Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
20 May 2019

Call for contributions

Transforming social demands into spatial norms

The Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy is a partner, jointly with the Habitat Research Center at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), of The Eco-Century Project launched by the Fondation Braillard Architectes in Geneva.

Together we are convening the 2019 Bernardo Secchi Working Seminar in order to debate, from an interdisciplinary perspective, the 100-year-long path of the norms that have shaped the city and its fabric.

The workshop will be hosted by EPFL Lausanne on 24 September 2019.

The overarching question that we will explore during the workshop is the following: over the last century, which mechanisms have enabled to transform social demands into spatial norms?

Ninety years ago, the second International Congress on Modern Architecture (CIAM, Frankfurt am Main, 1929) set the objectives of a minimal level of dignified life for the urban populations under the term Existenzminimum. Today we face anew the same questions on the necessary conditions for the inhabitability of urban areas. On one hand, recurrent social claims remind us that no right can be taken for granted without civic vigilance. On the other hand, the ceiling of consumable resources – also known as the “overshoot day ” – is widely recognised among governements, experts and civil society. Therefore, the art of planning, inextricably interwoven with the art of governance, establishes itself as the search of a balance, of an equilibrium, of an optimal framework that we might call Existenzoptimum. Understanding these processes may contribute to re-think the city – and the local level of governance – as the basis from where democracies can be (re-)strenghtened.

We invite contributions from students, scholars and practitioners on the following themes and questions:


How have concrete problems been transcribed into normative targets, thus connecting numbers to forms and political and social actions?


How did the principle of equal access to the resources, which redefined the new minima for the inhabited space, gained ground among citizens, governments and experts?


How was the principle of equity translated into spatial quality and what have been its various expressions, from the modernist Siedlungen to the contemporary eco-neighbourhoods?


Which forms of civic action have led to shape public space? By which means have material and energy resources been redistributed, channelled and expressed in urban projects, in particular in public spaces? How to make sense of the evolutions of the urban spaces that have been designed for leisure and what are their consequences in spatial, social and environmental terms?

We invite contributions from the various disciplines and competences related to the construction of the city, in particular:

• Architecture, planning, landscape architecture and engineering

• History of architecture, of the city and of the environment

• Governance, political studies and administration

• Urban sociology and anthropology

Abstracts (300 words) written in English or in French, shall be sent to before June 3rd 2019.