Jan 30, 2014
The Urban Theory Lab-GSD and the Urbanism Landscape Ecology concentration of the GSD’s MDesS program are hosting a discussion with environmental photojournalist Garth Lenz. Joining this dialogue on aerial photography, landscapes of environmental destruction and early 21st century urbanization will be faculty members Neil Brenner, Sonja Dümplemann and Jeanne Haffner. Exploring the landscapes of ecological destruction that underpin our fossil fuel-based economy, Lenz’ images also offer a unique perspective on contemporary forms of capitalist urbanization and landscape transformation. The Urban Theory Lab’s newly published volume Implosions / Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Berlin: Jovis, 2013) prominently features some of Lenz's most striking images from the Canadian Tar Sands in Northern Alberta. This event will be an opportunity to discuss Lenz's images in the context of the GSD's broader engagements with contemporary issues in landscape, urbanism, infrastructural design and environmental politics.
Urban Theory Lab researchers at the MIT conference "Property from Below: Rethinking Property Rights over Land in a Global Context"
Feb 28, 2014
Several Urban Theory Lab researchers recently participated in a conference at MIT on "Property from Below: Rethinking Property Rights over Land in a Global Context." The event was co-organized by Professor Balakrishnan Rajagopol of MIT-DUSP, Professor Olivier DeSchutter of the University of Louvain as well as doctoral candidate Alpen Sheth of MIT-DUSP, who is also a long-standing contributor to the Urban Theory Lab.
The conference explored the philosophical foundations of property rights in legal discourse as well various ways in which inherited formations of land ownership are being extended--and also contested--under contemporary capitalism. Of particular interest to our work in the Urban Theory Lab, the conference problematique productively exploded inherited urban/rural and North/South binarisms to reveal the parallel forms of enclosure--and resistance--that are occurring in property systems around the world, from large city centers to relatively remote agricultural and resource extraction regions.
In his remarks during the closing panel, Neil Brenner of the Urban Theory Lab underscored the need to develop new conceptions of space, territory and land in order to decipher ongoing transformations of property relations in an age of intense land grabbing in strategic zones around the world. Perhaps, he suggested, contemporary land grabs in the global South represent processes analogous to those which radical urban geographer Neil Smith long ago analyzed at the urban scale under the rubric of the "rent gap": speculative attempts by rentiers, aided and abetted by state institutions, to capitalize upon the potential ground rent of zones whose current uses do not attain their supposed "highest and best use" for profit-making activities.
Surely, alternatives to this form of "neo-Haussmannization" (Andy Merrifield) on a world scale are not only possible but necessary. Several contributors to the conference, including Balakrishnan Rajagopol and Alpen Sheth, showed that such alternatives do indeed exist, and that they continue to be forged through the relentless struggles of social movements around the world against the destructive social and environmental impacts of market fundamentalism.
The conference is connected to the ongoing work of the Displacement Research and Action Network.
Map by UTL researcher, Oscar Malaspina.
Apr 18, 2015
UTL researchers Daniel Ibanez and Grga Basic recently contributed to a symposium on "Arctic States" which was hosted by the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia (UVA). The event was organized by UVA professors, Matthew Jull and Leena Cho, directors of the Arctic Design Group and recent graduates of the Harvard GSD. The symposium included contributions by a wide range of scholars, architects and designers who are concerned to understand and shape extreme, remote and contested territories such as the Arctic. The symposium provided a forum for generating and discussing ideas, conceptualizations and projects in and around the Arctic region.
In his lecture to the opening panel of the symposium, Daniel Ibañez reported on the work that the Urban Theory Lab has been developing on the Operational Landscapes of Urbanization, with particular reference to UTL studies of the Arctic region by Grga Basic, Ali Fard and Ghazal Jafari. In his contribution to the event, Grga Basic presented two posters derived from that collaborative research which synthesized our work in progress on the Arctic's thickening urban fabric.
Mar 17, 2015
The Urban Theory Lab recently opened their exhibition "Operational Landscapes" at the Melbourne School of Design (MSD). The exhibition asks: In what sense do we today live in an "urban age"? Frequently invoked by scholars, policy-makers, planners, designers, and architects, usually with reference to the proposition that more than 50 percent of the world's population now lives within cities, such a question provokes further questioning: Can the nature of our urban world be understood and mapped exclusively with reference to the growth of cities and their populations?
