Architectural Wor(l)ds within the Undercommons

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


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 12:45-15:30 (with a few exceptions): 23/2 (intro), 9/3, 16/3 and 30/3 (readings, off campus), 6/4 (joyful assembly), 20/4 (sticky session), 4/5 and 18/5 (closing session).


  • A reading list (see below) combines excerpts from the Undercommons with other texts. The texts listed under the reading sessions we will read collectively, the supplementary texts serve further (individual) study. We will make these texts available on the student server.
  • 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 give us insights into their spatial practices and join our speculation to relate to Moten & Harney’s thinking. We will also give (eachother) input talks.
  • Our collaborative playlist Beyond The Wild (connect here) joins us in our thinking, walking and dancing​​​​​​


23 February (12:45-15:30) – Introduction session
9 March (12:00-15:30, Bucherraum F)  – Reading session one
16 March (12:00-15:30, Zentralwäscherei) – Reading session two
30 March (12:00-15:30, location TBA) – Reading session three 

We all read the 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 for three reading sessions. Each reading session is prepared and moderated by a group of students. They decide how to organise and engage the whole group through a collective reading of a selection of fragments, by setting up tasks or by formulating questions to discuss. This can 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 three reading sessions, we will displace ourselves from the classroom and set up school in one of the places that is also on the Undercommons mapping. We invite everyone to gather a bit earlier to first have lunch together and meet with the people already in the room. 

In between, before and after these readings, we walk. We walk alone, or we walk in groups. We walk the lines of the undercommons map, walk around and inside one of its featured buildings, or we just walk our daily routines more consciously. We walk slightly slower than we are used to, to pay closer attention to what we generally overlook. We walk to feel our bodies as we think. We wander and think around. 


6 April (12:45-15:30, location TBA) – Input session with Huda Tayob and Marie-Louise Richards

We invite a few guests to join the collectivity that we have built over the last few weeks. They step into our ongoing conversations and explorations with an input talk and share their thinking on Moten & Harney’s concepts as spatial propositions. 


20 April (12:45-15:30, location TBA) – Sticky session
4 May (12:45-15:30, location TBA) – Input session
18 May (12:45-15:30, location TBA) – Final sticky session

Now that the field is wide open, we pick a spot. In what we have named a sticky session, we show our colours and state our interests, individually or in 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.

Following this, we gather once more for a round of input and inspiration. We might decide to invite a guest to feed the questions in the classroom to which we have by now returned. 

From now on, we also pay specific attention to the medium in which we would like to elaborate our spatial interests. We spend time to critically develop this articulation, questioning the codes, aesthetics and implications of the visual. What are the politics of the drawing, the section, the map, the plan? How does this impact the viewer? Who can read the visual? 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? 

We end the course (but not our reflections) with a final sticky session. We share our work, our journeys and our final thoughts (always ongoing) in the form of a performance, collage, drawing, plan, painting, poem, text, sounding, film. The medium is open. We offer our manifestations to one another, reflecting on the architectural worlds we’ve entered through the practice of the undercommons. 


Introduction session (23 February)

  • Introduction (The Wild Beyond by Jack Halberstam). The Undercommons, p. 5-12

Reading session one (9 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 (16 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.” vol.7, p. 39-51 and “Rest in public as resistance”. Architectural review (2022).
  • Nishat Awan “Mapping Otherwise’ in, M. Schalk et al. (eds), Feminist Futures of Spatial Practice: Materialisms, Activism, Dialogues, Pedagogies.” AADR/ Spurbuchverlag.  (2017) p. 33-41.

Reading session three (30 March)

Supplementary readings

Stefano Harney & Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions, 2013.
Berlant, Lauren. “The Commons: Infrastructures for Troubling Times.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34 (4) (2016): p. 393-419.
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.
Lange, Torsten. “Another infrastructure: queer ecologies of care.” Architectural Review, 2021
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. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis ; London: U of Minnesota, 2006. 
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).