A new New Babylon. Bottom-up Urban Planning & The Situationist utopia


  • Cesar Losada Romero




Teoria da Arquitectura, Urbanismo Participativo


The recent “Participatory Turn” in Urbanism has flourished most significantly in situations of economic turmoil, material scarcity and technical insufficiency: those circumstances have boosted creative and audacious urban processes that take advantage of such limitations as an opportunity to enhance social engagement, formal exploration and developmental experimentation. All across Europe or Latin America, multidisciplinary collectives aim to reinvent the socioeconomical conditions for urban design and construction, favoring the architectural Process rather than the Object.

Experiences in Urban Acupuncture, bottom-up urbanism, activism for the public space and the claim for neighborly ties are often struggling against Top-Down urban planning and the modern articulation of the zoned city: according to some of these collectives, the Welfare State  and its urban culture has been overtaken by capitalism, and the classical Ville Radieuse model has somehow become synonymous with Corporatocracy and social engineering.

In this sociopolitical milieu , some of the mid twentieth century arguments against the Modern Movement have emerged again. Many scholars have linked the Occupy and Indignados movements with the events of May 68, and the urban guerrillas within both periods have been strongly biased towards a radical reformulation of the Structuralist urban parameters: in order to re-humanize the city, urban planning must give way to spontaneity, autopoiesis, dynamism and horizontal decision-making. The city is not considered a ready made object designed from scratch, but an always-evolving living entity, where perennial mutation and reconfiguration is the at the key feature. The City is a rhizome rather than a tree.

The Situationist utopia of the New Babylon (as conceived by Constant Nieuwenhuys) revives as the core intellectual reference of many Participatory Urbanism experiences. Psycho-geography, détournement,  the urban dweller as a homo ludens, and the harmonization of life and work are presented as the shield against the alienation, social segregation and gentrification inherent to the capitalist city and its planning instruments. The Situationist model is now enhanced with ideas of sustainability, social responsibility, gender claims, global migrations and ecology, depicting a contemporary Utopia that collapses the boundary between planners and dwellers.

In this paper we´ll trace the influence of the Situationist ethos upon recent experiences in participatory urbanism: the impact of mid-twentieth century radical activism upon contemporary counter-cultural urban praxis, a trend that is pushing the Academia to reconsider its ethical foundations and methodological tools, and ultimately to reformulate the consensual ontology of the city inherited from the early Modern Movement.


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Author Biography

Cesar Losada Romero

Archiect & Independent Schollar, with papers published internationally and lectures given at universities in A Coruña, York or Oxford.