Architectural Wor(l)ds in the Undercommons

Shervin Sheikh Rezaei
Shervin Sheikh Rezaei
Thandi Loewensen
Thandi Loewensen
Leslie Lokko & Sumayya Vally
Leslie Lokko & Sumayya Vally
Frederik Kaufmann
Frederik Kaufmann
Huda Tayob
Huda Tayob
Hotel Rothaus
Hotel Rothaus
Thomas Aquilina
Thomas Aquilina
Message Salon Köchlistrasse 5
Message Salon Köchlistrasse 5
Olalekan Jeyifous
Olalekan Jeyifous
Shervin Sheikh Rezaei
Shervin Sheikh Rezaei

About 

Working from and within the social poesis of life in the Undercommons, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney elaborate an array of concepts as ‘words making worlds’: study, debt, surround, planning, shipped, fugitivity, undercommons. They point to the ongoingness and ever-presence of self-organised arrangements that operate outside institutional logics with an intentionality to survive, and find joy. Against a backdrop of dominant norms – embedded in culture, standards, objects, buildings – these undercommons are often excluded, overlooked or relegated to the ‘other’. Through a radical shift of perspective – where being included is no longer the goal, but refusing to take part and to act on own terms takes centre stage – Moten & Harney consider these undercommons as forms of intelligence and togetherness that serve as a blueprint for being together in this world otherwise.

During this course we will ask: how to understand these undercommons in spatial terms? What kind of spatial intelligence do they hold or point at? Through case studies and encounters with spatial practices we make their spatial solutions, ‘beyond’ typologies or methods for space-making seen, and through this, we reflect on ourselves as spatial practitioners. Departing from Moten & Harney’s fugitive vocabulary we look at spaces otherwise: spaces creating worlds driven by a desire to live, dwell, survive and dream, anchored on multiple bodies, experiences and ontologies. Through this we engage with questions on authorship, togetherness, difference and the ‘other’ in spatial practice today.

Enrolment here

This is a seminar in which we will read, walk and think together, for which attendance is expected. The seminar will partially take place off campus, and is organised in bi-weekly assemblies on Thursday morning. The seminar is convened by lecturer Els Silvrants-Barclay. 

Tools

  • A reading list combines excerpts from the Undercommons with other texts. Some texts we read and discuss collectively, other texts serve further (individual) study. 
  • A google drive and map (here) give access to an ongoing mapping of what we have speculatively coined undercommoning practices in Zurich. 
  • Invited guests will join our collective reading sessions and bring in insights from their practice and research, relating back to Moten & Harney’s thinking. 
  • Our collaborative playlist Beyond The Wild (connect here) joins us in our thinking, walking and dancing​​​​​​

Course set-up (FS24) 

PART 1. STUDY

22 February 2024 – Introduction session 
7 March 2024 – Reading session one 
28 March 2024 – Reading session two
11 April 2024 – Reading session three
25 April 2024 – Reading session four

NOT CALLING THE CLASSROOM TO ORDER

We all read texts for the reading sessions individually. We try to be conscious of where we read them: in bed, in the university cafeteria, on the bus, in a bar, late at night, in the fog.

Following this, we assemble to collectively read and talk. Each reading is prepared and moderated by a group of 3-4 students. They decide how to organise and engage the whole group by reading a selection of fragments out loud, by setting up tasks or by formulating questions to discuss. This can also take the form of a performance, discussions in small groups, a series of instructions, a walk: each group reflects and decides how to set up the session. The aim is to have a collective exchange on these texts, and tease out a speculation on how we might relate them back to space and spatial production. 

For these readings, we displace ourselves from the classroom and set up school in one of the places on the Undercommons map. We invite everyone to gather a bit earlier or stay a bit longer to meet with the people already in the room. 

We each time invite a guest to read, think and tag along. Guests that have a practice that resonates with some of Moten & Harney's thinking, or that just have a desire to engage with it. 

WE ARE ALREADY IN IT

In between, before and after these readings, we walk the undercommons map, alone or in group. We walk around and inside one of its featured buildings. We hang around in them, rest in them, read in them, meet in them. We pay closer attention to what we generally overlook. We will think about what we value in them, who is using them, why they matter, what kind of spatial intelligence they hold. We will go in the morning, at night, when we are happy or sad. 

We will feel uncomfortable and unsure on how to enter these 'spatial' undercommons. We will understand that in order to engage with the undercommons, we have to somehow become part of it. That includes accepting the role of the outsider and developing a skillset to navigate respectfully. We will feel our bodies as we think.

Through these walks and wanderings, we will encounter spatial scenarios and realities that offer us another lens into the undercommons. Only to find out that we were already in it from the beginning. 

