The City Lived: ‘Sites-and-Services’

Seminar The City Lived: ‘Sites-and-Services’ (052-0827-22)
Organizer: Lehrstuhl von Prof. Avermaete
Lecturers: Dr. Sebastiaan Loosen, Lahbib El Moumni
Time: Thursdays 15:45-17:30
Location: HCP E47.3

Masterplan Dandora sites-and-services project, Nairobi, 1975-1983.

In our seminar series ‘The City Lived’ we focus on the history of urban design, with a particular emphasis on the lived experiences in the city. This semester’s seminar will focus on ‘sites-and-services’, an important housing paradigm that was mobilized in the context of development aid to provide cost-efficient housing for the global poor.

This housing strategy consisted of providing ‘sites’ – plots of land to construct dwellings on – in combination with a set of ‘services’, ranging from infrastructural features, such as sewerage and waste disposal, to market-based interventions that aimed to make cheap building material more easily accessible, or financial loan schemes that offered inhabitants the means to invest in their homes. It often operated on a large scale, and targeted thousands of households in a single project. For several decades from the 1970s, it was heavily endorsed by major actors such as the World Bank and the United Nations as a cost-efficient way to meet the most basic housing needs of a high number of people, whilst simultaneously offering authorities the means to direct the enormous growth of spontaneous settlements in the urban peripheries as part of their broader urban development plans. As such, these sites-and-services schemes have left a major imprint on many cities in the Global South. Despite this impact, however, their histories are not well documented.

Whereas sites-and-services were promoted as a cost-efficient solution to ‘the housing problem’ of the global urban poor, the housing paradigm attracted severe criticism from its inception. One line of critique considered such programs as formalizing the state’s disinvestment in its poorest citizens, symptomatic of neoliberal policies that erode structures of state support, while another line of critique considered them as instruments of a globalizing debt economy, incorporating the global poor in an expanding, profit-oriented capitalist market.

Beyond its praise and criticism, in this seminar course we study sites-and-services projects in the first place as material artefacts: as man- and woman-made built environments that have shaped the lives of thousands of people, whose history for that very reason deserves to be studied.

In doing so, we will discuss two broader themes. On the one hand, sites-and-services projects allow us to problematize the notion of housing expertise and how it was mobilized in the Global South. Therefore, we will discuss them against the background of housing in the Global South more generally. Which housing paradigms were relied upon in the context of the Global South? And what were the logics underlying them? On the other hand, since these were essentially unfinished projects that relied on their future inhabitants to complete their dwellings, in this seminar we not only intend to dig up the histories of such projects, but also to discuss what we can learn from the histories of such atypical housing projects. Inhabitants have drastically expanded and transformed the initial minimal design to often unrecognizable degrees according to their needs and resources, and many sites are now integrated into wider urban patterns. How do we write the history of ‘unfinished’ projects? How do we acknowledge the act of appropriation and inhabitation as an integral part of such projects?

Structure of the course

This course is based on weekly two-hour seminars, in combination with a case study analysis in small groups. After introducing the main context, the seminars are structured around the themes of ‘housing expertise’ and ‘lived architecture’, and gradually shift from tutor-led input sessions to student-led text discussions and project presentations. After the first class, students will be asked to form balanced groups of 3 students to work on one sites-and-services project (from a pre-selected list) over the course of the semester. The semester-long case study analysis will culminate in a final presentation and an exhibition entry that will be included in a collaborative online exhibition. Three main feedback opportunities are provided within the contact hours: short ‘Flash Presentations’ during Seminar 3, ‘Mid-Term Presentations’ during Seminar 6, and a final in-class workshop focused on students’ writing and exhibition entry during Seminar 9.

Students are expected to actively attend and participate in each session. During the input phase, each week students are required to read 1–3 texts (‘Compulsory Reading’) and actively engage with other students and tutors on a pre-assigned digital canvas sheet (via Padlet).

Course material

Seminar 1 (22/09) – Course Introduction

Seminar 2 (29/09) – Focus 1: Housing in the Global South
D’Auria 2018. 

Seminar 3 (06/10) – Flash presentations / Text discussion 1: Housing in the Global South
Le Roux 2003. 
Davis 2006. 
Akcan 2014. 

Seminar 4 (13/10) – Focus 2: Extended case study Casablanca
Roesler 2015.  Roesler 2015bis. 
García-Huidobro et al. 2008. 
Lueder et al. 2017. 
Further reading:
Lueder et al. 2014. 
Le Roux 2019. 

Seminar 5 (20/10) – Focus 3: Lived Architecture
Low 1996. 
Heynen 2013. 

Seminar 6 (03/11) – Mid-term presentations

Seminar 7 (10/11) – Focus 4: Housing Expertise
Harris & Giles 2003. 
Mota 2015. 

Seminar 8 (17/11) – Text discussion 2: Housing Expertise & Lived Architecture
World Bank 1974. 
Avermaete 2010. 
Turner 1976 
Çelik 1996. 
Further reading:
Heynen 2016. 

Seminar 9 (24/11) – Workshops

Seminar 10 (01/12) – Final presentations

Seminar 11 (08/12) – Final presentations