Rereading the Urban Periphery
in the Age of the Anthropocene

Cameron McEwan (Northumbria University) & Andreas Lechner (TU Graz)

A Northumbria University funded project, Peripherocene (2023), investigated the corollary between Anthropocenic forces and the production of peripheral urban space. It produced a portfolio of drawings, texts, and founded an international network. Peripherocene concluded with a symposium in Newcastle.

Fig. Peripheries Graz, Newcastle, and two times Milan
(© Andreas Lechner 2023)

How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?

Georges Perec, “Approaches to What? The Infra-Ordinary,” 1973.
Core Group:

Cameron McEwan
[Northumbria University + AE Foundation]

Andreas Lechner
[TU Graz + Studio Andreas Lechner]

Elisa Iturbe
[Cooper Union + Outside Development]

Joe Wojewoda
[Northumbria University]

Lee Ann McIlroy
[Northumbria University + University of Dundee]

Lorens Holm
[University of Dundee]

Neil Gillespie
[Reiach & Hall + Scott Sutherland School of Architecture]

Sandra Bartoli
[Büros für Konstruktivismus + Munich University of Applied Sciences]

Silvan Linden
[Büros für Konstruktivismus]

Yamina Saheb

The city spills into the wilderness, unruly peripheries expand, nature is consumed. The urban to nature divide is ever less clear, even if we live in an era of intense urbanisation and uneven development. Today, the periphery is fast becoming the place where most of the global population lives, loves, and often loathes. The periphery is everything, everywhere, and all at once: suburbs, exurbs, fringes, edges, favelas, sprawl, infrastructure, old villages, new towns, fields, the zone; a terrain vague; ecologies, institutions, politics, typologies, human and non-human voices. If the typical city is a coherent hierarchy of figure and ground, monuments and fabric; the periphery is sometimes all figure, sometimes all ground, often an entangled randomness. Contrary to narratives that the periphery is bland, commodified, declining, or remote—it is all these things and none of them—this call for papers aims to learn from the periphery.

How are "peripheries" formed? And how does urbanization generate processes of peripherization? Urban studies today are more and more confronted with processes of extended urbanization that evolve far beyond cities and agglomerations: Novel patterns of urbanization are crystallizing in agricultural areas and remote landscapes, challenging inherited notions of the urban as a contained and dense type of settlement. While certain areas of extensive urbanization are experiencing strong economic growth, others are affected by processes of peripheralization, particularly less accessible and thinly populated areas, mountainous and archipelagic regions, and areas with weak regional centralities. As a result, many regions are experiencing profound socioeconomic and environmental transformation, loss and relocation of economic activity, and selective emigration, leading to economic marginalization and depopulation, with permanent settlements eroding and seasonal or sporadic movements of people into and out of central urban areas becoming more prevalent. The emergence of such areas is fueled by economic, environmental, or health crises that provide the rationale for policies of exceptions that eventually become more permanent, often amplifying processes of extended urbanization and peripherization.

We ask, how the inherently relative and relational concept of periphery might help us to again critically reconsider the hybrid landscape of fragmented and mixed urban and rural characteristics; how its historical production as form and idea, might contribute to new urban forms and strategies, modes of representation, critical narratives, and conceptual frameworks under today’s pressing issues such as urbanisation, care, spatial justice, resilience, and the climate crisis. These observations argue for a radical reimagination of the experience of the periphery at different spatial scales. Peripherization is not a static spatial condition, but a dynamic process characterized by uneven urbanization and complex multiscale relationships. Also in demand are studies that question and renew existing methods and forms of theorizing and promote decentered perspectives on the urban. We aim to build a spatial, representational, and theoretical lexicon on peripheries that take carbon modernity’s orders, asymmetries and hinterlands into account. We believe that architecture's expertise as a thoroughly hybrid practice – teaching, researching, publishing and building – are central to tackling the critical futures of how to more evenly and justly share exisiting resources across culture/nature and urban/rural divisions. We seek contributions which address the following themes and questions; and which may range across, not only within, these categories:

Voices from the periphery

What are the principle social, economic, and political ideas or ideals ascribed to the periphery; and how are they manifest in the urban and regional structure of peripheries? Who cares for the periphery? What are the narratives of love and loathing of the periphery? Who is the subject of the periphery? Who occupies the periphery? How might the centre and periphery condition be rethought? What is the collective life of peripheries?

Picturing the periphery

What expression does the periphery take? What is the formal, typological, and spatial ordering of peripheries? What might be the social and historical production of the periphery as form, image, and idea? What may be the peripheral monuments of today and the future? How to picture the periphery, to draw the periphery, to inventively represent peripheral conditions?

Anthropocenic periphery

How are peripheries reconfigured by imagination, infrastructures, institutions, knowledge, commons, energy, labour, monuments, nature, otherness, property, and their entanglements under the pressure of the Anthropocene––the current age when social and natural forces wrap the planet? What is the corollary between the Anthropocene and the production of peripheral urban space? What are the conceptual frameworks, spatial models, and critical genealogies needed to understand the periphery under the pressure of the Anthropocene?

Cooperative Research Project at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK 2022-2024
Instagram  @peripherocene   ︎︎︎

Cameron McEwan is associate professor of architecture at Northumbria University, UK. Cameron is an architectural theorist and educator, and director of the AE Foundation, an independent research institute for architecture and education. Cameron’s research focuses on the relationship between architectural typology, representation, and subjectivity to engage critical approaches to the urban/Anthropocene question. He employs creative practice and critical theoretical perspectives. His work appears in academic and independent journals and venues, including: Archnet-IJAR, arq, Architecture and Culture, Drawing On, GAM, JAE, Lo Squaderno, MONU, Cambridge Architecture Journal, the Venice International Architecture Biennale and elsewhere. Cameron’s editorial projects include Accounts(Pelinu, 2019); Architecture and Collective Life for Architecture and Culture (T&F/Routledge, 2020); Care and Critical Action for Lo Squaderno (2023). Cameron’s book Analogical City (Punctum, 2023) argues for architecture’s status as a critical project.

Andreas Lechner is associate professor of architecture at TU Graz and founder of Studio Andreas Lechner that combines his parallel careers as architect, educator and writer. Andreas studied at TU Graz and after formative study stays in Los Angeles, trained as an architect living in Berlin, Tokyo and Vienna. Following his Ph.D. in 2009 he was a visiting researcher at the Università Iuav di Venezia and the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen and held lectures and visiting professorships internationally. He won first prize at Europan 10 and participated in the second Istanbul Design Biennial 2014 and the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. He completed his habilitation in 2017, and published it as award winning book, whose English version was published as Thinking Design – Blueprint for an Architecture of Typology (Park Books 2021). He is principal investigator in the three-year interdisciplinary research project “Counterintuitive Building Types” funded by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency, co-editor at GAM – Graz Architecture Magazine, a member of the Graz Historic Town Expert Committee, and currently Visiting Scholar at Politecnico di Milano.

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Last update: 27/08/202

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