March 25, 2015

Designing the Urban Commons: lessons from the field

Agrocite, R-Urban Colombes, 2014 credit aaa
Agrocite, R-Urban Colombes, 2014 credit aaa

Listen to the recording of the evening here

With an evening of provocations and discussion, Theatrum Mundi launched Designing the Urban Commons, an ideas competition calling for new ways to stimulate the city’s public and collective life. Three groups engaged in live projects in London and Paris presented their work, describing how commoning emerges through the spaces they have created or occupied and also examining the issues and opportunities presented by commons as an approach to urban design. We strongly encourage anyone considering entering the competition to, as well as all those concerned by the disappearance of spaces for common interest in London, to listen, download and share.

The competition brief here asks for existing land, architecture, or infrastructures in neighbourhoods across London to be re-imagined as common spaces, or for new urban commons to be carved out in the city or online. Commons are not static pieces of architecture. We are seeking designs through which the social act of commoning could take shape, by enabling citizens to co-produce urban resources from culture & knowledge to housing, energy or democratic processes.


Assembly SE8 was formed out of a collective need to transform a space in limbo. The site of an old school where the group live as property guardians also became the centre for an active engagement with the idea of the ‘commons’. Utilising the schools vast playground, wildlife garden and the school itself, the group opened up this once private space for the local community to explore and engage with. A whole variety of projects and people have passed through this space, each informing the context and practise of using a space with few rules and no predetermined use.

Atelier d’architecture autogérée (studio for self-managed architecture) is a collective platform which conducts explorations, actions and research concerning urban mutations and emerging cultural, social and political practices in the contemporary city. aaa acts through ‘urban tactics’, encouraging the participation of inhabitants at the self-management of disused urban spaces, overpassing contradictions and stereotypes by proposing nomad and reversible projects, initiating interstitial practices which explore the potential of contemporary city (in terms of population, mobility, temporality). Their current project R-URBAN in the Parisian suburb of Colombes proposes the creation of a local network of short circuits of ecological, economic, social and cultural nature. It consists of AgroCite, a civic agricultural centre, RecycLab, a platform for recycling and eco-construction, and EcoHab, a cooperative residential unit of 7 habitations currently under construction.

Public Works is a non for profit organisation working between the fields of art, architecture and design.  All public works projects explore how the urban public realm can be shaped by its users and how participation and collaboration can inform a more open design process Projects span across different scales and address the relation between the informal and formal aspects of a site. They produce social, architectural and discursive spaces: outputs include socio-spatial and physical structures, public events and publications. The group is based in London and operates as a not-for-profit company. Current members are Torange Khonsari, Andreas Lang who work with an extended network of project related collaborators.

#UrbanCommons  @TheatrumM
(full website 25th March)