As a specific mode of dwelling, the house originates—at least in part—with a desire for stability. For this reason, we can argue that the invention of the house as an architectural apparatus is motivated not only by the need for protection from a hostile territory but also by a desire to settle and to give life a ritual form. The emergence of the home as a stable structure provided security, but it also enhanced a sense of possession, which gradually expanded from the house to its surrounding environment. It is for this reason that we could trace back to the home the rise of the idea of property, a concept which, up until the present day, remains the most important spatial and political datum of our society. While today there is much discussion on issues such as climate change and the housing crisis, seldom these issues are understood as structural consequences of a society based on property relationships. With the rise of capitalism the tyrannical relationships at work in the home were expanded to the totality of urban life and thus property has become the main template for both human and non-human forms of life.
This year’s studio challenges students to be bold in rethinking what urban life could be if we conceive it beyond the idea of property. Focusing on the relationship between the home and the settlement, students will be encouraged to imagine what it would mean to experiment with the possibility of commoning. Going beyond the problematic trope of the ‘sharing economy,’ practices of commoning demand direct commitment from the dwellers in taking care of their environment and their peers. Commoning is a practice that emerges out of the effort of a community to pool its resources and share them equitably. Although much has been written about the emancipatory potential of commoning at a political level, this practice presents another crucial aspect: namely, the need for ’commoners’ not only to share but also to govern common resources in a way that ensures their reproduction or renewal. Because resources are not owned but are a common wealth that should survive into the future, commoning implies an idea of stewardship and care that is foreign to the reality of private property and that often becomes too abstract when it comes to state-based systems. The commoners are directly called to take care of the commons—for themselves, for their peers, and for future generations. They can use resources for their well-being, but must make sure those resources will be maintained and replenished, thus establishing a relationship between land and man that is conceptually very different from the modern attitude of property.
The main question of the studio is, therefore, what kind of architecture could both enable and represent practices of commoning. If subdivisions, villas, detached homes, apartments, parks, roads, and the separation between public and private sphere have successfully embodied the spatial logic of property, what kind of programs, typologies, archetypes, and spatial arrangements can inspire and enable principles of commoning? As a preliminary framework for action, we propose the concept of the ‘dispersed home’: an idea of domesticity and a way of settling that has gradually emerged from projects developed by your colleagues in the previous iterations of this studio. The concept of the ‘dispersed home’ addresses the gradual redistribution of domestic spaces such as kitchens, gardens, and living rooms in patterns that break the mold of the traditional household. It is important to remark that the dispersed home is not a ‘collective house,’ but a step-by-step devolution of the household property towards the possibility of commoning.
Important references for the idea of the dispersed home are nineteenth and twentieth-century material feminism, Russian disurbanims, Aboriginal architecture in Australia, 1980’s work from OMA and Kazuyo Sejima. The logic that informs the dispersed home is the possibility of socializing domestic labor as a way to catalyze wider forms of commoning that includes both reproduction but also production in general. In order to avoid the conventional—and often empty—rhetoric of sharing and collectivity, we will approach commoning in the spirit of ‘kitchen-sink realism,’ which means that we will confront everyday life in all its political and economic implications. We should constantly keep in mind that commoning is not easy: it requires a lot of commitment and organization and also a long-term vision in order to be properly supported.
Following the previous two studios, we will continue to work on the Roman Agro, the region that surrounds the city of Rome. The form of the Agro is defined towards the west by the Tyrrhenian coastline, and towards the east by an arch of volcanic mountains that embrace the flat area of the Agro in the manner of a theatre. Despite its clearly discernible topographic form, which has defined the landscape of Rome for millennia, the Agro is a vast suburban area where growth over the last century has been propelled mostly by appropriation and building speculation.
In both ancient and early modern times, the Agro was dominated by powerful estate owners who built impressive villas both to exercise and represent their power over the land, staging it through the use of architecture and landscape design. This situation was particularly evident in the case of the eastern Agro which stretches beyond the Grande Raccordo Anulare until the Alban Hills. Until the 19th century, this area was known as the Ager Tuscolanus as it hinged on the Via Tuscolana, an ancient consular road connecting Rome to Tusculum, a very important hilltop town that predated Rome. Ager Tusculanus is today one of the most populous and problematic suburbs of Rome, and its present condition casts a very long shadow back on the ‘colonial’ history of the Urbe itself.
The rise of Rome as capital of Italy caused massive waves of immigration to the city in the 20th century, pushing Roman land owners to transform some of their landholdings into subdivisions in order to sell plots of land to the new settlers. This phenomenon gave root to the urbanization of the so-called ‘Zones O:’ a bureaucratic term that identifies illegal settlements that were legalized a posteriori. It was precisely the practice of ex-post regularization that encouraged landowners and settlers to build without formal permits; such settlements are referred to as toponimi (literally ‘place-names’): illegal settlements awaiting official recognition—and an official name—from the municipality. Yet once these settlements are legalized, the municipality struggles to provide them with necessary infrastructure such as roads, sewage, and public facilities. Due to their sprawling logic, both ‘Zone O’ and toponimi settlements are very hard to reconcile within the regulatory framework of the city’s masterplan. Today, the Roman Agro, especially in its eastern portions corresponding to the Ager Tusculanus, can be considered an archipelago of settlements deprived of any form of infrastructure and social welfare. These settlements are the bare embodiment of the logic of private property as the only ‘right’ left to people, after the state and the city refuse to guarantee any other form of social protection or welfare.
