Zurich Commons

Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete

Cities have always been based on common resources. While designing and constructing the architecture of the city, architects, urban designers, builders, and inhabitants have had to engage with common resources and geographies: inherited common-pool resources (water, nature, air); material common-pool resources (clay, brick, stone, wood); and immaterial common-pool resources (craft, knowledge).

This understanding of the city as being intrinsically related to common resources has gained renewed attention, as neoliberalism replaces ever-shrinking welfare structures and global urbanization is accompanied by rising inequality. It is not only architects and urban designers who are again becoming interested in alternative principles of governing common resources, but also political movements and society at large. Hence, some of these issues – generally labelled ‘the commons’ – have received growing attention in recent decades within the fields of critical urban studies, urban history, urban geography, and the social sciences.

As a continuous series of investigations into the rich history of Zürich’s commons, each semester, the Chair of History and Theory of Urban Design organises a Research Studio that highlights one particular set of commons: water commons, green commons, housing commons, material commons, and so on. Drawing on architectural, urban, typological, environmental, and material perspectives, this historical research aims to unlock an alternative reading of the urban and architectural qualities of the city by demonstrating how common practices affect the development of the city and how common resources enable and structure practices of ‘commoning’.

During the Fall semester of 2020, the Fachsemester focuses on the topic of water within the urban context of Zurich. Water is highly prominent in the city and its everyday operations: the lake and the rivers Limmat and Sihl structure the city and dominate its geography. These waters can be considered as common resources in many ways, with the provision of water for drinking, for irrigation of the land, the generation of power, ways of transportation, and spaces of trade and recreation. Additionally, water networks that are less visible greatly impact the city and its inhabitants. The large number of drinking fountains all over the city show not only the availability of wells in the area, or pipelines underground, but also reflect the easy access to the water supply from the public realm.

During this semester, three instances of water commons in the city of Zürich are investigated:
This includes the system of fountains and the provision of drinking water, the embankments of lakes and rivers and their recreational uses and the productive aspects of water: generation of electrical power, purification of wastewater, irrigation of the fields and fishing
Students explore the historic, urban, topographical, communal, and architectural aspects of these topics. By using archival research, drawing maps, and mapping structures, they investigate the water system, its histories, and its communal aspects.

Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete, Dr. Irina Davidovici, Nicole de Lalouvière, Dr. Cathelijne Nuijsink, Dr. Hans Teerds, Maxime Zaugg

Image: Zürichsee, © Wikimedia Commons, Roland zh

This Fachsemester took place during the Fall 2020 Semester.

This Fachsemester focuses on the green commons of Zürich: the many forests, pastures, gardens, allotment gardens, parks, fields, and lawns that characterise the city. We explore how green commons are manifested, produced, managed, used, maintained, and appropriated, and elucidate how these green commons offer new perspectives on contemporary challenges, such as climate change, urban food provision, and densification.  

The goal of this Fachsemester is twofold. First, we develop an ‘archaeology’ of Zürich’s eco-commons and regard the city’s green elements as the outcome of codes and practices of ‘commoning’ that are systematically analysed. Second, we develop an ‘assemblage’ of Zürich’s eco-commons by scrutinising how they are experienced, practised, and developed in the city. To this end, we analyse the character and role of urban forests, parks, gardens, and allotments as sites for the production of common-pool resources (health and leisure space, energy, food, clean air, etc.).

The result is a ‘retroactive manifesto’ for the city of Zürich, in which the past, present and future roles of green commons in the city are discussed as a more comprehensive project for the city as we know it and as it might evolve.

Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete, Dr. Irina Davidovici, Nicole de Lalouvière, Dr. Cathelijne Nuijsink, Dr. Hans Teerds, Maxime Zaugg

This Fachsemester took place during the Spring 2021 Semester.

Commons Register