The exhibition turns this proposition upside-down and inside-out by speculating on a radically alternative mapping of contemporary planetary urbanization. What happens to our cognitive map of the global urban condition if we focus not on the global cities or megacities of the world, but on the wide-ranging sociospatial and environmental transformations that are currently unfolding in supposedly "remote" or "wilderness" regions such as the Amazon, the Arctic, the Gobi desert steppe, the Himalayas, the Pacific Ocean, the Sahara desert, and Siberia, and even the earth's atmosphere? To what degree are such zones now being integrated within a worldwide fabric of urbanization? How are they being restructured and enclosed to support the energy, water, material, food and logistics needs of major cities?
Through speculative cartographies of these emergent "operational landscapes," the exhibition aims to illuminate the radical transformations of land-use, infrastructure, and ecology far beyond the city limits that have made the contemporary formation of planetary urbanization possible.
With support from: Office of the Dean, Melbourne School of Design; Office of the Dean, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; Milton Fund, Harvard University Medical School
‘AND THE URBAN EXPLODED’: LOUISE DORIGNON REVIEWS UTL EXHIBITION FOR ‘SOCIETY AND SPACE’ + ‘URBANITÉS’
Sep 27, 2015
Urban geographer Louise Dorignon of the Université Lumière Lyon II has published a detailed review of the Urban Theory Lab's exhibition on Operational Landscapes at the Melbourne School of Design from Spring 2015. The review appeared in English on the website of Society & Space, and in French in an issue of the journal Urbanités. It offers a very thoughtful, systematic discussion of our recent exhibition in Melbourne, at once in relation to the UTL's ongoing research program, and in relation to the framework presented in our book, Implosions/Explosions (Berlin: Jovis, 2014). Many thanks to Louise Dorignon for such a precise, detailed and thoughtful engagement with our work. We also thank our colleagues at Urbanités for kindly permitting the essay’s translation into English.
Jun 15, 2015
Congratulations to our good friend and colleague, GSD graduate Nikola Bojic, who recently guest-edited the 96th issue of Zivot Umjetnosti, a magazine for contemporary visual arts published in Zagreb, Croatia. Several Urban Theory Lab projects were presented in the issue--including a series of visualizations reporting on our ongoing work on "extreme territories" (curated by Daniel Ibanez); as well as a Croatian translation of Neil Brenner's essay, "Age of urbanization," connected to his work as editor of the volume Implosions/Explosions (Berlin: Jovis, 2014). We are hugely grateful to Nikola Bojic and our colleagues at Zivot Umjetnosti for their interest in and support of our projects. We wish them every success as they further develop their explorations of the issue's theme, "From territory to specific site," in various exhibitions and future publications. The journal's press release follows:
The latest issue of Zivot Umjetnosti magazine explores the interspace between territorial and site-specific. Moving through the territories of migration, technology, law, poetry, infrastructure and public space, this issue draws attention to liminal cultural phenomena that can operate across multiple scales. The magazine brings together research papers and map-pamphlets intertwined into 10 thematic layers. Spatial logic embedded in the magazine’s structure tends to transform the traditional printed mediainto a device for generating new territorial realms.
“…If a map reflects an ideological organization of space, then the operation of re-mapping stimulates the continuous clash between various ideological positions. The magazine thus refuses to serve the exclusive interests of a particular subject (a place, a person, or a structure), that is characteristic for the most of the established historical narratives and projections of the future. Instead, it shifts to the links and exchanges between the subjects connected through the ten thematic layers. The perpetual movement within this space blurs the geographical and the epistemological boundaries, merging both mapping and reading into a single process.” --Nikola Bojic, issue editor.
Nikos Katsikis defends doctoral thesis "From hinterland to Hinterglobe: Urbanization as Geographical Organization"
Feb 01, 2016
On Monday February 1st 2016, UTL researcher Nikos Katsikis successfully defended his dissertation ‘From Hinterland to Hinterglobe’. The project critically revisited the concept of the hinterland aiming to transcend its associated dichotomies and limitations. It introduced the meta-categories of agglomeration landscapes and operational landscapes as landscapes of possible externalities associated with particular operations. The project investigated how these externalities emerge out of, or are prohibited by, particular compositions of asymmetrically distributed, but largely continuous, elements of geographical organization (elements of the natural environment, elements of infrastructural equipment, demographic factors, institutional and regulatory frameworks). In addition to introducing these novel categories, the project also explored how they could be cartographically defined through the combinatory charting of the various geographical elements that constitute them, blending a theoretical apparatus, building upon theories of the social and ecological production of space under capitalism; with a cartographic and geostatistical apparatus, building upon a critical engagement with selected global geospatial datasets. Finally, as a means of exploring the capacities of these novel concepts, the project attempted a historical overview of the development of urbanization as geographical organization over the past two centuries. The presentation concluded with a lively discussion with committee members Neil Brenner, Hashim Sarkis, Pierre Bélanger as well as several UTL researchers.