The City Lived

Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete

The course critically explored the figure of a “global planning expert” that emerged in the post-war period, along with changes to planning practice brought by this transnational turn. During this time, architects converted to jet-setters who travelled the world on “missions” to solve complex problems posed by rapid urbanisation and mass migration. Practitioners like Otto Koenigsberger, Ernest Weissmann, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, Constantinos Doxiadis, Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry were commissioned by the newly independent states for large urban development projects initiated by the United Nations. Such projects required new interdisciplinary expertise, as planners and architects worked alongside politicians, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, procurement specialists and financial planners.

Although these planning “missions” were arranged under the seeming neutrality of “technical assistance” by the United Nations, they relied on Western ideas of modernisation and development, often at odds with local realities. Architects developed new knowledge as they adapted imported models to specific social and climate conditions and local material and logistical networks. Coupled with the discipline’s participatory turn, these projects delegated design agency to the users, profoundly shifting the role of the architect in the design process. Through three main modules—Projects, People and Knowledge—this course explored how these transnational design projects conceived under the idea of “development” redefined the architects’ position, agency and knowledge. 

Through selected studies, we worked to untangle complex webs of architecture in development. What role did architecture and urban planning play in post-WWII developmental proj­ects? In what way did international institutions like the United Nations incorporate physical planning into their projects? How did the architects and urban planners shape the discourse on modernisation, and what were the tangible implications of this discourse?

Based on the three main clusters, students investigated concrete design projects carried out under the United Nations Technical Assistance programme. By working with original project archives and documents, students discovered the role of other less-known actors involved in these projects—politicians, UN officials, engineers, and inhabitants. As a final deliverable for the course, students produced an interconnected actor’s map of selected case studies and fictional project diaries, which explored the shifting position, agency and knowledge of architects and planners through the internationalisation of architectural practice.

This course took place during the Fall 2023 semester.

Tutor: Dr. Maryia Rusak

International Delegates of the First Meeting of the United Nations Committee on Housing, Building and Planning. From Ekistics 15, no. 90 (1963).

Below are some selected examples of student work.

The Autumn 2022 edition of our seminar series ‘The City Lived’ focused on ‘sites-and-services’, an important housing paradigm that was mobilized in the context of development aid to provide cost-efficient housing for the global poor.

This housing strategy consisted of providing ‘sites’ – plots of land to construct dwellings on – in combination with a set of ‘services’, ranging from infrastructural features, such as sewerage and waste disposal, to market-based interventions that aimed to make cheap building material more easily accessible, or financial loan schemes that offered inhabitants the means to invest in their homes. It often operated on a large scale, and targeted thousands of households in a single project. For several decades from the 1970s, it was heavily endorsed by major actors such as the World Bank and the United Nations as a cost-efficient way to meet the most basic housing needs of a high number of people, whilst simultaneously offering authorities the means to direct the enormous growth of spontaneous settlements in the urban peripheries as part of their broader urban development plans. As such, these sites-and-services schemes have left a major imprint on many cities in the Global South. Despite this impact, however, their histories are not well documented.

Beyond its praise and criticism, in this seminar course we studied sites-and-services projects in the first place as material artefacts: as man- and woman-made built environments that have shaped the lives of thousands of people, whose history for that very reason deserves to be studied. In doing so, we discussed two broader themes. On the one hand, sites-and-services projects allow us to problematize the notion of housing expertise and how it was mobilized in the Global South. And on the other, since these were essentially unfinished projects that relied on their future inhabitants to complete their dwellings, they force us to acknowledge the act of user appropriation and inhabitation as an integral part of architecture projects.

Learn more about three 1970-80s sites-and-services projects in Kenya, El Salvador, and Egypt, in our online exhibition: ‘Sites-and-Services’

This course took place during the Fall 2022 semester.

Tutors: Dr. Sebastiaan Loosen, Lahbib El Moumni

Masterplan Dandora, by Mutiso Menezes International. Mutiso Menezes International’s archives. From: Loeckx, André and Bruce Githua. “Sites-and-Services in Nairobi (1973-1987).” In Human Settlements. Formulations and (Re)Calibrations, ed. by Viviana d’Auria, Bruno De Meulder and Kelly Shannon. Amsterdam: SUN Academia. 2010.

’The City Lived – Unlocking a Multidisciplinary Discourse’ sets out to correct the existing historiographies of architecture by exploring interdisciplinary concepts and theories that shaped the architectural discourse in the second half of the 20th century. Through selected reading and expert lectures, these seminars introduce students to theories and concepts from the fields of gender and urban sociology that have been crucial in shaping the architectural discourse.

