Urbanisms in beta aims to develop a new perspective on informal and grassroots urbanism through the comparative study of four cities in Latin America and Europe.
Our opening gambit is straightforward: Auto-construction offers a new paradigm for understanding the politics of the contemporary city.
Why auto-construction? From do-it-yourself urban designs to makeshift urban encampments, from community architectural projects to open-source urban infrastructures, auto-construction emerges as a space of epistemic overflow, where technical, environmental and political relations fly below the radar of market and state practices, or generate unsuspected and yet productive displacements and reconfigurations between them.
The nature of open-source projects in particular – licenses, technical designs, collaborative infrastructures, systems of apprenticeships – opens-up new avenues and insights for thinking about auto-construction as a comparative framework. The open-ended nature of these social and infrastructural assemblages models a conception of the urban as an ‘ecology in beta’ that eludes and confounds existing epistemic, technical and governmental regimes.
Urbanisms in beta central hypothesis revolves around this notion of ‘ecologies in beta’ and postulates that understanding the political dynamics of contemporary cities demands a correlative understanding of how people and infrastructures modulate each other as open and experimental design systems. In other words, we wish to apply insights from the comparative study of open-source and auto-construction projects towards an understanding of how cities function as epistemic cultures more generally.
Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork and the systematic comparison of auto-construction projects in Madrid and various Latin American cities, Urbanisms in beta aims to produce an unprecedented exploration of the different epistemic cultures that underwrite the making of urban ecologies today.