Projective Views on Urban Metabolism Conference

Feb 07, 2014

The Doctor of Design program at the GSD, with the support of the Urban Theory Lab, the Energy and Environment Lab, New Geographies Lab, the Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the Urban Metabolism group at the GSD, are hosting a one-day conference entitled "Projective Views on Urban Metabolism". The concept of urban metabolism, aiming to grasp the continuous processes of energy, material and population exchange within and between cities and their extensive hinterlands, has been the subject of both extensive empirical research and, increasingly, critical discussion within the social and natural sciences. However, these interdisciplinary challenges have not yet been met with a synthetic response from the design disciplines. Through the lens of urban metabolism, the goals of this one-day conference are:  to reassess the planetary rescaling of contemporary urbanization processes; to unpack the transformation of spatial forms and structures, and on this basis, to track the emergence of new operative territories for design; and finally, to explore the agency of design in confronting these challenges. This event, has been organized by UTL members Daniel Ibañez and Nikos Katsikis, with the support of UTL member Ali Fard and other doctoral students at the GSD. It will take place in Piper auditorium at the GSD on Friday February 7th from 10am to 6pm.

The conference is also connected to the forthcoming issue of New Geographies, ‘Grounding Metabolism’, edited by Daniel Ibañez and Nikos Katsikis, scheduled for publication in May 2014. 


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conference, urban metabolism, DDes, Ibanez, Katsikis, Fard

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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Conference, MIT, property rights, land, landgrabbing, Neil Brenner, Andy Merrifield, Alpen Sheth

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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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Brenner, conference, Zagreb, lecture, privatization

Daniel Ibañez co-organizes GSD Conference and Colloquium, “Wood Urbanism: from the Molecular to the Territorial”

Sep 25, 2014

The research agendas and theoretical perspectives of the Urban Theory Lab continue to resonate with and animate many other projects and exchanges at the GSD and beyond.  Thus, amidst a busy early semester schedule, UTL Research Manager Daniel Ibañez recently co-organized a conference with our friends and colleagues Kiel Moe (Associate Professor of Architecture and Energy, Harvard GSD) and Jane Hutton (Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard GSD) on the topic of Wood Urbanism: from the Molecular to the Territorial.  Building in part upon the metabolic perspectives on urbanization being developed by UTL researchers, the conference brought into conversation scholars and practitioners concerned with wood at a range of scales, from that of the molecule and the working forest to that of the mid-rise building, the urban-regional landscape and the forested territory.  Specifically, the conference examined the implications and potentials of wood urbanism, understood as a nexus of relationships between land-use, wood production and wood construction. While relying on the inherent intelligence and depth of multiple disciplines, it was argued that a more encompassing socio-metabolic perspective on the role of wood in contemporary buildings, urbanization, and territories is needed. This event marked the initiation of a research collaboration between the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), our friends and colleagues in the Energy, Environments, and Design Lab (EED), and the Centro de Innovación y Desarrollo de la Madera (CIDM), Universidad Católica de Chile.


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Ibañez, conference, colloquium, wood, urbanism

Daniel Ibañez lecture at “New Urbanism, New Cities” conference in Santander, Spain

Sep 09, 2014

Daniel Ibañez, UTL research manager, recently contributed to a conference on "Nuevo Urbanismo, Nuevas Ciudades" (New Urbanism, New Cities) in Santander, Spain, which was hosted by the Universidad Internacional Menedez Pelayo (UIMP) and directed by the award-winning Spanish urbanist Jose Maria Ezquiaga and the Spanish curator Ariadna Cantis. The seminar program included contributions by young and established urbanists who are concerned to decipher contemporary patterns of urbanization moment in Spain.  Equally, the conference aimed to provide a forum for generating and discussing new conceptualizations, ideas, projects and strategies that might inform more nuanced urban interventions in the future.  In his lecture, Daniel Ibañez reported on the need to create new conceptualizations of the urban that supersede historically inherited binarisms and reconnect geography and ecology.  He proposed that contemporary theories of socio-environmental metabolism could be helpful not only for understanding the interdependencies between agglomerations and broader operational landscapes, but as a basis for repositioning the agency of design in relation to contemporary urbanization patterns.


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Ibañez, conference, urbanism, cities, Santander, Spain


Oct 12, 2015

UTL researcher Nikos Katsikis recently presented some of the core arguments of his doctoral research at a conference on “The Horizontal Metropolis: A Radical Project,” organized by our colleague Paola Vigano at the EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland.  His paper developed his key distinction between “agglomeration landscapes” and “operational landscapes” with reference to a variety of spatial data visualizations of historical and contemporary land uses.  His core thesis was that global system of agglomerations, although occupying no more than 5% of the planetary terrain, is actually responsible for the (re)organization of most of the 70% of the earth’s surface currently used.  The conference agenda follows:

“Horizontal Metropolis is both an image and a concept, it is a lens through which to view the form of the contemporary city, conceptualizing it and constructing it as a project. It refers to a specific spatial condition characterized by a horizontality of infrastructure, urbanity, relationships, and by closely interlinked, co-penetrating rural/urban realms, communication, transport and economic systems. Contemporary urban figures such as città diffusa in Northern Italy, desakota in Asia or ville horizontale in Africa, fine-grained settlement dispersion in Flanders, or Zwischenstadt in Germany are just some of the examples able to effectively describe this emergent urban condition, increasingly related to the dispersion of the urban fabric within the agricultural landscape.” 


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Nikos Katsikis, Horizontal Metropolis, conference, Lausanne