see before they engage, before they take
the risk of getting involved. It takes time
to conquer their confidence and trust.
We programme different phases for par-

Materials Bank
We collect hundreds of pallets, old
chairs, tables, chests of drawers, pans,
glasses, and many other objects. Local
people are invited to donate materials and
objects they want to get rid off to our materials bank. Waste is transformed it into
new temporary installations. It is not our
intention to refurbish, but to re-invent
things that people can related to, creating
unique designs that respond both to the
site and the brief and can be appropriated by the users. Re-using materials is a
key creative element in our design strategy and naturally relates to the ephemeral
nature of the projects.

Local Builders and

As a principle, we try to get local builders and craftsmen involved in the projects construction. In [ a linha ] it was not
only a way of inviting unemployed people
to engage in a paid activity, but it was also
a means for us to learn from people who
have skills we dont, but who were thrilled
to think out of the box and share their
knowledge and experience.

Reflective and
Experimental Design
Although we set up a detailed brief,
programme and budget before the project starts, the temporary, participative
and low-budget nature of the projects
means that the initial plan will inevitably
have to be constantly readdressed and reinvented. The development of the design
requires an ongoing reflection on what
has and hasnt worked and what could
possibly work better. The projects are approached as experiments rather the decisive products allowing for more creativity
and diversity.

Small Products
Each stage of the project is thought
as if it could be a product in its own right
making the process as important, if not
more, as the final product. It is the involvement with the local users that is essential, so our work overlaps different disciplines, from product design to graphics,
animation, gardening, cooking We try
to be versatile in order to reach different
audiences creating small products they
can take home along the process.

Temporary, Small Scale

and The City
Though our approach is at the scale of
a city or a neighborhood, it goes into microscopic sites, and materializes in small
scale interventions. We want to work
close, for, and with the people for whom
we are designing. That is only possible if
we speak their language, rather then the
one of planners or of most architects. The
strength of a temporary project is that it
can have an immense impact that will last
beyond the physical space. Experience,
involvement, and memory are the legacy
rather then buildings or squares. Temporary allows one to see beyond what we normally observe, making us pay attention to
otherwise unnoticed details that can contribute to a better enjoyment of our living
and working environments, of our cities.

A Playful Mind
For the recipe to work we put all the
ingredients together and always remain
positive and optimistic. We prepare each
stage of the project with joy and enthusiasm. Every piece of our work reflects commitment and dedication in the playful
design of new spaces or objects.
We always have fun so that others can
have fun too when they engage in our projects!


Tracy K

n 1947, William Levitt designed the

first mass-produced suburb in an effort
to create affordable housing for post-war
families. Thanks to the simple design,
and changes in the building code, the
Levittown houses went up quickly for a
fraction of the average American home
value ($8,000 vs. the 1940 median value of
$30,600). What the houses lacked in art
they made up for in practicality.
The Mad Houser hut follows the same
utilitarian model (minus the racial segregation), creating a positive space where
a homeless individual can enjoy privacy,
physical comfort, and material security
all for around $550. The hut is not meant
to be permanent. Rather it is a stepping
stone between living outdoors and gaining access to an apartment. A hut can last
ten years without major repairs, and an
average of $55 a year for four walls and a
locking door is a lot of bang for your buck.
Mad Housers is unique in that we
bring services to the homeless, rather
than waiting for the homeless to come to
us. Atlanta is not a concrete jungle; it has

a lush off-road geography where people

can easily live outside, and hide. If youre
suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while living in a tent by the railroad
tracks, youre not likely to seek help and
no one will go looking for you. One of the
biggest complaints from doctors regarding homeless patients is that the homeless are hard to reach, so by giving the
homeless a tangible space in a neighborhood with which they are familiar, other
community organizations can locate and
reach out to them as well.
But getting services is not easy. Homeless people can live off the grid for decades
without formal identification or a mailing
address, and getting back into the system
is nigh impossible without a physical address. This lack of a paper trail impedes
their ability to apply for jobs, apply for
state ID, gain medical access, or even
sleep in a state-run shelter. Government
agencies are loath to allow a post office
box number in place of a residential address, so many homeless have their mail
sent to a friends house and pray it doesnt

get lost or thrown out.

While the South is not entirely Protestant, there is still a strong ideological
belief that success comes with hard work
and poverty with laziness. In reality, most
homeless work long hours for very little:
hauling a lawnmower all afternoon hoping to earn ten dollars, Dumpster diving
for food that hasnt turned, and waiting in
line for hours before speaking to a state
employee. We know of a camp of four men
who work an empty field every day, digging with their bare hands for scrap steel
to sell at ten cents a pound. They labor until they can fill a pick-up truck, for which
they are paid a hundred dollarsthirty of
which goes to the truck driverand begin
again the next day.
Living on foot means hours of daily
walking just for the basics, whether its
filling your water jug or keeping a doctors appointment, and bicycles can only
help so much in the ever-widening concentric rings of Atlantas suburbs. Homeless settlements comprised of three to ten
Mad Houser huts provide a shared space

Public Action

Similarly to an ethnographer, we try

do to an intensive fieldwork that aims to
inform the design path. An in-situ understanding of the routines and habits of the
future users, their relationship to public
spaces, their activities and social interactions, the existing networks, the invisible
characteristics of the sites that one can
only detect after revisiting it again and
again. We photograph, draw or use film
to document, we observe and immerse
ourselves in the site and talk to the local
people so that we can get them onboard,
involving them in the project from the

ticipation. Reaching a small number of

people can be just as gratifying if those
who we manage to reach become ambassadors for our ideas and spread the message to others who will also start thinking
in a different and more reactionary way,
less conformist and more active.

Social Design

Social Design

On-site Observation
and Research

luxury hotels, high-end strip clubs, and

sports stadiums. The city invested heavily for the 1996 Olympics, and in an attempt to boost its image Atlanta stepped
up against the transient population,
quadrupling the number of homeless arrests from May 1995 to May 1996. While
this was a preventative measure against


Public Action

Social Design
Public Action
where community members can make
use of their own public goods. One camp
in Atlanta has its own vegetable garden,
lending library, water catchment system,
and charging station powered by a series
of car batteries.
Atlanta is a business town, attracting
outsiders with its conference centers,

Social Design


crime during the tourist season, the citys

suggested ordinances were worded very
broadly, where anyone acting in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals
in parking lots and garages could spend
two to six months in prison. The 2008
housing bubble hit the city hardAtlanta
has the seventh highest national foreclosure rateand entire streets of new houses both downtown and in the suburbs,
now lay empty, creating an added layer of
Our solution? Keep a low profile. By
providing huts in out-of-the-way places,
the homeless no longer have to resort to
sleeping in garages, sidewalks, parks, and
other public spaces. Most homeless are
good at finding hidden spacespatches
of woods in industrial zones or undeveloped lots beneath power linesand most
police officers will turn a blind eye provided they dont cause trouble. The homeless
still have access to the citys public goods
(mass transit, medical aid, job opportunities) and the city doesnt have to chase
them off the bus benches.
Despite the citys fear of crime, keeping the homeless close to downtown is
better for everyone involved. By building huts where the homeless are already
camped, you enable the urban workforce
to better use their time. Atlanta attempted to house several clients of the local
Taskforce shelter in an assisted living
apartment complex, where they could
live a year rent-free and have access to job
training and drug counseling. However,
the apartments were far from the city center, where most of the homeless worked
as day laborers, and even with the free
train passes it meant wasting an extra two
hours on a bus each day. If they worked a
night shift, it meant finishing at 3:00 am
and sleeping in the train station until the
5:30 morning train rolled in. By the end of
the year, ninety percent of the homeless
left the apartments, preferring to keep
their jobs (and their free time) by sleeping on the street.
If any change is to occur, we will create
it by changing the definition of home
and how we use the concept to validate
individuals Levittowns stripped-down
approach was ridiculed at the timeand
likely still is among Italian architects in
granite and steel-studded homesbut
is now the go-to model for suburban design. While some critics may point out
the huts drawbacks such as the lack of
utilities, postal service, or trash removal,
it remains a space for the homeless to take
pride in. In the huts, homeless people can
gain peace of mind and initiate long-term
planning for the future, something few
if any can accomplish while living in the
crawlspace under a bridge.

