Louis Volont – Shapeshifting: The Cultural Production of Common Space

As the neoliberalization of our cities continues apace, a growing group of opponents assumes merit in the concept of ‘common space’. In common space, use and collectivity take precedence over profit and expert authorship. Whilst a growing body of scholarship construes such common spaces as pre-existing terrains to be reclaimed from capitalist command, less attention has gone to how they are raised from scratch. In order to fill this void, this study explores how common space is produced within the current conditions of urban development. In so doing, it follows the lead of a specific breed of architect: the one working at the crossroads of cultural activism and community organizing.

In-depth interviewing and participatory observation allow to lay bare the possibilities and pitfalls of commoning in a variety of cities. At the Public Land Grab (London), a derelict piece of urban land was transformed into a community farm. At Pension Almonde (Rotterdam), a social housing complex became a locus for cultural production. At Montaña Verde (Antwerp), a plaza was tweaked into a co-created piece of public art. Data from collectives such as the Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (Paris), Raumlabor (Berlin) and Zuloark (Madrid) are highlighted as well. Transversally, the voyage is guided by Henri Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space.

Results are threefold. First, the distinction between Symbiotic and Oppositional Commoning is proposed, resulting in a ‘Taxonomy of Tactics’. Second, the relation between urban commoners and municipal institutions is refined by advocating agonism. Finally, Lefebvre’s lexicon is mobilized in order to explore the cross-fertilization between urban commoning and political action. Overall, this dissertation puts the human imagination at the centre of the city. It will therefore be of value to scholars, artists and activists with an interest in the creative dimension of the built environment.

Supervisors: Pascal Gielen & Walter Weyns

External members: Stavros Stavrides, Caroline Newton & Liesbeth Huybrechts

Chair: Stijn Oosterlynck