Professional’s roles and practices in the urbanization process

by Ragnhild Claesson


Conceptual Cluster 1: Relations and Agency

As the world is getting more segregated and spatially divided between rich and poor, and increasingly so during the past three decades through neoliberal politics (Harvey 2008:32), professionals and practitioners working with urban development, as planners, architects and preservationists, are developing practices within a sustainability discourse. Some of these practices aim at reaching municipal goals of social sustainability, for example poverty reduction and equality. The roles and practices of professionals in urban development are debated and under negotiation, and Awan, Schneider and Till (2011) speaks of “critical practices” as a way to make transformative actions against non-reflective practices of habit and repetition. Drawing on Lefebvres understanding of production of space, they state that the architects’ work produces social space and that “every line on an architectural drawing should be sensed as the anticipation of a future social relationship” (2011:30). Social space is never neutral, but political and charged with dynamics of power relations, hence architectural production is not a neutral action. Rather than “architect”, the authors suggest “spatial agent” to describe an actor who negotiate to reform conditions, and who “engage transformatively” with structures of society (Awan, Schneider and Till, 2011:28-31). Archtiecture may also be seen as a shared activity, a relational practice, where the architect acts together with others in a network of different agents. Petrescu (2012) believes the architect can initiate such network of actors, as a kind of urban tactics (in De Certeau’s sense of the term), by creating “relationscapes” where different agents and relationships between people, material and spaces are produced. The aim would be to empower agents to manage space and to maintain democracy. Petrescu and her atelier aaa (atelier d’architecture autogérée, small letters) design agencies rather than objects, and she questions current architectural regulated practices. Her participatory approach aims at working with others to empower them, instead of on behalf of clients or of oneself. The archiect’s role in Petrescu’s suggestion is manifold; to create a rhizome system, to empower agents, to produce facilitating (architectural, physical) objects to enhance appropriation of space, and at the same time to map and visualize the network and the process. In Petrescu’s work, the mapping becomes performative and an actor in itself, one agent amongst the other, which mirrors the process. She explains that the mapping can “enhance experience”, help to create and reveal agents, and to discuss things otherwise invisible (Petrescu, 2011). Coming back to Harvey’s analysis of the consequences of neoliberal politics on urbanization, the division of space due to urbanization is a global process, which he believes possible to struggle only on a global scale with finance capital. Harvey finds the idea of the city functioning as collective body politics, where progressive social movements might emanate, implausible (Harvey, 2008). In the light of this perspective, Petrescu´s suggestion of the extended architectural role as an empowering agent on a local scale, might be more in favour of empowering the architect than the local people. However, as Harvey also points out, social movements may be supported by local state apparatus, which could contribute to a reshaping of the city (Harvey, 2008:33).

Awan, Nishat, Schneider, Tatjana & Till, Jeremy (2011) “Introduction” Awan, Schneider & Till (Eds.) Spatial Agency. Other Ways of Doing Architecture, Routledge, London

Harvey, David (2008) “The Right to the City” New Left Review 53, September October 2008, 23

Petrescu, Doina (2012) “Relationscapes: Mapping agencies of relational practice in architecture” City, Culture and Society, 3 (2012) 135-140