Public Action

t the entrance to Alto Comedero

is a sign that reads Bienvenida al
Cantri. That cantri is a phonetic misspelling of country, but the joke is no
worse for it. Welcome to the Country
Club. Driving in, youll encounter a vast
swimming pool, a Jurassic-themed playground and a replica of the Incan temple
of Tiwanaku. These extravagant amenities nestle among row upon row of singlestorey houses. From a distance the terraces resemble a piece of working-class
Liverpool, except here, in northwest Argentina, what appear to be chimneys are
rainwater tanks branded with the face of
Che Guevara. This is not really a country
club; this is social housingsocial housing as youve never seen it.
Alto Comedero is the largest of the
communities built by a social movement
called Tupac Amaru. Based in the city of
San Salvador de Jujuy, where Argentina

approaches the border of Bolivia, Tupac

Amaru claims to represent the neediest
in society, providing housing, education, medical care or whatever else they
requireit might be a meal or a pair of
shoes. As well as its own housing system, it has its own factories, schools and
hospitalsa degree of self-sufficiency
that has led some to conclude that Tupac
Amaru is effectively a state within a state.
It has more than 70,000 membersor
followers, depending on how one defines
themmade up mostly of indigenous
Kolla Indians. A revolutionary movement
with quasi-socialist ideals, Tupac Amaru
is known for its radical politics and for
the efficacy of its direct actionwhen the
movement decides to demonstrate, it can
paralyse the streets of Jujuy, a fact that
has turned many of the local middle class
against them.
Be careful of these people. Theyre

dangerous, said the taxi driver as he

dropped me off at the Tupac Amaru headquarters in Jujuy. Such are the rumours
that circulate around this movement.
Some of the animosity stems from its
leader, a diminutive Kolla woman named
Milagro Sala, who has a reputation as
both saint (Milagro means miracle in
Spanish) and sinner. It is difficult to understand the particular urbanism that
Tupac Amaru has createdthat combination of exurbia, Disneyesque theme park
and radical socialismwithout understanding something of Milagro Sala. The
Milagro legend holds that as a baby she
was abandoned in a box outside a hospital. She ran away from her adoptive home
at 14 to become a street hawker, but fell
into petty crime and eventually wound up
in prison. There, she emerged as a natural
leader, organising a hunger strike over the
quality of the food and helping to teach

Patagonia, who come here to celebrate

Inti Raymi, the Incan festival of the sun.
Milagro had pointed out to me that one
of the differences between Tupac Amaru
and a Marxist movement was its spiritual
dimension. She is not religious, but she
understands that keeping alive Kolla traditions is one way of bonding a community together.
Set aside the economic efficiency at
work here and there is an innocence to all
of this. Alto Comedero personifies a kind
of Christmas-list urbanism, perhaps even
a nave whimsy that rules nothing off the
menu: a theme park, a templewhy not?
It is hard to over-estimate what a far cry
Alto Comedero is from the shanty-style
settlements around it, where people have
built their own homes with whatever
they could muster. Ordinarily, the only
way people can acquire a house of the
quality of those in Alto Comedero is on a
state programme. But you need to prove
that you earn 2,500 pesos (600 dollars) a
month to get yourself on a waiting list that
may be eight years long, and precedes the
coughing up of a 12,000-peso (2,900-dollar) down payment. In other words, the
genuinely poor cant even reach the first
rung of that ladder. In contrast with nearby villa miserias, Alto Comedero has the
sense of exclusivity of a gated communitywithout the gate.
Social housing is ordinarily a matter
of achieving the minimum, of ruling out
the inessential so that state expenditure
can be minimised or private profits maximised. But how do you define essential?
A swimming pool is an inexpensive way of
giving the poor a taste of civic pride, of creating a community that can bond through
leisure and not merely through agglomeration. Milagro would scarcely phrase it in
such terms, but Alto Comedero is a giant
middle digit held up at the politicians and
the private house builders. But perhaps
most importantly, what Alto Comedero
represents is a zone of exception. With
centralised social housing out of political
fashion all over the world, it is increasingly rare to find a form of place-making that
is not in thrall to a market that depends
on privatised services, rising property values and speculation. What may be Tupac
Amarus most remarkable achievement
is in carving out a few squares of independent territory on the capitalist gameboard.
First published in Domus, Issue 951, October


Public Action

Social Design


back. There were no architects involved

herethe local architects association demanded too hefty a fee. But what makes
Alto Comedero truly unique is not the
architecture so much as the luxurious
amenities and the surreal place-making.
Everywhere you look, Tupac Amarus revolutionary cosmology has been turned into
a didactic branding concept. Each of the
houses is stamped with a face. It might be
Tupac Amaru himself, the 18th-century
Incan leader who rebelled against the
Spanish, after whom the movement takes
its name; or Eva (Evita) Peron, that talismanic Argentine heroine; or Che Guevara,
the socialist revolutionary (Ches face is
also written large on the walls of the community factories). This is the holy trinity of the organisations iconographya
blend of T-shirt radicalism, Argentine
populism, and local ethnic folklore.
The theme-park urbanism of Alto Comedero is equally sui generis. What Tupac
Amaru saves by creating its own factories
and by cutting out all the middlemen
the developers, construction companies
and architectsit can reinvest into the
community as grand social gestures. It
was news of the swimming pools that first
brought me to Jujuythe idea that with a
simple gesture you could make the poor
feel rich. And yet Id expected some standard rectangular affair, not the amoeboid
aquatic park that awaited me in Alto Comedero, with its giant penguin figures
and walruses. Seeing the glee with which
a boy dive-bombed that water was enough
to validate the entire concept.
And its not just the pool: I passed a
basketball court, a football pitch andalmost bizarrely, considering it is the sport
of the middle class a rugby pitch. But
these were only too prosaic compared to
the sight of the Jurassic theme park. In
this vast playground roamed by dinosaurs,
children shrieked as they spilled down
slides attached to woolly mammoths
and triceratops. Granted, the production values arent quite Industrial Light
& Magicthese creatures are handmade
by craftsmen in the local steelwork factorybut the effect is no less surprising.
Teenagers, meanwhile, hung out under
palm-frond pavilions fitted with barbecue
grills. What kind of childhood heaven was
this? That sign at the entrance was ironic
and utopian at the same time: Welcome to
the Country Club.
Yet that leisure-zone concept is not
sufficient. The strangest feature of Alto
Comedero is the replica of the ancient
temple at Tiwanaku in Bolivia. This sacred Incan site has been reconstructed
out of breezeblocks, like something on a
Hollywood set. Ersatz, yes, but authentic
enough to attract Mapuche Indians from

