Agency/Agents of Urbanity Colloquium



Urbanity is an elusive quality of an urban place.  It can be found in an Alpine town and yet be absent from a large American city.  It is neither determined by building density, population density nor good design.  Urbanity is a quality that emerges from a combination of elements that is greater than its parts.  Nothing that contributes to its presence seems to do so intentionally.  The failure of many attempts to artificially create urbanity suggests it will remain just out of reach.  It is both physical and social, manifest and ephemeral—it cannot be fabricated.

Or can it?  A contemporary understanding of agency would suggest that each element both human and non-human that comprises the experienced environment engages passively or actively in creating the emergent phenomena we call urbanity.  From the people in physical and digital places to the technologies that mediate their interactions to the sensory qualities of the built and natural environments and the affordances they provide for movement and co-presence, urbanity as contingent and constructed can only be unpacked through the lenses of multiple methods, objects and theories of research.

The PhD colloquium, Agency/Agents of Urbanity, to be held in 2015 from June 1st to June 3rd at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland asks for contributions that shed light on one or several agents of urbanity.  Contributions can be anywhere from the empirical to the philosophical, but should address one or several of the following themes:

Thinking Urbanity Materially and Agentially: What theoretical tools exist to help address the elusive nature of urbanity? How can we think urbanity in a way that avoids reducing our investigations to purely social or spatial categories and interactions? How do we do justice to the material aspects of urbanity—from the agency of urban morphology to that of the seemingly ‘non-material’ (more ephemeral) practices that promote or preclude urbanity’s existence? What is the place of non-human agency in urbanity

The Performative Ontology of Urbanity: What is the performative and emergent nature of urbanity? Who and what participates as agents in its production and what is the nature of this participation? What are the meaningful actions that contribute to urbanity? How and at which scales do the interactions between agents occur? How does the definition of urbanity (un)intentionally imply ‘non-urbanity’ and who or what precludes the possibility of urbanity’s coming-into-being?

Facilitating Urbanity: What agencies are at stake in facilitating the emergence of urbanity? How can we measure urbanity or the potential of a place to support its emergence? Are there certain elements of the social and physical environments that are particularly important and how can we imagine their enrollment as agents within urbanity-enabling practices?

Participants should be current PhD students or have completed their PhD in the last five years. Abstracts of 500 words are to be submitted to by March 13th 2015 using the template provided at  Authors of accepted communications will be notified by April 1st. Full papers will be due following the conference and will comprise a special edition of the EPFL academic journal Contour.


Deadline for abstracts: March 13th
Response to submissions: April 15th
Registration Open: April 15th
Registration Deadline: May 15th
Colloquium: June 1st – June 2nd
Full papers: optional submission following the conference


Download Full Programme

June 1st 2015

08:30 Welcome
09:00 Daniel Koch (KTH, Royal Institute of Technology)
10:00 Presentations / Discussion
12:30 Lunch
14:15 Vera Bühlmann (ETH Zürich)
15:15 Presentations
19:30 Conference Dinner on EPFL Campus

June 2nd

09:00 Ignacio Farias (TU Munich)
10:00 Presentations
12:30 Lunch
14:15 Nikos Salingaros (video feed and roundtable)
15:15 Presentations
16:45 Conclusion

Keynote Speakers

Vera Bühlmann (PhD) is a media theorist and philosopher. She teaches at the Architectural Department of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH in Zurich, where she is co-founder and head of the applied virtuality theory lab at the Chair for Computer Aided Architectural Design CAAD. The vectors of her recent work revolve around mathesis as the art of thinking, in pursuit of an understanding of computability as literacy and cryptography as algebraic script. She lectures frequently on the philosophy and history of mathematics, computation and language, media theory, political philosophy and its environmental and geophilosophical turns. She is author of Die Nachricht, ein Medium. Generische Medialität, Städtische Architektonik (ambra, Vienna 2014), and co-editor of Pre-specifics (jrp|ringier, Zurich 2009), Printed Physics (springer, Vienna 2012), Sheaves–When Things Are Whatever Can Be The Case (ambra, Vienna 2013), EigenArchitecture (ambra, Vienna 2013), and Domesticating Symbols (ambra, Vienna 2014), A Quantum City (forthcoming: Birkhäuser 2015). Her research blog is

Ignacio Farías (PhD) is a sociologist and an Assistant Professor of the Munich Center for Technology in Society and the Faculty of Architecture at the Technische Universität München. Ignacio works on science and technology studies, urban studies and cultural sociology with a focus on infrastructural transitions and participation. He is co-editor of Urban Assemblages. How Actor-Network Theory Changes Urban Studies (Routledge 2009) and Urban Cosmpolitics. Agencements, Assemblies, Atmospheres (Routledge, Forthcoming). (Source: Taylor and Francis)