PART 2. JOYFUL ASSEMBLY

(9 May 2024 – Rehearsing Assembly) 
16 May 2024 – Final assembly 

BEING TOGETHER IN HOMELESSNESS

Now that the field is wide open, we pick a spot. We show our colours and state our interests, individually or in a group, around one (or more) terms, texts, case studies or spatial undercommons, and share what we think they could bring to architecture. We assemble and share our thoughts, reflections and speculations.

We pay specific attention to the medium in which we elaborate our interests. How to narrate, to represent, to draw the undercommons? We spend time to critically develop this articulation, questioning the codes, aesthetics and implications of the visual and the textual. What are the politics of the drawing, the section, the map, the plan? How does this impact the viewer? Who can read? Where and how does it appear? How to draw uses, and affective qualities of space that are hard to fix, or refuse to be fixed?

Lecturer: Els Silvrants-Barclay

READING LIST (FS24) 

Introduction session 

  • Introduction (The Wild Beyond by Jack Halberstam). The Undercommons, p. 5-11

Reading session one (7 March)

  • Jay Cephas, Igor Marjanovic and Ana Miljacki. “The Common Wind of Worldlessness. In Conversation with Fred Moten and Stefano Harney.” Journal of Architectural Education 76:2 (2022): p. 43-50.
  • Menna Agha (2020), "Emotional Capital and Other Ontologies of the Architect", in: Architectural Histories 8(1): 23, p. 1-13. 
  • bell hooks, “Black Vernacular: Architecture as Cultural Practice” and “Architecture in Black life: Talking Space with La Verne Wells-Bowie.” Art on My Mind: Visual Politics (New York, NY: The New Press, 1995), 145-162.

Reading session two (28 March)

  • Chapter 7 (The Great Antagonism. An interview with Stevphen Shukaitis). The Undercommons, p. 103-159.
  • Marie-Louise Richards, “Hyper-visible Invisibility: Tracing the Politics, Poetics and Affects of the Unseen.” www.field-journal.org vol.7, p. 39-51 and “Rest in public as resistance”. Architectural review (2022).
  • McKittrick, Katherine. Introduction. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis ; London: U of Minnesota, 2006. 

Reading session three (11 April)

Reading session four (25 April)

  • Berlant, Lauren. “The Commons: Infrastructures for Troubling Times.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34 (4) (2016): p. 393-419.

Supplementary readings

Stefano Harney & Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions, 2013.
Cheatle, Emma. “Writing-Drawing. An Entangled Archival Practice”. Dimensions. Journal of Architectural Knowledge. 2022 issue 3.
Echanove, Matias, and Rahul Srivastava. "In Practice: Urbz." The Architectural Review 1477 (2020). 
Gooden, Mario. Dark Space : Architecture, Representation, Black Identity. New York, NY: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2016.
Hartman, Saidiya. "Venus in Two Acts." Small Axe, vol. 12 no. 2, 2008, p. 1-14.
Lokko, Lesley Naa Norle. White Papers, Black Marks : Architecture, Race, Culture. London: Athlone, 2000. Print.
Marboeuf, Olivier. “An Invisible Common” Atelier Médicis Clichy-Montfermeil, 2020 
Matsipa, Mpho. "Woza! Sweetheart! On Braiding Epistemologies on Bree Street." Thesis Eleven 141.1 (2017): 31-48.
McKittrick, Katherine. “On Plantations, Prisons, and a Black Sense of Place.” Social & Cultural Geography, 12:8 (2011), p. 947-963.
Papanicolaou, Stella Sofia. “Students of architecture develop counter-strategies for spatial transformation through walking and mapping”, ArchTheo'16  X. International Theory of Architecture Conference, October, 2016, pp. 272–282.
Richardson, Tina. “Developing Schizocartography: Formulating a Theoretical Methodology for a Walking Practice.” Walking Inside Out : Contemporary British Psychogeography. London: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015, pp. 181-194.
Sharpe, Christina. In The Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016.
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung. Whose Land Have I Lit on Now? Contemplations on the Notions of Hostipitality. Archive Books, 2020. 
Resonances: A Conversation on Formless Formation with Stefano Harney, Fred Moten, Sandra Ruiz, and Hypatia Vourloumis”. E-flux journal Issue 121 (October 2021).
Lowenhaupt Tsing, Anna. “On Nonscalability: The Living World is not Amenable to Precision Nested Scales.” Common Knowledge, Vol. 18, Iss. 3, Fall 2021, p. 505-524.
Patel, Kamna. Property as Citizenship. Lecture in the framework of StadssalonsUrbains of the VUB University, Brussels 20 April 2022. 
The Black Outdoors. A conversation between Fred Moten, Saidiya Hartman convened by Kameron Carter and Sarah Jane Cervenak (October 2016).