Affective Urbanism: The politics of affect in recent urban design

Publikation: KonferencebidragPaperForskningpeer review


Urban design and architecture are increasingly used as material and affective strategies for setting the scene, for manipulation and the production of urban life: The orchestration of atmospheres, the framing and staging of urban actions, the programming for contemplation, involvement, play, experience and consumption are all strategic design tools applied by planners and architects. Whereas urban design in former modernist planning served merely functional or political means, urban design has increasingly become an aesthetical mediator of ideologies embedded in the urban field of life forces. Under these circumstances affective aesthetics operate strategically within the urban field of interests, capital flows and desires of the social.

This ‘affective urbanism’ (Anderson & Holden 2008) is linked to a society influenced by new kinds of information flows, where culture is mediated and enacted through communication (Castell 2010), where immaterial labour on the one side is becoming the primary mode of production (Boltanski & Chiapello 2005), but on the other side is distributed through bodily and affective forms of communication. Production and communication in the city thus takes the characteristics of bodily produced affects between, for instance, the urban environment and the human body. Nigel Thrift has termed these processes the politics of affect (Amin & Thrift 2004, Thrift 2008) relating these new modes of production to urban life.

Thus the paper will argue that the new spirit of capitalism not only changes urban life and its means of production, it specifically influences the way the city is designed and how it unfolds as events (Anderson & Harrison 2010) and affective, emotional production (Pile 2009).
Through examples of urban design and events in the Carlsberg City in Copenhagen and The High Line in Chelsea, New York, the paper sets out to define and question these affective modes of production.
Whether these productions are socio-material practices consisting of ludic designs (Stevens 2007), temporary architecture or art installations or evental practices consisting of street events and cultural festivals, both practices indicate that design is implemented as means of creating affective spaces in the city. Both cases show how immaterial production of affects and emotions in the city can be seen in relation to economic potential and urban development.

Finally, I will discuss whether urban affects can be choreographed and designed intentionally or whether it arises from unpredictable circumstances within urbanity itself.
StatusUdgivet - 2012
BegivenhedDesigning and Transforming Capitalism - Aarhus University, Aarhus, Danmark
Varighed: 9 feb. 201210 feb. 2012


KonferenceDesigning and Transforming Capitalism
LokationAarhus University


  • Affective urbanism
  • urban design
  • events

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