Neil Brenner gives Centenary Lecture, Bartlett School of Planning, UCL

Dec 12, 2013

Neil Brenner gave the second Centenary Lecture at the Bartlett School of Planning of University College London (UCL) on the topic, "Urban theory without an outside." The session was moderated by Professor Mike Raco of the Bartlett School of Planning.  The session was followed by the launch of Brenner's most recent book Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Berlin: Jovis, 2013), together with a wine reception for all who attended.


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Implosions/Explosions book launch at UCL

Dec 12, 2013

A new book surveying the theoretical foundations and methodological orientations  for our work in the Urban Theory Lab has now been published:  Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization (Berlin: Jovis, 2013).  The book is now available for purchase in the United Kingdom and Europe and will be released in North America in early Spring 2014.  A book launch event was held in London in December 2013 following Neil Brenner’s Centenary Lecture at UCL.  We are grateful to Jovis Verlag and the Building Centre Bookshop in London for organizing this celebratory event.

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Brenner, Implosions/Explosions, book, UCL, event, Jovis

Neil Brenner gives keynote lecture at Creative Time Summit in New York City

Oct 25, 2013

Neil Brenner gave the opening lecture at the Creative Time Summit in New York City on “Art, Place, and Displacement in the 21st century City.”  Building upon Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the “right to the city,” Brenner discussed the possibilities and limits of place-making  as a means to promote radical sociospatial transformation under conditions of neoliberalizing capitalism.  The conference brought together a wide range of artists, designers, writers, film-makers, activists, musicians, curators and thinkers who are engaging in radical new ways with urban questions, conditions and transformations.  It was exciting and inspiring to see the worlds of radical art/design and critical urban theory intersect so productively in this remarkable conference.


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Neil Brenner interviewed for Fulcrum magazine, AA London

Feb 04, 2013

In this brief interview, conducted by Fulcrum editor Jack Self, Neil Brenner discusses contemporary forms of neoliberal urbanism and their implications for the practice of design.


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Neil Brenner lectures in the “On Architecture” series at the ETH, Zurich

Nov 14, 2013

Neil Brenner gave a lecture reporting on his ongoing book project with Christian Schmid in the “On Architecture” series at the ETH-Zurich.  After summarizing the agenda of the Urban Theory Lab, Brenner discussed some of the methodological and conceptual foundations of the theory of planetary urbanization that he and Schmid are developing.  He concluded by summarizing the current work of the Urban Theory Lab on the urbanization of the world’s most “remote” places.  Following the lecture, a wide-ranging discussion with the audience ensued, in which Christian Schmid also offered some comments on work in progress.  


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Neil Brenner and Daniel Ibañez lecture at "Thinking with Your Eyes" Symposium

Feb 27, 2014

Last week, Urban Theory Lab researchers Neil Brenner and Daniel Ibañez contributed to an interdisciplinary conference on visualization, "Thinking with your eyes," held at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The presentation focused on the Lab's use of visualization strategies as a tool of theory building in relation to urban questions, with specific reference to our ongoing project, "Extreme Territories of Urbanization."  It was a pleasure to contribute to this event and to dialogue with other scholars in the social sciences, the humanities and the design disciplines about the role of visualization in contemporary research--and practice.

Diagram by Kelvy Bird of Dpict

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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.

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"Urban infrastructure: hiding in plain sight," Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

Mar 28, 2014

Neil Brenner, director of the Urban Theory Lab, recently reported on our current research agendas to a forum of urban journalists who met for a 2-day symposium at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy just across town from us here in Cambridge.  The event, which focused on the question of urban infrastructure, was convened by our colleagues at the Lincoln Institute in collaboration with the Harvard GSD and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.  Special thanks go to our friend and colleague, Prof. Jerold Kayden of the Harvard GSD, for coordinating the event and offering the Urban Theory Lab an opportunity to present our work in this forum.

In his lecture, Brenner outlined the critique of city-centric urban theory that is under development within the Urban Theory Lab and its implications for how we might conceptualize the "boundaries" of urban infrastructure under historical and contemporary capitalism.  Rather than understanding urban infrastructure exclusively with reference to the socio-technical equipment of cities, Brenner argued for a territorial conceptualization that includes the large-scale operational landscapes of extended urbanization which support city development and inter-urban networks.  But such an approach also requires a radical reinvention of inherited notions of the hinterland, which are too often tied to the very city-centric and ahistorical assumptions that currently constrain our understanding of urbanization processes.

A lively discussion ensued in which some of the methodological, cartographic, historical and political implications of these conceptual reorientations were debated.  It was wonderful to have this opportunity to dialogue with such an astute and dedicated group of urbanists about our work in progress.

Image from the European Space Agency

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April 2014 / ongoing: Preparations for MoMa exhibition on "Uneven growth: tactical urbanisms for expanding megacities"

Apr 20, 2014

Under the directorship of curator Pedro Gadanho, the MoMa's Department of Architecture and Design is currently preparing an exhibition on Uneven Growth, dealing with the design and infrastructural challenges faced by mega-cities around the world, to be launched in Fall 2014.  The exhibition will feature research and design proposals by six interdisciplinary architectural teams on several major metropolitan regions, including Hong Kong, Istanbul, Lagos, Mumbai, New York and Rio de Janeiro. 

A preparatory workshop was held at the MoMa's PS1 this past October, in which the design teams presented their initial ideas for the exhibition.  Critical commentaries and reactions were solicited by a panel of interdisciplinary urbanists, architects and designers, including Neil Brenner of the Urban Theory Lab-GSD.  A video of the event has just been posted, which contains the team's presentations and the full panel of reactions (Neil Brenner's comments begin at:  2:38:18). 

