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Datum | 09.01.2017, 19.00 h
Ort | Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien, Hauptgebäude, Schillerplatz 3, 1010 Wien, 211

IKA Lecture Series Winterterm 2016|17 by Tom Avermaete | Endowed Professorship for Research in Visionary Cities.


Nadars Balloon Utrechtse Barrière, Amsterdam, 14 September 1865, © Pieter Oosterhuis, 1865


Over the past few years, a panoply of innovative activism, scholarship and projects that focus on ‘the commons’ have gained momentum. This rapidly growing movement is based on new thinking in the domains of economy, political and social sciences, suggesting radically different ways to organize our societies. In her seminal publication Governing the Commons (1990) Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom put forward an idea of the commons as ‘collective action’ that challenges our understanding of politics, economy and culture. More recently Silke Helfrich and David Bollier in Die Welt der Commons (2015) have coined the commons as a matter of ‘shared resources’ that allow us to conceive our everyday life beyond the dominant discourses of market economy and state intervention. In these theories, however, there is little attention for the value of urban space as a shared resource and one of the main tangible forms in which ‘the commons’ exist in society.

This lecture series claims that the new conceptions of ‘the commons’ can radically alter the way that we think about the role of the architect, the character of the project and the relation between architecture and the city. The five lectures relate –for the first time— the conception of ‘the commons’ to the field of architectural design, in order to develop a new architectural theory of intervening, transforming and maintaining urban environments. Looking at the history of architecture but also studying contemporary design practices, each of the lectures will start to delineate different aspects of the commons and their relevance for the architecture-city nexus.

The lectures will alternatively look at the commons as a matter of ‘pool resources’, understood as collectively-held goods that can be used by individuals; of ‘commoners’ defined as communities of people that share resources; of ‘commoning’, referring to the social practices that create and reproduce the commons; and of ‘shared knowledge’ erasing the differentiation between the ‘expertise’ of elites and the know-how of regular citizens. Together, these different perspectives will construct the outline of another approach to architecture and the city.

This series is composed of five complementary lectures that together aim to outline an architectural understanding of the character, role and operations of the commons:

1. The Commons and its Tragedy: Introducing a Notion

2. Lex Communis: The Commonality of the Discipline and the Discipline of the Common Place

3. Praxis Communis: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation

4. Res Communis: Common-Pool Resources in Architecture and Urban Design

5. The Architecture of the Commons: A New Path of Contemporary Logos and Praxis

Tom Avermaete is full professor of architecture at Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands. He has a special research interest in the public realm and the architecture of the city in Western and non-Western contexts. With the chair of Methods and Analysis he focuses on the changing roles, approaches and tools of architects. His research examines precedents -design attitudes, methods and instruments- with the explicit ambition to construct a critical base of design knowledge and to influence contemporary architectural thinking and practice.

Avermaete is the author of Another Modern: the Post-War Architecture and Urbanism of Candilis-Josic-Woods (2005), The Balcony (with Koolhaas, 2014) and Casablanca -Chandigarh: Reports on Modernity (with Casciato, 2014). He is a co-editor of Architectural Positions (with Havik and Teerds, 2009), Colonial Modern (with von Osten and Karakayali, 2010), Structuralism Reloaded (with Vrachliotis, 2011), Making a New World (with Heynickx, 2012), Architecture of the Welfare State (with Swenarton and Van den Heuvel, Routledge, 2014) and Casablanca-Chandigarh: Reports on Modernization (with Casciato, Park Books, 2015).

Tom Avermaete is a member of the editorial board of the peer-reviewed journals OASE Architectural Journal and the Journal of Architectural Education (JAE, until 2015) and a co-editor of the Yearbook. Architecture in the Netherlands. Avermaete is the initiator of several exhibitions, amongst others  In The Desert of Modernity (Berlin 2008, Casablanca 2009), How architects, experts, politicians, international agencies and citizens negotiate modern planning: Casablanca Chandigarh (CCA, Montreal, Canada, 2014-2015) and Lived-In. The Modern City as Performative Infrastructure (VAi/DeSingel, Antwerp, Belgium, 2015-2016).

Jean Marot (I) – The Ceremonial Entry of Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse into Paris in 1660

Lecture_1. 24.10.2016

The Commons and its Tragedy: Introducing a Notion

‘The commons’ is one of these powerful tropes that pervades several fields of contemporary thinking and practice. In the first lecture we will probe into the thick historical and intellectual pedigree of this provocative conceptual frame, ranging from the enclosure movement in England to Garret Hardin’s famous parable on the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ to Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize-wining work on common pool resources. We will explore how the concept of the commons has been semantically articulated and rearticulated, as it was developed in such a diverse fields as economy, politics and sociology.

This opening lecture will engage with the intellectual work of some of the founding mothers and fathers of the concept of the commons, looking into the work of economist Elinor Ostrom, ecologist Garret Hardin and philosopher Ivan Illich, but also into the approaches of contemporary thinkers such as Silke Konekfe and David Bollier who have defined the commons as a matter of ‘shared resources’ that allow us to conceive our everyday life beyond the dominant discourses of market economy and state intervention.