To test our interdisciplinary perspectives, we focus on a particularly productive ‘encounter’ between architects and other disciplines — The Any Conferences (1990-2001). The Any Conferences were ten exceptional cross-cultural and multidisciplinary conferences, with associated books, on the undecidability of architecture at the end of the second millennium, convened by editor Cynthia Davidson. In this series of exploratory conferences, it was not the product, but the encounter of ideas, thinking and concepts that was the goal. By inviting activists, art theorists, economists, artists, philosophers and the like to engage with architects in architectural discourse, The Any Conferences attempted to expose architecture and its theories to contemporary concerns.

During the course, we analyse one edition of The Any Conferences (1996 Anybody, Buenos Aires) from the perspectives of gender and urban sociology. Each student takes on the role of one of the participants, and tries to identify the position ‘their’ character would take in the conference. Through a series of (public) input lectures from experts in the various fields, students are introduced to key theories and methods in the fields of gender and urban sociology. With this newly gained knowledge, students are asked to analyse and interpret the same position in The Anybody Conference, but from the perspectives of a) gender, and b) urban sociology. By way of a ‘re-enactment’ of The Anybody Conference, students present their selected conference speaker’s participation from gender and urban sociology perspectives. A special workshop led by Dr Anne Hultzsch (gender perspectives) and Professor Emeritus Arnold Reijndorp (urban sociology perspectives) equips students with the methodological tools to cross these two disciplinary perspectives. During the final presentations, students play with traditional hierarchies and gender roles in a re-enactment that allows them to discover what new ideas happen in the crossing of gender and urban sociology perspectives.

This course took place during the Fall 2021 semester.

Dr. Cathelijne Nuijsink

Group photo of participants of The Anybody Conference in Buenos Aires 1996. (Image by Anyone Corporation), Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997 © CCA

The Commons Underground was taught by Nicole de Lalouvière, Irina Davidovici, and Janina Gosseye in the fall semester 2020 as the second instalment of the “The City Lived” seminar. In the context of this course, students employed the theoretical lens of the ‘commons’ to examine the ‘underground’ as a space within which public, private, and collective rights are negotiated and ultimately materialised. To probe this set of relations between the ‘commons’ and the ‘underground’, the seminar focused on built spaces, infrastructure, services and resources located under the surface and thus subject to different material and statutory regimes. The ‘commons underground’ present us with practices of cooperation, conflict resolution, and at times, oppression. Like most forms of commons, the underground brings forth recurring issues: access, ownership, maintenance, the drawing of socio-spatial boundaries, etc. All of these questions are relevant to the act of building in the underground. They also can be brought to bear on the limitations of subterranean spaces, including in their materiality, form, and dimensions. Beyond the surveyed space—described through ever-more sophisticated tools that measure, scan, and probe—the underground is the locus of commoning, a place constructed through lived experience and social practices. It is at once the subject of myth, a place of daily work, the result of technological expertise, and a medium of knowledge transfer. In the context of the seminar, the underground commons were considered in relation to various topics, including transport, sanitation, geology, soils, mining, defence, and heritage. Case studies were produced by the students as an attempt to build upon existing research into the commons.

This course took place during the Fall 2020 semester.

Dr. Irina Davidovici
Dr. Janina Gosseye
Nicole de Lalouvière

Commons Register
Irrigation systems of Canton Valais
Unlocking the Zürich Commons / Water
Constructing the Commons

That politics influences urban design is clear. Political ideologies have an impact on the production of the city, while the entanglement of politics and urban design affects people’s experience of living in the city. In this seminar, the students explore concrete examples of ‘the politics of urban design’ in a diverse set of contexts: colonial urban landscapes, the post-conflict reconstruction of the Balkan region, the development of new housing estates in neoliberal France, and beyond. Inspired by these explorations, the students analyse urban design, placing particular emphasis on how urban design decisions have been informed by political ideology/ideological beliefs. On the basis of this analysis, students are asked to ‘launch’ their own political campaign to become mayor of that city. The main focus of this political campaign (evidently) has to be on urban planning and design and needs to address identified urban ideological challenges, such as the need to build ‘greener’ cities, healthier cities, more sustainable cities, more equitable/social cities, smart cities, and so on.

This course took place during the Fall 2019 semester.

Hover Image: Poster for the Socialists in Belgium: ‘New times, renewed Belgium. Vote socialist’, 1960s

Dr. Hans Teerds
Dr. Janina Gosseye