It is extremely exciting to see the MoMa engaging with questions of contemporary urbanism and design from a critical and global perspective.  We eagerly look forward to the exhibition this Fall, to the accompanying book publication, and to the many discussions they will provoke about the contemporary urban conditon.

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Neil Brenner Lecture at Liquidation Conference in Zagreb

Apr 24, 2014

Neil Brenner, director of the Urban Theory Lab, recently contributed to a conference on the privatization of urban space in Zagreb, Croatia.  The conference program included contributions by artists, activists and radical scholars concerned to decipher the implications of privatization and neoliberal enclosure for the fabric of contemporary urban life. 

The event was connected to a broader interdisciplinary collaboration, conceived by New York-based curator Sarah Lookofsky and produced by Stacion--Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina--along with a team of Zagreb-based curators (Ana Kovacic, Lea Vene, and Sanja Sekelj).  An art exhibition, "Liquidation," accompanied the conference at the Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic in Zagreb. 

Additionally, the conference featured contributions from several members of the Right to the City movement in Zagreb (Pravo na Grad), who reported on their long history of struggle for more just, democratic and open forms of public space in the post-socialist city (for an informative overview of their work, see this blog post by Subversive Urbanism). 

Photo credit: Davor Konjikusic

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The city should again become a common good--interview with Neil Brenner

Apr 26, 2014

In conjunction with his participation in the Liquidation conference in Zagreb earlier this month (see news item below), Neil Brenner was interviewed for the Croatian website Pogledaj which deals with topics related to architecture, design, art, urban planning and spatial justice.  The Croatian version of the interview was published here; an English-language version is included below.  The interview was conducted by Diana Magdic, an urban journalist and activist based in the city of Split, Croatia who studies the posibilities of participatory planning processes.

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Neil Brenner named one of Thomson Reuters’ Highly Cited Researchers

Sep 01, 2014

Neil Brenner, director of the Urban Theory Lab, has been named one of Thomson Reuters’ Highly Cited Researchers in 2014. The ranking distinguishes some of world’s leading scientific minds who have produced work of exceptional impact. Brenner’s scholarly publications from 2002 to 2012 are among the top 1% cited globally in the general social sciences.

The Highly Cited Researchers List, first issued in 2001, identified researchers who were the most cited in one or more of 21 broad fields of the sciences and social sciences. The methodology was updated for the current list to focus on more contemporary research achievement and to recognize early and mid-career researchers.

For the full index, visit Highly Cited Researchers.

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Architectural Imagination after May ’68 / GSD Talks -- book launch on Henri Lefebvre’s 'Toward An Architecture of Enjoyment,' edited by Lukasz Stanek

Sep 17, 2014

In this lunchtime discussion organized in the GSD Talks series, Professor Lukasz Stanek (Manchester University, UK) presented a newly discovered and translated book by Henri Lefebvre, Toward An Architecture of Enjoyment, which he edited and introduced for the University of Minnesota Press.  Professor Stanek’s remarks outlined the connections between Lefebvre’s theory of architecture and his approach to urbanization and the production of space.  Additional comments and reflections were offered by Profs. K. Michael Hays (Harvard GSD), Eve Blau (Harvard GSD), Tom Conley (Harvard, Visual and Environmental Studies) and Stuart Elden (Warwick University, UK).  Neil Brenner (Harvard GSD) introduced and moderated the discussion, which was attended by many Urban Theory Lab researchers.

Text related to this event: Lukasz Stanek in ARTFORUM

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Operational Landscapes Exhibition at Melbourne School of Design

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.

Curatorial Team: Grga Basic (MDes '15), Chris Bennett (MDes '15), Mariano Gomez Luque (MArch II '13, DDes), Daniel Ibañez (MDes '12, DDes)

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

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Mar 17, 2015

Before a full auditorium of over 400 attendees, Neil Brenner gave one of the Spring 2015 Dean's Lectures at the Melbourne School of Design on the topic "Towards a new epistemology of the urban."  Kindly invited by Dean Tom Kvan of the Melbourne School of Design and graciously hosted by Professor Brendan Gleeson, Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, Brenner discussed his ongoing work on planetary urbanization and its implications for contemporary urban theory, research, planning and design.  The lecture accompanied the launch of the Urban Theory Lab's exhibition on "Operational Landscapes", which was on display at the Melbourne School of Design in March/April of 2015.

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May 20, 2015

An earlier volume co-edited by Neil Brenner, Margit Mayer and Peter Marcuse, Cities for People, not for Profit (Routledge 2011) has been newly published in a Turkish edition by Sel Publishing in Istanbul.  We are grateful to the publisher, Bilge Sanci, for supporting this project.


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Graham Foundation awards grant to Neil Brenner and Nikos Katsikis

May 16, 2016

The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts has awarded a grant to Neil Brenner and Nikos Katsikis for their book project "Is the world urban? Towards a critique of geospatial ideology." This book builds upon theories of planetary urbanization to evaluate the limits and potentials of remotely sensed data and other forms of geospatial information as a basis for mapping urbanization processes. Against the prevalent trend towards cartographic positivism, in which such data are presented as neutral, photographic "captures" of ground conditions, our analysis reveals the hidden, pre-empirical interpretive assumptions that mediate the construction of geospatial maps. The book offers, first, an accessible overview of the main sources of geospatial data on urbanization, the technical procedures through which they are constructed, and the underlying metageographical assumptions upon which they are based. Second, on this basis, a theory-driven approach is proposed to interpret the effects of geospatial data on urbanization. Building upon this ongoing work on planetary urbanization, the project presents new metageographical frameworks for visualizing the worldwide urban fabric, including through the theoretically reflexive application of geospatial data.


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Neil Brenner, Nikos Katsikis, Graham Foundation, urbanization, spatial representation