Concept – Various

Whilst the usual frameworks of architecture and urbanism operate in ways in which local actors have little influence on their outcome, self-organised practices provide an alternate framework for the production of space. A lineage can be traced through political activism, cultural production in the form of music, art and literature, and other ways of dwelling such as squatting or autonomous communities. All demonstrate a desire to challenge the status-quo by developing fiercely independent approaches. A number of spatial practices, such as the Centri Sociali or the Freetown of Christiania, extend this narrative into the realm of architecture and urbanism.

In addition to informal activities, architects and artists have also begun to consider the potential of self-organisation as a tactic within their practice. Cedric Price's experiments of the 1960s harnessed the creativity of the users of buildings and were inspired in part by the Situationists' proposals for a Unitary Urbanism, whilst Atelier d'Architecture Autogérée's Ecobox project developed a left-over space in Paris over five years through a deliberately slow collaborative process that involved residents, students and designers. The Isola Arts Centre in Milan also adopted a self-organised approach in its resistance to the demolition of the local neighbourhood and its own building to make way for regeneration-driven development. This tactic drew the attention of architects, artists and local residents, and this dynamic network produced a range of material that was not only oppositional in nature but also produced alternative proposals.

Self-organisation in architectural terms radically challenges many of the tenets of the regulated and controlled profession. It does not simply suggest participation in something that is controlled elsewhere, but actively establishes the desire and need for a transformation in the first instance, before acting on it. This action involves the design of processes that can enable people to transform their own environments meaning that the mechanisms involved are embedded within their own locality and are not external to it. Since self-organised projects emerge from the negotiations of many different actors, they are inherently relational practices, and point towards the collective production of space.

Key Projects

References About

Brett Bloom, Making Their Own Plans / Belltown Paradise (Chicago: White Walls Inc., 2004).

Mathias Heyden, 'Evolving Participatory Design: A Report from Berlin, Reaching Beyond', field:, 2(1) (2008): 31-45;

Jonathan Hughes and Simon Sadler (eds), Non-plan: Essays on Freedom, Participation and Change in Modern Architecture and Urbanism (Oxford: Architectural Press, 2000).

Helge Mooshammer and Peter Mörtenböck, Networked Cultures: Parallel Architectures and the Politics of Space (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2008).

Sam Vardy, 'Tactics of Self-Organisation', Arq: Architectural Research Quarterly, 13(2) (2009): 133-140.


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