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Institute in Paris

Commons, Wilds, Infrastructures

Urban natures and the production of (counter)publics in Paris and London.

Commons, Wilds, Infrastructures: an introduction

In recent years, the mobilisation of ‘nature’ within urban planning and design has taken a shift. The language of green ‘spaces’ - parks, gardens and so on - has been replaced by that of green ‘infrastructures’, as an understanding of the importance of plant life to health, climate adaptation and food security has entered mainstream planning thinking. In the context of these intersecting crises, this project will reveal how changing imaginaries of urban natures stage new forms of publicness, and interrogate the more-than-human political endeavours they entail.

As philosopher Emanuele Coccia (2018) argues, plants are not just ‘in’ space but construct reality itself, via their production of a shared, breathable atmosphere. How do their configurations, then, shape the way we experience ourselves and one another in the urban public realm?

Paris is an ideal territory to illustrate this shift. Whilst its grand, symmetrical gardens were conceived as a spectacle of the ordering (or indeed domination) of nature by ‘man’, its mayor Anne Hidalgo is now proposing to rip up symbolic public spaces and ‘rewild’ them as urban forests, acting as working infrastructures to fight the effects of excessive heat. This represents a transformation in the design and political mobilisation of urban natures, but also in ideas of the urban public. Tamed rows of topiary were produced as a passive stage for the bourgeois performance of the ‘promenade’, whereas rewilding could be seen as a counterclaim for the political participation of non-human life on its own terms. Meanwhile, in London, productive ecologies like allotments and rural commons, with marginalised political histories, are seeing mainstream acceptance in new urban design.

Commons, Wilds, Infrastructures: the programme

Walking with the Non-Human

Starting from the observation that “the casting of nonhuman life as infrastructure affirms, but also troubles, what constitutes infrastructure” (Barua 2021), this work will connect infrastructural critique to public sphere theory, design research and studies of urban ecology. The core of the research will be around three collective walks, programmed for Spring 2022 in Paris and in London, each (literally) exploring public atmospheres at three different scales.

Accompanying research seminars, also delivered in both Paris and London, will bring together scholars with artists and activists, equipping participants with both observational tools and frames, drawing on sonic and choreographic walking methods to produce a critical cartography of connections between human and non-human cultures.


Dr John Bingham-Hall

After a PhD in Architectural Space and Computation at the Bartlett School of Architecture, John Bingham-Hall has pursued his interests in the ‘staging’ of public life and how such processes can contribute to understanding the socio-political challenges cities face today to be made more dynamic, open, and just. Spanning scholarship, creative practice and cultural programming, his work has stretched across multiple scenes and forms. Since 2017 he has been Director of Theatrum Mundi created initially under the auspices of the London School of Economics Cities centre, led by Professor Richard Sennett and more recently established as an international research organisation focused on transdisciplinary practice and cultural infrastructures. John’s work has also found expression recently in the forthcoming volume Sonic Urbanism: Listening to Non-Human Life (Theatrum Mundi, 2021), which will be launched at Iklectik Art Lab in London on 19th November.

John Bingham-Hall
Dr John Bingham-Hall