The intention of the lecture is to offer an introduction to the main perspectives and concepts that were recently coined and to construct a broader cultural and theoretical horizon from which to think the commons, as well as to start asking what these might imply for the field of architecture and urbanism.

2 Recueil et parallèle des édifices de tout genre anciens et modernes remarquables par leur beauté. [2] / par J.-N.-L. Durand,... ; avec un texte extrait de l'histoire générale de l'architecture, par J.-G. Legrand,... | Durand, Jean-Nicolas-Louis (1760-1834)

Lecture_2. 07.11.2016

Lex Communis: The Commonality of the Discipline and the Discipline of the Common Place

In his inaugural lecture at the College de France the French philosopher Michel Foucault, positioned the organization of a discipline as opposed to the notion of authorship. Foucault claims that a discipline goes beyond the single authorship and is based on a commons; “a discipline is defined by a domain of objects, a set of methods, a corpus of propositions considered to be true, a play of rules and definitions, of techniques and instruments: all of this constitutes a sort of anonymous system at the disposal of anyone who wants to or is able to use it, without their meaning being linked to the one who happened to be their inventor.”

In this lecture we will probe into this anonymous, common system in the discipline of architecture. Are architecture and urbanism still based on a commons? What constituted the commons of the discipline historically? And does a commons still exist today? and how would we imagine and describe such a commons?

In a second part of the lecture we will look into the various attempts to introduce the elements and rationales of the ‘common place’ into the disciplines of architecture and urbanism. We will see how common knowledge concerning the built environment was intentionally incorporated to widen the notion of the discipline from a knowledge field that was exclusively accessible for highly trained experts to a matter that could be discussed and accessed by a wider group of citizens.

Italian women workers collecting stones from the river bed for road construction.

Lecture_3. 21.11.2016

Praxis Communis: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation

As fields with the power to alter people's cities and neighborhoods - and indeed therefore their lives – architecture and urbanism are often conceived as controversial disciplines. Citizens have learned to be suspicious of any plans for development in places they care about, often turning architecture and urbanism into villains to be fought.

Architectural and urban design practice has seen important experiments, which have understood the project no longer as an exclusively professional matter but rather as a case of ‘commoning’ between different urban actors. Projects such as the NDSM wharf and De Ceuvel in Amsterdam, Luchtsingel in Rotterdam, Prinsessinnengarten in Berlin, and the Yale Building Project in New Haven, have called into question the character of the architectural project by emphasizing co-production in development and realization.

In such projects, the praxis of the architect is increasingly linked to the multiple actions of other actors: emphasis is placed on the co-productive nature of the enterprise. The urban territory, the knowledge and skills of citizens are understood as immanent sources that are unlocked, activated and managed. Are the impulses we detect in these projects the prefiguration of a new interpretation of the architectural project for the city as a common practice?

4 View of the Water Celebration, on Boston Common, October 25th 1848, Lithograph by P. Hyman and David Bigelow.

Lecture_4. 05.12.2016

Res Communis: Common-Pool Resources in Architecture and Urban Design

The notion of ‘the commons’ allows us to think about the role of architecture and urban design in relation to the common-pool resources. These common pool resources are generally defined as a set of natural or man-made goods from which the individual can profit but that are controlled trough collective strategies and operations.  In the history of rural and urban landscapes we can find such as common-pool resources, such as the agricultural ‘meent’ in the lowlands or even the figures of the ‘the green’ and ‘the close’ in 19th and early 20th century city.

This lecture will explore some examples of how the common pool resources of the city have been defined and understood historically and how they might be conceived of today. Especially the role that architecture plays in articulating, unlocking, maintaining and even protecting these common pool resources will be explored.

Common pool resources can have the character of leisurely green and water spaces, but also relate to more productive qualities of the urban landscape or to the transport of people and goods in the city. They can be qualified and protected through rules and laws; but is there also be a role for the built environment in not only offering access to these resources but also in maintaining and even reproducing them?

5 Luchtsingel Rotterdam | Plataforma Urbana, © Fred Ernst

Lecture_5. 09.01.2017

The Architecture of the Commons: A New Path of Contemporary Logos and Praxis

Although many architects and urban designers still base their work on traditional modi operandi, some others are beginning to form collectives, exchange labor and create new forms of practice based on transversal methodologies. Developments such as the Occupy movements and the trans-local solidarity networks are opening new paths of design.

In this last lecture we will explore recent attempts to articulate an architecture of the commons in contemporary architectural and urban projects. Our focus will be on these projects that entail and activate the various aspects of the commons, as discussed in the previous lectures. We will be looking upon the discourses, but also the methods and tools that contemporary architectural and urban practices use to articulate an architecture of the commons.  We will investigate if the commons has the potential to provide a conceptual framework and to suggest an approach that offers the possibility of a more inclusive and equitable form of city-making.

This lecture will argue that the city can be understood as the ultimate common: a collective social, cultural and material construct that is composed by and for its inhabitants.  It will probe into questions as: Can we in future regard the interventions of architects and urban designers as the unlocking and management of important communal sources? Based on the notions that have been explored previously, it aims to construct a new understanding of architectural and urban design as an intervention upon and along the lines of common resources. Engagement with collective knowledge and practices are part of such an architectural approach.