The studio’s approach to commoning will find its basis in Massimo De Angelis’s theoretical work. Going against mainstream discourses on the commons, De Angelis argues that commons are not simply resources we share, but rather, should be conceived as the interaction between three factors: the pooling of resources understood as a non-commodified means of fulfilling people’s needs, the commoners who share these resources and who define for themselves the rules according to which they are accessed and used, and finally the verb ‘to common’: the social process that creates and reproduces the commons. As De Angelis noted, the concept of commoning as a process was reevaluated by the historian Peter Linebaugh in his study of the thirteenth-century Magna Carta Libertatum, a charter of rights written by the Archbishop of Canterbury and presented to King John of England in 1215. According to Linebaugh, this charter of bills presents the basic principles of commoning, explaining how the English commoners took their lives into their own hands. “The Commoners – explains De Angelis – were able to maintain and develop certain customs in common—collecting wood in the forest, or setting up villages on the king’s land—which, in turn, forced the king to recognize these as rights. The important thing here is to stress that these rights were not ’granted’ by the sovereign, but that already-existing common customs were rather acknowledged as de facto rights.” Following this definition of commons we can argue that commoning is cooperation based on customary rights rather than state law. Yet commoning is not autarky, or being off-grid from society. Unlike their medieval predecessors, contemporary commoners have to negotiate their practices within both state and market conditions.
After carefully studying the political economy of commoning, each student or group of students will select a specific settlement within the Ager Tusculanus and propose a strategy of gradual transformation based on the principle of the ‘dispersed home’ and processes of commoning. This gradual transformation will involve both the house and the settlement, spaces for production, and spaces for reproduction. It is important to emphasize that this project does not seek ‘improvement’ per se, but, rather, to allow future inhabitants to live in these settlements in a way that is radically different from the way they are lived today. This means that we should avoid the usual tropes of urban renewal that have become the purpose of much urban design produced today.
The transformation of toponimi from speculative subdivisions to commoning communities will entail adaptations, demolitions, additions, and subtractions— from small scale to large, from the scale of the settlement to the architecture of the house or the allotment. In short, each project will offer possible reinvention of the settlement form from the present regime of land use to a situation in which land will be used in common and ownership will be limited to the minimum indispensable. A crucial issue that the studio will confront is the agency of urban and architectural form in enabling processes of commoning. As noted earlier, exactly like capital, the common is not a ‘thing,’ but a system of relationships and set of values. Yet, in order to function, these relationships are often enabled, if not solicited by, the physical spaces in which they take place.
The question posed by the studio is: What kind of urban figure can embody the possibility of commoning not as an episodic gesture, but as a stable form of settling? In other words, we will explore spatial principles of settling that can challenge the urban subdivision of private and public space; we will also experiment with forms of land tenure in which confrontation and negotiation among communities are not subsumed within a totalizing urban framework, but acknowledged as principles of coexistence. The studio will travel to Rome, where it will engage in extensive field-work on site, studying both city and countryside in their most salient historical episodes by extensively walking and driving through the Roman landscape. We will also meet local inhabitants and colleagues who are and have been working on the same territory, and will share with us their insights and observations.
- Pier Vittorio Aureli, Maria Shehérazade Giudici, “Islands: The Settlement from Property to Care” in Log 47 Fall, 2019.
- Pier Vittorio Aureli, Leonard Ma, Mariapaola Michelotto, Martino Tattara, Tuomas Toinoven, ‘Promised Land: Housing from Commodification to Cooperation’ in E-flux Architecture, Fall 2019.
- Massimo De Angelis, De Angelis, Massimo. Omnia Sunt Communia: Principles for the Transition to Postcapitalism. London: Zed Books, 2017.
- An Arcitektur, “On the Commons: A Public Interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides”, https://www.e-flux.com/journal/17/67351/on-the-commons-a-public-interview-with-massimo-de-angelis-and-stavros-stavrides/
- James Defilippis, Unmaking Goliath: Community Control in the Face of Global Capital (New York: Routledge, 2004).
- David Graeber, David Wengrow, ‘How to Change the Course of Human History (At least the Part that Has Already happened)’ in Eurozine, 2nd March, 2018, https://www.eurozine.com/change-course-human-history/
- Dolores Hayden’s “Free Lovers, Individual Sovereings, and Integral Cooperators”, chapter 5 of The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1991)
- Karl Marx, Marx, Karl. “Part Eight: So-Called Primitive Accumulation”. In Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, 873-942. London: Penguin, 873-942.
- Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale. Women and the International Division of Labour (London: Zed books, 2014).