Social Design


inmates to read. Having risen up through

the Peronist Youth Movement and the
unions, her subsequent political image is
part revolutionary leader and part Mother
Theresa. And yet local scuttlebutt insinuates shed been a prostitute and a drug addict. The rightwing media has portrayed
her as presiding over a mob, while some
like that taxi driver no doubtsee it more
as a cult.
Despite her unpromising beginnings,
Milagro is one of the most powerful
women in Argentina. In her headquarters
there are pictures of her with the Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner and
Bolivias Evo Morales, whom she calls
comrade Evo. Perhaps, rather than an
extraordinary anomaly, she is best understood in the context of a new breed
of socialist-style South American leader
wielding genuine grass-roots power. Morales and Hugo Chavez, together with first
Lula and then Rousseff in Brazil, and the
late Nstor Kirchner in Argentina, have
brought a socialist dynamic back into the
mainstream of the continents politics.
We are and we arent a revolutionary
organisation, Milagro told me. We are
not revolutionary in the sense that we
dont carry weapons and we dont believe
in violencewe understand the value of
human life. But we are revolutionaries in
that we understand that we can change
how people think. Through dignified
work and a change of consciousness, people can become better.
Tupac Amaru has built thousands
of houses for the poorest people in this
region. It began with a mere 148, when
Milagro took a punt that even she, with
no construction experience, could make
better use of government housing subsidies than the corrupt local politicians.
Today she controls government funding
worth 1,000 houses per year. But her real
genius is in how she spends that money.
Tupac Amaru created its own brick and
steelwork factories, making the construction process that much more efficient. Receiving 93,000 pesos (23,000 dollars) per
housea third less than volume housing
companiesit builds those houses four
times faster than the private sector. One
reason is that it employs the poor as a labour force, which must make this one of
the few schemes in the world where you
can be paid to build your own houseand
then be given it for free.
There are 2,700 houses in Alto Comedero, home to 7,000 people. The buildings themselves are unremarkable. This
is a standard-issue pitched-roof design
handed out by the ministry of housing.
Each single-storey unit consists of 50
square metres with two bedrooms, a garden in front and a small courtyard out

Social Design

While the peaceful demonstrations

turned more and more into riots with violent confrontations between protestors
and police, the APB research was arriving
at a moment in a Brazil that was emotionally loaded and at the same time open for
a new debate. Did the collection of items
assembled in the APB catalogue address
similar, popular, issues that were at stake
in the context of the demonstrations?
The more we experience popular uprisings, whether it be in Brazil, Turkey
or in the crisis-shaken European states,
the more we realize that the street still
remains an important place for the negotiation and articulation of collective
interests. Coincidental or not, the APB

is to break common ground for collective activities and architectural elements

that are forming the basis for the project
of the city.
The APB research entered the public
debate in Brazil at the moment when the
relationship between social and political
relations were renegotiated, which also
offers the opportunity to reformulate the
role of urban design within the public
realm. If half a century ago the Tropicalist movement transformed the traditional
notion of Brazilian popular music into
an open process of creative production,
an investigation of popular architecture
could have a similar impact in the context
of the social transformations that are hap-


Social Design

It might be a pure coincidence that another event happened on June 20th in Rio
de Janeiro at Praa Tiradentes in immediate proximity to the revolting masses. Under the supervision of Rainer Hehl, Elena
Schtz, Julian Schubert, and Leo Streich
a group of ETH students from the MAS
Urban Design Program of Prof. Marc Anglils Chair presented their research on
Popular Brazilian Architecture to a local
crowd. With the eye of an outsider to the
investigated culture, building elements,
street activities, construction methods,
floor plans, public furniture, and other
components were collected that seemed
to make a fundamental contribution to
the richness, vitality, and creativity of


Public Action

obody expected anything as radical

would happen on that day. According to official media 1.2 million people
were filling the streets raising their voices
for more democracy and participation.
A wide range of the Brazilian society,
young people, popular movements, and
enraged citizens were demonstrating
against the operating mode of an established system that doesnt take enough
care of the peoples needs. Brazil has
never seen a similar mobilization of protestors claiming for public interests in its
whole history. What was the motivation
for the upraising of the masses and the
sudden explosion of a huge amount of
collective energy? Whether the protesters claimed for thorough action against
state corruption or for more investment
in education, social security and public
transportation, one message was clear:
from now on things have to change.
The Brazilians were living a similar moment 45 years ago when 100,000
people were occupying public spaces,
fighting against state oppression during

the military dictatorship, and singing in

the streets that tomorrow has to be another day (amanh h de ser outro dia).
The song line was written by the Brazilian singer-songwriter Chico Buarque
who contributed together with artists like
Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and others
to the formation of a new music genre
MPBMsica Popular Brasileira. Some
of the MPB artists led an ephemeral, but
high impact movement known as Tropiclia that appropriated local and foreign
music styles and relativized prevailing notions of authenticity in Brazilian music.
The movement radically altered the field
of popular music, creating new conditions for the emergence of eclectic and hybridized experiments, but it also defined
an inaugural moment for a broad range
of artistic practices and behavioral styles
identified as countercultural during the
period of military rule.
What do the recent uprisings in Brazil
have in common with the protests against
the oppressive regime? For what kind of
change is it standing for? The moment

when the recent movement occurred Gilberto Gil, the former minister of culture
and one of the most prominent figures
of the Tropicalist movement was drawing parallels between what happened
back then and now, asking if the popular
movements that are occupying the streets
today are strong enough to change the reality. Concerned about the monstrous dimension of the riots, but at the same time
relieved to see this popular insurgency
happening again, he saw a common denominator between the countercultural
movement of the past and the kind of mix
between rave and raid (rave-arrasto) that
we experience today. What is more, according to his interpretation the protests
are revealing a phenomenon that applies
to the recent global condition dominated
by a neoliberal economic system: the ongoing reproduction of asymmetries between the ruling classes and the popular
massesthe increasing gap between rich
and poor, high and low culture, between
top-down governance and bottom-up mobilization.

Brazilian spaces. The APB (Arquitetura

Popular Brasiliera) collection was elaborated as generative grammar, which
opposes abstract formal design methods,
favoring empirically acquired knowledge
upon observation and experimentation,
promoting a radical belief to a timeless
way of building, grounded on centuries of
trials. With a deep interest in the modalities of everyday practice the APB presentation promoted tools that can be applied
for the production of urban environments
providing all qualities needed to enable
Brazilian popular cultures and to reinvent
them in the same time.

presentation and the mass demonstrations that happened at the same time in
Rio have in common that they are both
based on the ingenuity and creativity that
is produced within the streetscape. Similar to the claim for more participation
as articulated by the protestors, the APB
catalogue introduced (again) a new perspective on design practices for and by
the people. Against the notion of individual authorship, the collection of Popular
Brazilian Architecture launched the formation of a repertoire necessary to create
popular neighborhoods. By promoting
popular cultures the aim of the inventory

pening today. Whether we look at the experimentation of collective action in the

streets of Rio or at the emerging interests
in APBArquitetura Popular Brasileira,
June 20th marked the beginning of a new
understanding of popular movements in
Brazil, but it also offered the opportunity
to rethink design practice as a powerful
tool for the reproduction and reinvention
of popular architecture and culture as a

Public Action

A report from Rio de Janeiro, June 20th 2013

I I dunno, man, Im kinda sad.

Them towers mean home to me.

Bodie:: You goin cry over a housing project

now? Man, they shouldve blown up
em motherfuckers a long time ago,
if you ask me!
Right, I know em been bad. But Ive
been seen some shit happen in em
towers that still make me smile, yo.

The Wire. Season 3, Episode 1. September 19, 2004.