Daniel Koch (PhD) is a researcher and teacher at the KTH School of Architecture and a practicing architect at Patchwork Architecture Laboratory. At KTH, he is Director of Research Studies at the School of Architecture, which includes responsibility for the PhD Programme in Architecture. In addition, he is Vice Director of the national strong research environment Architecture in the Making. His research by and large focuses on relations between spaces as an integral part in architecture, examining borders, boundaries, relations, spaces-within-spaces, disjunction and heterogeneity, et cetera. Especially how this performatively situates people and thus produces social situations and relations. Central to this investigation has been the production of public culture and the training of aesthetics, as well as how diagrammatic representations of such relations work to drive research and design forward. (Source: KTH)

Nikos Salingaros (PhD) is professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and is also on the architecture faculties of the University of Rome III and the Delft University of Technology. He is consultant to the Schools of Architecture of the Catholic University of Portugal, Viseu, and the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico. Dr. Salingaros is Associate Editor of Katarxis III — an online journal of New Architecture, New Science, and New Urbanism; the Nexus Network Journal; and the Online Planning Journal. He is regarded as one of the world’s leading urbanists and architectural theorists. His books “Principles of Urban Structure” and “A Theory of Architecture” provide the foundation for a completely new approach to the built environment. They are being translated into several languages, and are used by students, professionals, and governments to redesign cities and to define once again an architecture adapted to human beings. (Source: UTSA)

Registration Fees

For presenting authors:
200 CHF (includes lunches and the conference dinner)
For additional authors, the public and guests
20 CHF per lunch
60 CHF conference dinner

Register here

Accommodation Recommendations and Transport Information

Lhotel Lausanne
Place de l’Europe 6, Le Flon. 1003 Lausanne
Tel: +41 21 331 39 39

Hotel AlaGare
14, rue du Simplon. 1006 Lausanne Suisse
Tel: + 41 21 612 09 09
Email : info(at)

Hotel Crystal
Rue Chaucrau 5, 1003 Lausanne
Tel: +4121 317.03.03

Regina Hotel Lausanne
18, rue Grand St. Jean. 1003 Lausanne
Tel: +41 (0)21 320 24 41

Ibis Lausanne Centre
20 rue du Maupas, 1004 Lausanne
Tel: +4121/3400707
E-mail: H6772@ACCOR.COM

Youth Hostel Lausanne
Ch. du Bois-du-Vaux 36, 1007
Tel: +41 21 626 02 22

Lausanne GuestHouse & Backpacker
Chemin des Epinettes 4 1007 Lausanne
Tel: +41 21 601 80 00

Geneva Airport to Lausanne (SBB rail company)
TL: Local Public Transport
(check with your hotel for a free tourist pass)

Scientific Committee

Ignacio Farias, Assistant Professor, Munich Center for Technology in Society, TUM; author of Urban Assemblages. How Actor-Network Theory Changes Urban Studies (Routledge, 2009).
Jacques Lévy, Geographer and Professor at the EPFL, director of the Chôros Laboratory and of the 2013 film Urbanité/s, a glimpse into the urbanity of China.
Lars Marcus, Professor, Urban Planning, Chalmers University, Sweden. Currently synthesising several years of research in urban morphology under the heading A theory of spatial capital.
Jonathan Metzger, Associate Professor, Urban and Regional Studies, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Sweden
Nikos Salingaros, Professor, Mathematician, Urbanist and Architectural Theorist, the University of Texas, San Antonio, USA; author of Principles of Urban Structure (Techne, 2005) and Unified Architectural Theory: Form, Language, Complexity (Sustasis Press, 2013).


Michael R. Doyle, PhD candidate, Architecture and the Sciences of the City, Laboratory for Urban and Environmental Economics (LEURE), EPFL.
Dario Negueruela del Castillo, PhD candidate, Architecture and the Sciences of the City, Atelier de la conception de l’espace/ ALICE Laboratory, EPFL.

Suggested Readings on the Themes

  1. Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3), 801–831.
  2. Barandiaran, X. E., Di Paolo, E., & Rohde, M. (2009). Defining Agency: Individuality, Normativity, Asymmetry, and Spatio-temporality in Action. Adaptive Behavior, 17(5), 367–386.
  3. Farías, I. (2011). The politics of urban assemblages. City, 15(3-4), 365–374.
  4. Marcus, L. (2010). Spatial Capital: A Proposal for an Extension of Space Syntax into a More General Urban Morphology. Journal of Space Syntax, 1(1), 30–40.
  5. Metzger, J. (2014). The Suject of Place: Staying with the Trouble. In T. Haas & K. Olsson (Eds.), Emergent urbanism: urban planning & design in times of structural and systemic change (pp. 91–99). Farnham, Surrey, UK ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
  6. Pagliardini, P., Porta, S., & Salingaros, N. (2010). Geospatial Analysis and Living Urban Geometry. In B. Jiang & X. Yao (Eds.), Geospatial analysis and modelling of urban structure and dynamics (pp. 331–353). Dordrecht ; New York: Springer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *