Critical Grounds

Month: January, 2013

‘Urban Prototypes: Mentalities and Perspectives’ public lecture at the Architectural Association

Together with Clara Oloriz Sanjuan I will be presenting a lecture at the AA on Wednesday 6 February, 18.00 pm, Main Lecture Hall, 36 Bedford Square, London.


Urban Prototypes: Mentalities and Perspectives

Prototypical approaches are now prevalent within architectural and urban design. Suggesting an affinity with the speed, efficiency and flexibility of post-fordist and computational methods of research and production, the prototype appears to offer an ideal means for architecture to engage with contemporary conditions of urbanisation.

Drawing upon their recent work within the Urban Prototypes research cluster of the AA, Clara Oloriz Sanjuan and Douglas Spencer present a critical analysis of this phenomenon. This is framed through the concept of ‘mentalities’ as employed by Tafuri in his treatment of the territorial transformations of Renaissance Venice, and informed by the perspectives gleaned from their interviews with figures such as David Grahme Shane, Pier Vittorio Aureli, Francoise Fromont, Charles Waldheim and Eva Castro.

Uncanny Landscapes event

I am speaking at the conference strand of the ‘Uncanny Landscapes’ event to be held between 4-8 March in London. The event has been organised by Rupert Griffiths and James Thurgill, and further information on it can be found at

This the abstract for my paper, ‘Unheimlich Manoeuvre’:

Flat ontologies might be said to find their ideal exemplification in a certain idea of landscape. Especially where its lateral assemblages of social, biological, geological and infrastructural elements are valorised as the means to address the problems of the contemporary city — as in ‘ecological urbanism’ or the ‘new naturalism’ of Andrea Branzi’s ‘weak urbanism’ for instance — one can observe the figure of landscape working to level out and disperse the social within a horizontally articulated ‘new materialism’. Such ontologies of emergence, self-organisation and autopoiesis are understood to function through laws immanent to the organisation of matter itself and to operate according to a logic of purely local and environmental interactions. In thinking the relationship between the subject and the landscape according to such paradigms, the tendency has been to employ models drawn from the world of physics and biology. Swarm-modelling and the terminology of particles, molecules, even ‘plankton’ (Branzi), are held to be an adequate, even progressive, way of understanding the subject’s actions and agency. Thus flat ontologies tend to posit the subject as ‘at home’ in a terrain that operates according to unified and unifying principles.

This paper offers a critique of this understanding of the relationship between the subject and the landscape. Exploring its historical dimensions — in the stadtlandschaft of Hans Bernhard Reichow for example — and its current manifestations in models such as weak urbanism, and biourbanism, the political and ideological implications of such seemingly post-ideological and post-political positions will be addressed. Central to this critique will be the argument that the subject, rather than finding a home in the nature of the landscape, must always encounter it through an experience of artifice in which nature is socialised, even in and through the very models that would refuse the possibility of this.

Illustrationf rom Hans-Bernhard Reichow, 'OrganischeStadtbaukunst', 1948

Illustration from Hans-Bernhard Reichow, ‘Organische
Stadtbaukunst’, 1948