Public Action

From a post-war modernist ideal to a

flexible approach in todays urban hyper-complexity.

he third season of The Wire opens

with the demolition of one of the public high rises controlled by Baltimores
fictitious drug lord Avon Barksdale and
his gang. As the story unfolds, it becomes
clear that with the demolition of the
housing project also comes a change in
the physical and social structure for the
marginalized urban community, which
leads to a bloody turf war as the drug dealers are pushed onto the streets and into
previously untouched areas.
The Wires opening scene quite possibly pays reminiscence to the Pruitt-Igoe
urban housing project in Saint Louis built
by Japanese architect Minoru Yamasaki,
who also designed the World Trade Center. Pruitt-Igoe was a massive collection
of 33 high rises built in the 1950s that
became symbolic of everything wrong
with social housing: its disconnectedness
from the surrounding community, the
therefore inevitable social segregation,
and with it the concomitant drugs and
violence. The complex was demolished
sixteen years after construction at 3 p.m.
on March 16, 1972.
When Pruitt-Igoe got blown into bits
and pieces it wasnt only the concept of
social housing that was put into question but modern architecture as a whole,
as Charles Jencks wrote in The Language
of Post-Modern Architecture some years
later. The idea of a continuous technological process that would automatically
trigger social progress was put to a halt.
The guidepost of post-war modernist architectureLe Corbusiers vision of the
egalitarian city La ville contemporaine
pour trois millions dhabitantswas abandoned, as was CIAMs Charte dAthnes,
which turned out to be a lame phrasebook for techno-urbanistic nerds and car
lovers. The proposed death of modern architecture also marks the starting point of
the post-modernist discourse in architecture and the introduction of neo-liberal
mechanisms to the social housing sector,
disassociating social welfare from the
constructive impetus of providing affordable housing for all citizens who could not
afford it themselves.


Im takin about people. Memories

and shit.

The Wire. Season 3, Episode 1. September 19, 2004.

In The Wire we see Barksdales dealer

kids losing their cool as the housing projectand with it the physical manifestation of their idea of homecollapses in
front of their eyes. We are shown beyond
the intellectual social housing discourse
to the interior of the housing projects:
the inhabitants and their emotional connection to the people they live with. A
connection that makes home the place
you live at and not the place you dream
of. Here, individuals fate is closely knit
to the collective memory of a community
that is bound to disappear shortly after its
physical shell has been crushed. We witness an act of marginalizing the history
of a citys already marginalized citizens.
As the housing projects inhabitants are
relocated all over Baltimore, they have to
leave behind the social fabric that made
their lifes at least bearable.
In the case of Pruitt-Igoe, fiction from
The Wire is reality. In Randall Robertss
account of Pruitt-Igoes former inhabitants, It Was Just Like Beverly Hills, Joseph
Heathcott, American Studies professor at Saint Louis University, states that
nobody has ever gone back actually to
do primary research, look at the archival records, talk to former tenants and
try to untangle myth from reality. What
the inhabitants say differs blatantly from
public opinion: some hundred former
inhabitants still meet every year for a
reunion party remembering a sense of
connectedness and closeness within the
housing projects communitydespite
the horrible living conditions. A former
inhabitant declares: I loved it. There was
something very unique and special about
the relationships we had. Even though
there were many, many fights, there is
still something unique. It was like a very
huge family.
In a sense, Pruitt-Igoe is not only an example of what has become of social housing but also what architectural discourse
and city planning might have missed out
on, focusing widely on the externally visible turnouts of social housing. With the
consequent construction and demolition of social housing arises the question
whether fully erasing the wrongly built is
the right answer to the problem or if opening the architectural program to its users
could be a more gainful approach. Almost
everywhere, inhabitants of social housing

experiments wereand still areunable

to alter the built surroundings they live in.
Without the money to leave, the inhabitants have to deal with architecture that
tells them, with every concrete staircase,
that they are powerless to change anything. Every iron gate shows them that
this architecture was built for people who
generally cannot be trusted to change
something for the better. There is still no
relevant discourse involving the people
who have dealt and deal with social housing on a day-to-day basis. They are powerless up to the point where they cant even
argue against the destruction of their
self-made living arrangements within the
strict planning system that was superimposed on them in the first place.
A broader, more theoretical perspective overrules these relevant questions on
the architectural environments thatin
the critics eyeswould never fulfill what
it promised. The media and architectural
writers focused on the grand layout, so
that public opinion on such egregious
failures such as Pruitt-Igoe have consolidated in negative images of not only social
housing but of its residents as well. Ironically, even Pruitt-Igoes creator, Minoru
Yamasaki, soon turned against its users,
already stating in 1965 in an interview for
Architectural Review: I never thought people were that destructive. As an architect, I
doubt if I would think about it now. I suppose we should have quit the job. Its a job
I wish I hadnt done. Apparently, social
housing remains to be architecture for
people who cannot be trusted. Full stop.

Social Design

Social Design


Bodie:: They talkin about steel and conBodie

crete, man Steel and concrete.


Towards a Flexible
Utopias seem like locomotives to me,
that pull mankinds trains through
Yet, they can never arrive since the
trains timetables
are newly written by every new
Horst Krger in conversation with Ernst Bloch and
Theodor W. Adorno, May 6, 1964.

The idea to provide appropriate housing for a many people hasnt lost its utopic
glow. Providing a livable place for everyone seems like an architectural Atlantis
oras in Mores Utopia and other utopian city projectsthe ideal of an egalitarian urban environment, inclusive of
everyone, hasnt lost its spark. This seems
particularly relevant for developing coun-

Public Action


states policyto an empowerment of the

people to build faster and smaller structures without much more than an informal organizational overhead. A shift that
builds on the idea of not providing a strategy applicable to different political systems but rather offering tactics that are
able to cope with a huge array of problems
that appear everywhere in almost incomparable shapes. Flexible approaches to
providing building infrastructure might
be todays form of social housing. The cities governments can empower individuals and small interest groups of the urban
poor not only to find a more or less acceptable home but to create a process in which
home can be re-defined and adapted in
times where the soaring dynamics of the
bustling megacities change their appearance every fortnight. Social housing can
thus become the built image of the remarks from Horst Krger quoted above
where the ideal living environment can
never be reached since every new generation of inhabitants newly rebuilds upon
its individual desires. The re-imagining of
the possible in the sense of a flexible utopia makes it impossible for something to
be put in a finished state. What is always
in progress of being built is never ready to
be demolished.


This essay is an edited version of Ludwig

Engel: The Death of Social Housing. Toward a
Flexible Utopia. In: Clara Meister and Federica
Bueti (eds.): Social Housing Housing the
Social. SKOR, Rotterdam 2011

Public Action

Social Design
Public Action

tion capacity of the future inhabitants of

the building. The simple yet solid buildings have been first tested in Iquique,
Chile, where 93 families were re-established with proper housing where they
had been previously squatting. With a
very limited budget, Aravenas project opposes the above described idea(l) of social
housing: the inhabitants of the project are
held responsible for their new home and,
at the same time, participate in the building process. They also receive the chance
to use the equity that comes from having
security of tenure to take out a loan for a
small business or developing their house
further. A flexible base is established
upon which the urban poor can react in
a self-determined manner with respect
to the uncertainty of the urban future.
Another example is BeL architects project
Grundbau und Siedler as part of the International Building Exhibition (IBA) in Hamburg. While the projects bare skeleton
aesthetically borrows from Le Corbusiers
pre-fab Dom-Ino House concept, similar
to Aravenas idea, it reduces costs by offering a building manual that, again,
stirs the self-construction capacity of the
future inhabitants of the building. The
project aims at creating solutions for lower-income families to acquire their own
homes through self-help and DIY-construction in a step-by-step procedure. BeL
reframed Aravenas concept for a multiunit apartment house and developed
a building process that in the first step
only provides the minimum of necessary
building infrastructure. In a second step
it offers its future inhabitants a flexible
base, on which they themselves can build
their own apartment within the provided
infrastructure according to their needs.
As a third example may serve MMA architects sandbag houses in the outskirts of
Cape Town. MMAs concept is an attempt
of creating affordable low-income housing, again, without offering one built
solution but instead the design and construction of the homes take advantage of
techniques that conserve money and resources. MMAs sandbag houses use inexpensive local materials, which cuts down
on transportation costs and uses a system
of building that replaces brick-and-mortar with sandbags. The sandbag system
is as strong as a brick system and uses
less timber than traditional construction.
Since the houses are constructed with the
help of its future residents, they are able
to gain a sense of ownership throughout
the building process.
The given examples illustrate that the
idea of social housing seems to be able to
shift from the empowerment of the state
to take land and moneyhaving architects build a vision in accordance to the

Social Design


tries, where roughly another three billion

people will seek a roof over their heads
within the next 40 years. But there, people
who move to the cities become urban slum
dwellers. City governments are not able to
cope with this heavy influx of people. Urban migration in the beginning of the 21st
century is almost entirely informal.
Given this context, the idea of megaconstructions based on long-term strategic planning within the dynamic environment of a megacity seems inappropriate.
Still, strategies of post-war modern social
housing are being implemented everywhere as if Pruitt-Igoe was only destroyed
to return manifold: the layout of a typical
middle-class apartment is fiddled around
with until it fits the local economic limitations, which simply results in a minor reduction in living space. The project location is shifted throughout the city until a
plot is identified where no investor wants
to build within the next 20 years. This generally means urban displacement to the
desolate periphery, following the neoliberal urban development practices of the
past four decades. There are innumerable stories of city administrations that
have built public housing projects on the
periphery of their megacities to house the
poorest of the poor, only to find the poor
renting out their newly provided real estate while moving back to the slum they
came from. In In the Cities of the South,
Jeremy Seabrook has vividly described
how the high travel costs forced inhabitants of the newly built social housing on
the periphery of Mumbai to move back
to Dharavi, a large slum in Mumbais city
center where the former slum dwellers
worked in the informal sector. Moving
back meant accepting poor infrastructure and inadequate sanitary conditions
but also being close to Mumbais bustling
heart of business and the opportunity to
earn a living.
Against this headless race that has already been lost, stand a number of projects exploring new forms of social housing, moderating between the informal
and top-down processes and offering
strategies against displacement while encouraging inhabitants participation in
the building process: Alejandro Aravenas
efforts for example, aim at providing minimal infrastructure with the help of what
once made social housing immune to its
users preferences: prefabricated systems.
There prefabricated systems only provide
infrastructure and a minimal amount of
space to be extended and adapted by its
inhabitants. Aravenas concept of incremental housing does not finish what it
starts but only offers a solid beginning,
leaving the magnitude of the urban challenge to be solved with the self-construc-

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy Development and Research, Demolition of Pruitt-Igoe, 1972

Lusa Alpalho is a Lisbon and London based
architect and the founding member of atelier urban
nomads. Lusa is currently a PhD candidate at the
Bartlett, UCL. Her research focuses on the appropriation and negotiation of public space between
local and immigrant communities in certain areas
of Lisbon.
atelier darchitecture autogre is a research led
practice founded by Constantin Petcou and Doina
Petrescu in 2001 in Paris to conduct actions and
researchon participative architecture. The team
includes architects, artists, urban planners, sociologists, activists, students, and residents working
within a network with variable geometry. aaa has
developed a practice of collective appropriation of
urban spaces and their transformation into a series
of self-managed facilities.

Dr. Gerald Bast is retor/president of the University
of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria since 2000. He
published in the fields of university law, university
management as well as educational and cultural
policy. Bast is speaker of the Rectors of Austrian
Universities of the Arts, Vice president of the
Austrian Rectors Conference, Member of the
scientific Board of the Journal for University Law,
University Management, and University Politics,
Board-Member of the European League of Institutes
of the Arts and member at the pool of experts for
the Institutional Evaluation Programme of European
University Association.


Hana Al-Bayatyis a film-maker and journalist. She
studied Political Science in London. She specialized in international relations and military strategy
at the Universit de la Sorbonne and joined a cinema documentary school in 2001. In 2003, she made
the documentary On Democracy in Iraq, providing
an insight into a meeting of the major tendencies
in the Iraqi opposition which took place in London
three weeks before the invasion. Hana Al-Bayaty is
a member of the Executive Committee of the Brussells Tribunal, a commission of inquiry organized in
Brussels in April 2004 that investigated the crimes
committed by the occupation after the invasion of
Iraq. She is based in Cairo.
Puerto Rican artist and architect Luis Berros-Negrn (1971*) focuses on visual arts, material economies, and mass customization through the lens of
architecture. Luis received a Master of Architecture
from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Parsons the New
School for Design.

Public Action

Alfredo Brillembourg was born in New York, where
he received his Bachelor of Art and Architecture
and his Master of Science in Architectural Design in
1986 from Columbia University. In 1992, he received
a second architecture degree from the Central
University of Venezuela and began his independent practice in architecture. In 1993 he founded
Urban-Think Tank (U-TT) in Caracas, Venezuela.
Since May 2010, Brillembourg has held the chair
for Architecture and Urban Design at the Swiss Institute of Technology (Eidgenssische Technische
Hochschule, ETH) Zrich in Switzerland.

Lieven de Cauter is philosopher, art historian, and
writer. He teaches philosophy at the University of
Leuven and the RITS art academy in Brussels. His
recent publications include The Capsular Civilization. On the City in the Age of Fear (2004) and Entropic Empire. On the City of Man in the Age of Disaster
(2012). He co-edited Art and Activism in the Age of
Globalization (2011).
Marco Clausen, co-initiator of Prinzessinnengarten:
a place dedicated to urban agriculture, environmental learning, and neighborhood participation at
Moritzplatz in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Co-publisher, coauthor, and photographer of Prinzessinnengarten.
Anders grtnern in der Stadt (Prinzessinnengarten. Pioneering Urban Agriculture in Berlin). Marco
Clausen sees himself as an community activist and
is working especially on questions of sustainable
and resilient urban development and is engaging in
the discussion on the privatization of public land.
He initiated the petition Let it grow! Establish
a sustainable future for Prinzessinnengarten,
signed by over 30,000 supporters in a few weeks,
and helping to secure this pilot project of an social,
ecological and educational diy-urbanism.

Thorsten Deckler runs 2610 south Architects
together with partner Anne Graupner. The practice
thrives on engaging with Johannesburgs array of
urban, social and economic contexts. In order to
thrive within this segregated reality, the practice
finds it necessary to operate in the field of URBAN
2008 a long held dream to conduct research in parallel to practice has been realised in the form of an
on-going project investigating formal and informal
housing processes. Both partners teach, write
and lecture on occasion. In 2012 the practice was
chosen as the most interesting emerging practice
in South Africa in the Backstage Award.

