Organized by Leagues and Legions

Who is Community, Anyway?

Interventionist practice, as richly documented in Spontaneous Interventions, often fill needs identified within a city or a neighborhood. In this context, “community” becomes a singular and general term designers use to describe a client. How do we better define “community” in order to best reflect the diversity of participants, users, and constituents?


  1. Annick Labeca says: August 28, 20128:24 am

    Allow me for beginning with a quote. Before addressing the question: “Who is Community?”, let’s define what ‘community’ means in the 21st century, commonly called network era. ‘Community’ is a very complex word to define. So I propose to quote (and I will base ma first contribution on) Kazys Varnelis who responded to Markus Miessen’s first question in a conversation available in Miessen’s book East Coast Europe (Sternberg Press, 2008) to launch the discussion: “Maybe I could talk about the similarities instead? The articulation of difference and uniqueness was so crucial to postmodernity — How are you and I different? How was Europe and the US different? Today however we’re undergoing a transition from postmodernity to network culture. We increasingly live in an actualized plane of immanence, created not by Communism or by neo-Spinozian politics but by the leveling actions of contemporary travel and communications. Our collective drive now is toward sameness, not difference. Under network culture, the individual seeks not so much to individualize but rather to cease to exist, to dissipate within the informatic grid. So how then might these places, which so typically seek to maintain their distinctness, be the same?” [ — Terrain Vague | Kazys Varnelis to Markus Miessen, 2008]…

  2. mimi zeiger says: September 2, 20125:44 pm

    @twitter-59945830:disqus  I’d argue that Kazys’ comment about sameness within network culture assumes the kind of ready availability of that network which was more or less postponed in 2008, the year the quote was published. While I accept his caution of celebratory difference for difference sake, there is a need for specificity when working under the umbrella of community.

    • Annick Labeca says: September 3, 20126:13 pm

      I agree with the urgent ‘need for specificity when working under the umbrella of community’, Mimi. However, what do you think of the ‘more’ urgent task to redefine what (which then leads to who) we mean with community? Do you think that the fact of redefining the notion of ‘community’ (knowing that we must rather say ‘communities’) will help architects to better understandig the mutations inside and outside their practice? I am saying this because I am not sure that all architects (all generations included) have a clear view of what ‘community’ mean. 
       Allow me for taking an example. It seems to me that the notion of ‘community’ in the U.S. is different from that of in Europe. Even within the European space, each country has its own understanding of what ‘community’ means. I just read an interesting interview of Stefano Boeri with the editorial team of the newcomer publication Zawai (Zawai | Volume00, 2012), an interview titled “Architecture and Geopolitics Today”. I found very interesting the idea of ‘communities’ that are taking part of city evolution. This is not new except that this is now becoming visible. To be short (and I admit that I will deal coarsely with the topic in order to concentrate on the main features of this issue), we in Europe are concerned with community of different cultures, social background, political background, ethnicity and so forth. We have flexible communities like immigrant communities as well as mobile communities, too. Within the mobile communities, you have, in particular, the Roma and the Senti populations with their specific needs. Similar case are needs of immigrant communities, and other communities. Today, I heard on a radio that a Roma community in the South of France has been evicted as the settlements where these members lived in were considered as informal. And as logic as it can be, this raises loads of questions, including territory, settlements…, namely what and how to build for mobile community (and I only focus on the mobile community)? It unfortunately seems to me that this question of informal urban textures does not interest architects and planners in France (although I may be wrong) while this issue will be posing serious problems: cohabitation with other local communities — local communities that are facing with external stresses that include housing shortage, lack of jobs, transport issues, etc —, as well as health, access to infrastructure and water, and other externalities central to shaping, let’s say, a more liveable city for all people to live in. Now that we are admitting that cities are composed of a series of additions of different population, ethnic groups and communities, to paraphrase Boeri, and that we are now in a post-client era, it seems to me that the immediate task for the architect is to define for whom he will work, and then what specific (and urgent) needs he will be asked to address. And this is what we are witnessing, that is: the becoming-visible of what we call spontaneous interventions, acting with non-practitioners from different cultures, desires, needs…, at local contexts… In short, this, then, leads to reconsidering the architect’s methodology but now we are off topic… (thousand excuses for having been too long, once again…)

  3. Mohamed Sharif says: September 12, 20128:27 pm

    From”Against this idea of community, we wish to recuperate the potential of community informed by the poststructuralist tradition. While there are various scholars in this tradition who have intervened in the notion of community (Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, and so on) we will keep to two – Jean-Luc Nancy and Giorgio Agamben – to reclaim   the idea of community in these terms: as “community without unity” (Nancy, 1991), a “coming community” (Agamben, 1993). ”

    Agamben’s reflections on the coming being as ‘whatever being’ are instructive.

  4. mimi zeiger says: September 19, 20124:36 pm

    I’d like to bring this back to the mundane a bit. If we are agreeing on a pluralistic definition of community, what are the steps taken by architects, by urbanists to reach out to many communities. Or is by the very function of identifying “a client” are we prone to be reductive?

  5. Jordan Geiger says: September 29, 20124:23 am

    Thanks Mimi – I think that’s a really fresh way to pose the question: what are the steps being taken, and for whom? This goes to the vexing distinction getting debated above between designer and community. Personally, I feel that I am both – but that I wouldn’t want to purport to be of all communities any more than I’d want to be every kind of designer. And so I have grown interested in models that allow for these fluidities and identities, in particular recent experiments with not-for-profit forms of practice. This is because they simply identify problems without a client. I’m thinking for example of the San Francisco based Public Architecture – not so much for the work output as the premise. By posing the question, “What could use some attention?” I find that they come to utterly provocative and generous impulses – all the while sidestepping the sticky matter of defining community. 

    Further, work like this needs always to promote itself as mediated before and parallel with its built project. Day Laborers’ Centers for example spark new thinking around the macroeconomics of the California economy and immigration – immediately tossing out and sense that the project is patronizingly at the behest of just one community.

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