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Architecture and Culture
For a Special Issue on
Decentering Urban Experiments: Towards Planetary Strategies of Design
09 October 2023
Decentering Urban Experiments: Towards Planetary Strategies of Design
As the multiple ecological crises of our present continue to foster and reproduce social and environmental injustices, a growing number of sites for urban experiments are being set up to integrate urban research and activism with solution-orientated design. These sites of experimentation are celebrated as participatory apparatuses capable of re-orientating and rescaling critical spatial design praxis towards a planetary horizon. Local residents, activists, artists, designers, urban planners, universities, businesses, policymakers, and international agencies have been incentivized to adopt such transdisciplinary approaches to co-create innovative solutions addressing climate change, environmental degradation, and pollution in ‘real life’ settings.
Meanwhile, critical voices are pointing out the racialised injustices, ethical ambiguities, exploitative relations, and power asymmetries between North and South that underpin experimental urban formats such as living labs, knowledge hubs, city commoning, or public-civic partnerships.
One instance of this critique is the proliferation of eurocentric and anthropocentric patterns that reproduce human exceptionalism where urban natures and species of all kinds are understood as mere ‘raw materials’ and (ecosystem) service providers [i]. Consequently, urban labs and experimental sites often fail to consider human and nonhuman co-construction and cohabitation. Additionally, the ambiguous relations in urban experimental sites between private, public, and civil society can also open space for human exploitation, especially where data is extracted and used for commercial purposes by, for example, Global North institutions unbeknown to local ‘participants’ in the Global South [ii]. In such situations, discourses on ‘experimentation’, ‘innovation’, ‘participation’ or ‘co-design’ can (inadvertently) perpetuate neoliberal ideologies in spatial design and urban research underpinned by capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy[iii]. This emerging critique begs the urgent question: how capable are existing experimental urban formats to affect the transformative change required to repair and redesign human-environment relations at a planetary scale[iv] if their methods, epistemological assumptions, and everyday material-discursive practices are structured by perspectives that continue to place white Western Man at the centre of knowledge production and all intentional action?
De-colonial and multispecies approaches in architectural and cultural theory provide an apparatus to critique this anthropocentric bias and to de-centre a version of the human as the sole agency and exceptional force in transformative changes while marking the way for a new radical politics based in gender and racial justice, interdependence, mutualism, co-operation, and resistance[v] 7. We argue that together these approaches provide a de-centring theory and practice with the capacity to cut through, gather, and productively mingle with the emerging critical discourses outlined above. We strongly believe a careful critique and (re)theorising of urban experiments through a multispecies and de-colonial framework is especially urgent as hubs, labs, commoning, and other formats spread internationally – often from the North towards cities in the Global South – and refocus their gaze on ‘innovative’ ‘solutions’ to urban environmental and urban ecological ‘problems’ with the potential to un/intentionally circulate extractivist, exploitative, and violent material-discursive practices.
Meeting this aim to de-centre, reconfigure and rescale urban experiments toward towards planetary design strategies, we are looking for contributions that:
- Develop a critical position using empirical cases of urban sites of experimentation that for example, un/intentionally support capitalist, colonial, racial, gendered, or anthropocentric logics. We particularly encourage papers that analyse transdisciplinary sites for urban experiments engaged in sustainability, climate change, planetary health, urban ecologies, or related issues
- Present and analyse existing experimental sites that aim for radical interdependency and justice, for example, but not restricted to, sites that resist capitalist and colonial logics, strive to decolonise knowledge, or aim to include/ build solidarity with other human and non-human forms of life.
- Chart novel conceptual and methodological approaches to transdisciplinary or transversal work that engages with or cuts across decolonisation, Southern Urbanisms and/or forms of multispecies cohabitation. Papers could consider how to represent, communicate, or exchange with theories and perspectives beyond mainstream Northern theory or with other species, e.g. through design and/or research processes traversing disciplinary, racial, gendered or taxonomic boundaries e.g. ‘Southern Design’ ‘animal aided design’, ‘degradable urbanism’ etc.
Dr. -Ing. Jamie-Scott Baxter is an architect-planner and sociospatial researcher at Technical University Berlin. His research interests include spatial transformation, multispecies urbanism, decolonisation, botany and botanical gardens, conservation, diffusion research, social self-determinacy, and critical spatial theory and design. Jamie co-ordinates the living lab “Planetary Tactics for Co-habitation” and is currently researching the spread and materialisation of new urban nature planning regimes and ecological imaginaries as part of the Berlin University Alliance project ‘Re-Scaling Global Health: Multispecies Cohabitation on an Urban Planet.
Dr. Laura Kemmer works at the Martius Chair Germany-Brazil for Humanities Research on Sustainable Development, University of São Paulo. Her research interests include urban forms of collectivity, modes of un/relating and more-than-human theories. As part of the Berlin University Alliance project ‘Re-Scaling Global Health’, her research concentrates on issues of urban pollution, in particular residents’ relations to elements such as water and soil. Together with Jamie Baxter, she coordenates the project “Designing with the Planet. Connecting riparian zones of struggle in São Paulo, Jakarta and Berlin”.
Please select Special Issue title Decentering Urban Experiments when you are submitting your work.
The Editors welcome submissions form architects, artists and urban designers, film-makers, animators and poets, from historians of culture and architecture, from geographers, anthropologists and other social scientists, from thinkers and writers of all kinds, established and new. Submissions of original research are welcome across appropriate formats: essays, critical reviews, interviews, fictional narratives in both images and words, art and building projects, and design hypotheses.
This Special Issue is expected to be published as Architecture and Culture Volume 12 Issue 3 in September 2024.