1999. In various interdisciplinary working teams

they investigate strategies for urban design and interactive environments, and pioneered the deliberate expansion of the architects professional brief by
actively investigating and performing highly situate
strategies for informal urban renewal that constantly
cross the boundaries between architecture, urbanism, and art.

Anton Falkeis is an architect and Professor at the
Institute of Architecture, University of Applied Arts
Vienna. He has been teaching and lecturing at several universities and in 2012 he was guest professor
at Nanjing University of Art, China. Anton Falkeis
served as the Vice-Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Applied Arts Vienna from
1999 to 2003, Head of architectural programme,
department of Arts and Education (since 2001),
Head of Department, Special Topics in Architecture
(since 2007), and Head of Department Social Design (since 2011). He also holds the Expertise Chair
of the new Master programme Social DesignArts
as Urban Innovation.

With a background in philosophy and cultural studies Lukas Feireiss runs the interdisciplinary creative
practice Studio Lukas Feireiss, focusing on the
discussion and mediation of architecture, art, and
visual culture in the urban realm. In his artistic, curatorial, editorial and consultive work he aims at the
critical cut-up and playful re-evaluation of creative
and spatial production modes and their diverse
socio-cultural and medial conditions. Lukas Feireiss
teaches at various universities worldwide.

feld72 is a collective exploring the intersection
between architecture, applied urbanism and art. The
office realized numerous buildings, urban interventions in public space, masterplans and researches
in an international context. The work of feld72 has
been exhibited in numerous Biennales: Venezia
2011 / 2010 / 2008 / 2004, Shenzhen / Hongkong
2009, Canaries 2009, Art Triennial of Guangzhou
2008, Sao Paulo 2007, Rotterdam 2003. Besides
having won numerous awards, feld72 was selected
by the jury of the latest Iakhov-Chernikhov-Award
as one of the 10 most innovative young practices
worldwide. From 2003-2011 Michael Obrist was
teaching at space&designstrategies at the University of Art and Design Linz, Austria.

Nabeel Hamdi is one of the pioneers of participatory planning and his book, Small Change, has
been highly influential in describing the role that
informality plays in urban life. It sets out a way of
thinking on cities that gives precedence to smallscale, incremental change over large-scale projects.
Hamdis own practice has always used the tactic of
small-scale change at grass-roots level, whether
in his early housing work with the Greater London
Council that tested ideas on participatory design
and planning, or his later work as consultant to
various governmental and UN agencies. As a pedagogue, Hamdi set up the highly successful Masters
in Development Practice at Oxford Brookes University in 1992 as part of the Centre for Development
and Emergency Practice.
David Harvey is the Distinguished Professor of
Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate
Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).
A leading social theorist of international standing, he received his PhD in Geography from the
University of Cambridge in 1961. Widely influential,
he is among the top 20 most cited authors in the
humanities.In addition, he is the worlds most
cited academic geographer,and the author of many
books and essays that have been prominent in the
development of modern geography as a discipline.
His work has contributed greatly to broad social and
political debate; most recently he has been credited
with restoring social class and Marxist methods
as serious methodological tools in the critique of
global capitalism. He is a leading proponent of the
idea of the right to the city, as well as a member of
the Interim Committee for the emerging International Organization for a Participatory Society.


Jeanne van Heeswijk is a visual artist who creates
contexts for interaction in public spaces. Her projects distinguish themselves through a strong social
involvement. With her work Heeswijk stimulates
and develops cultural production and creates new
public (meeting-)spaces or remodels existing ones.
To achieve this she often works closely with artists,
designers, architects, software developers, governments and citizens. She regularly lectures on topics
such as urban renewal, participation and cultural


Anil Kumar Gupta is a professor in the Centre for
Management in Agriculture at the Indian Institute
of Managment, Ahmedabad. He also founded the
Honey Bee Network, looking for undeveloped inventions and talent. These discoveries are documented
and often shared with the global community. Since
1988, the networks database of original inventions
has grown to over 12,000, and its newsletter is now
published in eight languages and distributed to 75
countries. Gupta also worked with the government of
India to establish the National Innovation Foundation, which holds national competitions to encourage new inventors and helps sustain them through
the National Micro Venture Innovation Fund.

Rainer Hehl is an architect and an urban planner.
Currently, he directs the Master of Advanced
Studies in Urban Design at the ETH, Zrich, where
he also runs a theory seminar and lecture series
entitled Urban Mutations on the Edge. He studied
at the RWTH in Aachen, the University of the Arts
in Berlin and the Ecole Speciale dArchitecture in
Paris. In addition to having lectured widely on urban
informality, popular architecture, and hybrid urbanities, Hehl co-founded the non-profit organization
and online network ( Hehl holds a PhD from the ETH, Zrich,
on urbanization strategies for informal settlements,
focusing on case studies in Rio de Janeiro.

Ludwig Engelworks as afuturologistandurbanist.
With his office raumtaktik he works interdisciplinary in the fields of culture, science and economy
on questions dealing with the future and with past
and present visions of the city and urban utopias.
Ludwig studied in Berlin, Shanghai, and Frankfurt/
Oder. He holds a masters degree in cultural studies
and a bachelors degree in economics and communication sciences. He lives in Berlin.

Emily Fahln is a team member of the Silent University. She works as a mediator at Tensta Konsthall,
Stockholm, an art institution situated in the northwest suburb of Tensta. Her work focuses on locally
anchored projects and public work.

Marco Casagrande is a Finnish architect, environmental artist and social theorist. Casagrandes
works and teaching are moving freely in-between
architecture, urban and environmental design,

Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius is an architect and
co-founder of raumlaborberlin. The Berlin-based
architecture collective began working on the issues
of contemporary art, architecture and urbanism in

Erica Hagen is an ICT for development specialist
working with citizen media and participatory technology. She is co-founder and trustee of Map Kibera
Trust, a mapping and new media organization based
in Nairobi, Kenya. She is also co-founder and director of GroundTruth Initiative, in Washington, DC,
which works with communities to use new technologies for increased influence in development and
democracy . GroundTruth has developed projects

As an Architect Afaina de Jong believes in the
practice of an active architecture that goes beyond
just making buildings. She is deeply rooted in the
context of the contemporary city translating urban
underground culture and lifestyles into architecture
and urbanism. She recently published her first book
For the People, By the People. She has worked internationally with the likes of AMO-OMA, 24 in New
York, and the Hakuhodo Think Tank HILL in Tokyo.
She was a contributing editor for MARK Magazine

since the beginning and continues to write on

urban phenomena and subjects on the crossroads
of architecture.

Hubert Klumpner is Dean of the architecture faculty
at the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETHZ). He
graduated from the University of Applied Arts
Vienna and later received a Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design from Columbia University. In 1998 Klumpner joined Alfredo Brillembourg
as Director of Urban-Think Tank (U-TT) in Caracas,
Venezuela. Since May 2010, Klumpner has held the
chair for Architecture and Urban Design at the Swiss
Institute of Technology (Eidgenssische Technische
Hochschule, ETH) in Zrich, Switzerland.


Anne Klbk Iversen has a MA in Modern Culture
and a BA in Comparative Literature from the University of Copenhagen. She wrote her masters thesis
on the Danish radio producer Peter Kristiansen
(1941-2007), his radio montages and archival
practices. She has been engaged with the research
and distribution of the LARM-archive hosted by the
Institute for Arts and Cultural Sciences, University
of Copenhagen, since 2007. She works as a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art,
Roskilde, Denmark.
Dutch artist, graphic designer and illustrator Jeroen
Koolhaas founded together with Dre Urhahn the
artistic duo Haas & Hahn. They endeavor to bring
outrageous works of art to unexpected places.
They are renowned for painting enormous murals
together with the local youth in the favelas of Rio
de Janeiro as well as in Philadelphia. Their work
combines urban design, architecture, and social/
economic stimulus in a highly visual form of urban
intervention. /

Elke Krasny isSenior Lecturer at the Academy of
Fine Arts Vienna, Visiting Professor at the University of Bremen 2006, Visiting Scholar at the CCA,
the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montral
in 2012, Guest Professor at the Academy of Fine
Arts Nuernberg 2013. As a curator and cultural
theorist she focuses on urban transformation,
critical architectural history, spatial politics, politics
of remembrance and the historiography of feminist
curating. In 2011 she received the Outstanding Artist Award Womens Culture.

Steve Lambert is an American artist who connects
uncommon, idealistic, or even radical ideas with
everyday life. Lambert carefully crafts various
conditions where he can discuss these ideas with
people and have a mutually meaningful exchange.
He is founder of the Anti-Advertising Agency,
and artist-run initiative which critiques advertising through artistic interventions. Together with
Stephen Duncombe he founded the Center for
Artistic Activism as a place to explore, analyze, and
strengthen connections between social activism
and artistic practice.

Andres Lepik is a curator for architecture exhibitions and author of publications. His recent work
discusses contemporary examples of social engagement in architecture on a global scale and explores
various strategies for how design can actively influence underserved communities. Andres research
focuses on three main areas: rural neighborhoods in
developing countries, informal cities and new stategies for shrinking cities. Andres worked for many
years as a curator and head of the architecture collection for the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin and as
curator in the Architecture and Design Department
of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. In his cur-

rent position as Director of the Architekturmuseum

der Technischen Universitt Mnchen (TUM) his
vision is to further create focus on the social dimensions of architecture in society.
Thomas Lome is director of Intrastructures, a pragmatic utopian design studio that generates models,
tools and products for social and environmental
restoration. Intrastructure aims at innovating current infrastructures, not by reinventing them from
scratch, but by rearranging and interconnecting
what is already there and by hacking into society in
search for the perfectly odd connections.

Rick Low is an artist and founder of Project Row
Houses (PRH), a neighborhood-based nonprofit
art and cultural organization in Houstons Northern
Third Ward, one of the citys oldest African-American communities. PRH began in 1993 as a result of
discussions among African-American artists, spearheaded by Rick Lowe, who wanted to establish a
positive, creative presence in their own community.

Social Design

Social Design

social sciences, environmental art and circus

adding up into cross-over architectural thinking of
commedia dellarchitettura, a broad vision of built
human environment tied into self organized social
drama and environmental awareness. There is no
other reality than nature. He views architects as
design shamans merely interpreting what the bigger
nature of the shared mind is transmitting. Marco
Casagrande is the Principal of the Ruin Academy
(2010-), a Taiwan based internationally operating
multi-disciplinary research centre and task force.

in Dar-es-Salaam, India, Cairo and Jerusalem and

elsewhere. Erica holds a Masters of International
Affairs from Columbia University in Economic and
Political Development and International Media and


Marisa Mazria-Katz is a NY-based journalist / editor
born and raised in Los Angeles. She has contributed
to numerous publications and television channels
on culture, politics and design, including: The New
York Times, Time, Financial Times, and The Guardian. Today, Marisa is the editor of a new Creative
Time initiative called Creative Time Reports. The
programs key goals are to restore the voice of the
artistin society by pushing them back in the spotlight as critical thinkers who actively participate in
the issues of our time.

As an artist, professor, and activist Lenidas Martn
has invigorated the wave of Spanish protests beginning in 2011 known as M15. When not teaching
new media and political art at the University of
Barcelona, writing about art and cultural politics for
online and print media, or directing and producing
documentaries, Martn organizes social actions with
the Barcelona-based artist collective Enmedio
(which translates to among in English).


Giancarlo Mazzanti is a Columbian architect of projects such as the Convention Center, Biblioteca Espaa, the Tercer Milenio Park and the Southamerican Games Coliseums in Medelln, Colombia. He is a
teacher at several Colombian universities and taught
at Princeton University in 2012. In 2006, Mazzanti
won the XX Colombian Architecture Biennial in the
category of public space, and the Ibero-American
Biennial in the category of Best Architectonic Work
in 2008 (Lisbon, Portugal). Also, he received the the
Global Award for Sustainable Architecture (Paris
France ) in 2010 and was chosen by the MoMA (New
York) to exhibit his work in their permanent collection. Most of his architecture work involves social
values at its main core, it searches for projects that
empower transformations and builds community.

Justin McGuirk is a writer, critic and curator based
in London. He is the director of Strelka Press, the
publishing arm of the Strelka Institute in Moscow,
and the design consultant to Domus. He has been
the design columnist for The Guardian and the editor of Icon magazine. In 2012 he was awarded the
Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture
for an exhibition he curated with Urban Think Tank.
He is currently working on a book about activist
architecture and social housing in Latin America.

Michael Murphy is the Co-Founder and Executive
Director of MASS Design Group. In addition to

Public Action


Kito Nedo is a journalist based in Berlin. He regularly writes for the German art magazine artDas
Kunstmagazin and is a contributor to Artforum
International Magazine. /

Dutch-American sociologist Saskia Sassen is
currently Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology
at Columbia University and Centennial visiting
Professor at the London School of Economics.
Saskia Sassens research and writing focuses on
globalization (including social, economic, and
political dimensions), immigration, global cities
(including cities and terrorism), the new technologies, and changes within the liberal state that result
from current transnational conditions. In each of the
three major projects that comprise her 20 years of
research, Sassen starts with a thesis that posits the
unexpected and the counterintuitive in order to cut
through established truths.

Emeka Okereke, born in 1980, is a Nigerian photographer who lives and works between Africa and Europe. He is a member of Depth of Field (DOF) collective, a group made up of six Nigerian photographers
and is the Founder and Artistic Director of Invisible
Borders Trans-African Photography Project an
annual photographic project which assembles up
to ten artists from Africa towards a roadtrip across
Africa. He uses photography, poetry, video and
collaborative projects to address the questions of
co-existence (beyond the limitations of predefined
spaces), otherness and self-discovery.

Tatjana Schneider is a senior lecturer at the School
of Architecture, University of Sheffield, where she
teaches design studio, history and theory. She
is co-founder of Spatial Agency a collaborative
research, web-and print publishing project that
presents a new way of looking at how buildings and
space can be produced. Moving away from architectures traditional focus on the look and making
of buildings, Spatial Agency proposes a much more
expansive field of opportunities in which architects
and non-architects can operate. It suggests other
ways of doing architecture.


Oliver Percovich is the founder and executive
director of the non-governmental organization Skateistan. Founded in 2007 in Kabul is now an international non-profit charity providing skateboarding
and educational programming in Afghanistan and
Cambodia. Skateistan is non-political, independent,
and inclusive of all ethnicities, religions and social

Richard Sennett writes about cities, labor, and culture. He teaches sociology at New York University
and at the London School of Economics. Sennett
has explored how individuals and groups make
social and cultural sense of material factsabout
the cities in which they live and about the labour
they do. His publications include The Fall of Public
Man (1977), The Craftsman (2008), and Together:
The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation

Something Fantastic is a young architectural
practice committed to smart, touching, simple architecture. Its works include publications (Something
Fantastic, Building Brazil, e. a.) teaching (Technology Exchange at ETH Zurich, e.a.) and design for
private and institutional clients. Next to Something
Fantastic the partners Schubert, Schtz, and Streich also operate a creative agency called Belgrad
to be able to work in a broader field and context of
creative production. The belief that architecture is
affected by everything and vice versa does affect
everything is the basis of their claim that working as
architects involves a general interest and involvement in the world.

The Danish artist, activist and founder of N55,
the Copenhagen-based art collective, has been
challenging conventional notions of living,
architecture and land ownership. Srvin has been
fighting for simple freedoms, his work and lifestyle
is an example for other ways to live a fulfilling life,
alternative economic models and no need to compromise. Srvin says that N55 believes in educating
people: The only way I can work is to create good
examples. Srvin is aware that only by adopting a
consistent position does he have a hope of influencing the planners, architects and the public who
decide how societies and cities will develop.

Dutch social and conceptual artist Dre Urhahn
founded together with Jeroen Koolhaas the artistic
duo Haas & Hahn. They endeavor to bring outrageous works of art to unexpected places.
They are renowned for painting enormous murals
together with the local youth in the favelas of Rio
de Janeiro as well as in Philadelphia. Their work
combines urban design, architecture, and social/
economic stimulus in a highly visual form of urban
intervention. /

Marjetica Potr is an artist and architect based
in Ljubljana, Slovenia and Berlin, Germany. Her
interdisciplinary practice includes on-site projects,
research, architectural case studies, and drawings.
Her work documents and interprets contemporary
architectural practices with particular regard to
energy infrastructure and water use and the ways
people live together. Potrs work has been exhibited
extensively throughout Europe and the Americas,
including the Sao Paulo Biennial and the Venice
Biennial. Potr is Professor in Design for the
Living World at the Hochschule fr Bildende Knste

Public Action

Urbanist, Director of the Graduate Program in Urban
Ecologies at The New School/Parsons in New York
and cofounder of Cohabitation Strategies, an international non-profit cooperative for socio-spatial
development based in New York and Rotterdam. He
is in the advisory board of The Center for Place Culture and Politics, the National Economic and Social
Rights Initiative (NESRI) Right to Housing Program
and in the research board of The Right to the City
Alliance. Robles-Durn has wide international
experience in the strategic definition/coordination
of trans-disciplinary urban projects, as well as in
the development tactical design strategies and civic
engagement platforms that confront the contradictions of neoliberal urbanization.

Alexander Rmer is an architect and carpenter
based in Berlin and Paris, and has been a member


Kiran Bir Sethi is the Founder/Director of the
RiversideSchool in Ahmedabad. She has a design
background, having got her diploma in visual communication from NID. She is also the founder of
aProChan initiative attempting to make our cities
more child friendly, for which she was awarded the
Ashoka Fellow in 2008. Her initiativeDesign for
Change School Contest 2010has won the prestigious INDEXDesign to Improve Life Award, in
Copenhagen, Denmark in September, 2011, and she
is currently promoting the worlds largest Design
for Change School Challenge, which has participation from over 25 million children from 35 countries
across the Globe. Design for Change has also
recently won the prestigious Rockefeller Foundation
Youth Innovation Award 2012.

AbdouMaliq Simone is an urbanist and research
professor at the University of South Australia and
professor of sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, visiting professor at the African
Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, research
associate with the Rujak Center for Urban Studies
in Jakarta, and research fellow at the University of
Tarumanagara. For three decades he has worked
with practices of social interchange, cognition,
local economy, and the constitution of power relations that affect how heterogeneous African and
Southeast Asian cities are lived. He has acquired
a substantial understanding of urban processes
and change in Africa and Southeast Asia as a body
of academic knowledge, but has worked on the
concrete challenges of remaking municipal systems,



training local government personnel, designing

collaborative partnerships among technicians,
residents, artists,and politicians.

Philip Ursprung, born in Baltimore, MD, is Professor of the History of Art and Architecture at ETH
Zrich. He taught at the HdK Berlin, the GSAPP
of Columbia University, the Barcelona Institute
of Architecture and the University of Zrich. At
CCA in Montral he curated Herzog & de Meuron:
Archeology of the Mind and edited the catalogue
Herzog & de Meuron: Natural History (2002). His
latest books are Die Kunst der Gegenwart: 1960 bis
heute (Munich, Beck, 2010), and Allan Kaprow,
Robert Smithson, and the Limits to Art (University of
California Press, 2013).
Tracy K Woodard is part of Mad Housers Inc., an
Atlanta-based non-profit corporation engaged in
charitable work, research and education. Their goals
and purposes are: To provide shelter for homeless
individuals and families regardless of race, creed,
national origin, gender, religion, or age. To develop
low income housing for people in need of housing.
To help people develop the skills and knowledge for
constructing and rehabilitating housing and shelter.
To increase the quantity and to improve the quality
of housing in the world.To act, if necessary as an advocate for the homeless, to ensure that their moral
and civil rights are protected.

Dutch art and architecture historian Rixt Woudstra
studied at the University of Amsterdam. She
currently doing her PhD as Presidential Fellow in
Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


The pro-bono publication at hand accompanies the Social Design Public Action symposium
initiated by the newly implemented Master Degree program Social Design. Arts as Urban Innovation at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, curated and moderated by Lukas Feireiss.
The SLUM Lab Magazinea unique lab that works as a nomadic enterpriseis directed by
Urban-Think Tank founders Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner. The Social DesignPublic Action issue, guest-edited by Lukas Feireiss, is a research and publishing collaboration between Columbia University New York, ETH Zurich, and the University of Applied Arts
Vienna. Since its first edition, S.L.U.M. Lab has proven to be both provocative and popular.
Knowledge sharing has always been a core aspect of the magazine.

Guest Editor

Graphic Design

Gerald BAST





Angewandte / University of

Editorial Assistance

Applied Arts Vienna


Buero fr Gestaltung

Copy Editor






Printed by

ETH, Swiss Federal Institute of

Europrint medien GmbH, Berlin

Technology Zurich

Prof. Brillembourg & Prof. Klumpner
ETH Chair Of Architecture and Urban Design
50 Neunbrunnenstrasse
8050, Zrich, Switzerland
+41 (0)44 633 90 80

We thank all contributors for their kind support and help!

Special thanks go first and foremost to Gerald Bast and Anton Falkeis of the University of
Applied Arts Vienna for making all of this happenthe symposium and this publication.
Sincere gratitude goes to Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner of Urban-Think Tank
for trusting me in guest-editing this special issue of their Slum Lab magazine. Im further
indebted to Rixt Woudstra whose help was irreplaceable in putting together this publication and Floyd E. Schulze for the radical design of this publication.
2013 SLUM Lab

Public Action

Social Design

of collective EXYZT since 2005. Since 1997 he

has been developing ideas and practices around
accessible, low-budget and participative construction methods and moments in the expanded field of
architecture and art with constructlab.

Social Design

leading the design and construction of the Butaro

District Hospital in Rwanda, which opened in January of 2011, Michaels firm MASS has been the recipient of the 2012 Designer of the Year award from
Contract Magazine. MASS was nominated in the
2010 Design Futures Council as Emerging Leaders,
chosen as one of Fast Company Magazines Master
of Design and awarded a Metropolis Magazine
2011 Game Changer. Michael has taught courses
on design for infection control at Harvard School
of Public Health and social entrepreneurship at
Clark University, where he is an entrepreneur in
residence. Michael holds a BA in English Literature
from University of Chicago and a Masters in Architecture from Harvard University Graduate School
of Design.

Social Design
Public Action
Ding Dong