An Atlas of Commoning: Places of Collective Production


An Atlas of Commoning: Places of Collective Production

Please find the german version and the index of contents here

Facebook, Airbnb and other companies, whose business models are based on the commercialization of social relationships, have transformed words like “community,” “sharing” or “us” into empty concepts that no longer represent solidarity or a progressive social agenda, but rather form the basis for an emerging platform capitalism. This economic development is accompanied by a global political shift fueled by traditional community notions of identity and affiliation, exclusion and discrimination.

Against this background, An Atlas of Commoning: Places of Collective Productionan exhibition and publication project by ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) in collaboration with ARCH+—aims to recapture and redefine the open and emancipatory space of “us” as a concept. The project focuses on urban commons—here commons are to be understood as a set of practices dealing with the production and management of (material and immaterial) collective resources and spaces in general, rather than with the resources themselves, hence “commoning,” the verb, takes center stage.

Commoning is a process of negotiating differences and conflicts between the individual, the community and society. It is a process that involves the spatial organization of the relationships between production and reproduction, ownership and access to resources. A process in which solidarity networks are created and individual and collective rights are redefined. This project questions prevailing social and political structures and searches for new forms of collective, yet pluralistic, governance.

An Atlas of Commoning unfolds a network of ideas for a concept of commoning that aims for solidarity and emancipation, one that doesn’t bring individuals into line within the community but turns the unique, the different, and the special into decisive qualities of togetherness.

An Atlas of Commoning: Places of Collective Production is an exhibition and publication project by ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) in collaboration with ARCH+.
Curatorial team: Anh-Linh Ngo, Mirko Gatti, Christian Hiller, Max Kaldenhoff, Christine Rüb (ARCH+); Elke aus dem Moore (ifa / Akademie Schloss Solitude); Stefan Gruber (CMU)
Editorial team: Anh-Linh Ngo, Mirko Gatti, Christian Hiller, Max Kaldenhoff, Stefan Gruber (CMU) 


Artworks: Morehshin Allahyari & Daniel Rourke; Brandlhuber+ Christopher Roth; Manuel Herz; Angelika Levi; Golan Levin (F.A.T. Lab) & Shawn Sims (Sy–Lab); Martha Rosler; Samson Young.

Essays: Tom Avermaete; Alfredo Brillembourg, Hubert Klumpner, Klearjos Eduardo Papanicolaou; Theo Deutinger; Stefan Gruber; Rainer Hehl; Sandi Hilal; Anupama Kundoo; Elena Markus; Maria Mora; PlanBude; Juliane Spitta; Stavros Stavrides; Niloufar Tajeri; Kim Trogal.

Interviews with: Massimo De Angelis; Mathias Heyden; Elizabeth Calderon Lüning and Marco Clausen.

Projects: ARGE ifau | Heide & von Beckerath; Assemble and Granby Workshop; Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée; BARarchitekten; Carpaneto Schoeningh Architekten; City in the Making; Common Ground e.V. and Nachbarschaftsakademie; DAAR Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency; Eureka; El Campo de la Cebada; FATkoehl; Go Hasegawa and Associates; Manuel Herz with National Union of Sahrawi Women and Iwan Baan; IBeB GbR; Kotti & Co; Clemens Krug Architekten and Bernhard Hummel Architekt; Kuehn Malvezzi;  Müller Sigrist Architects; NLÉ Architects; PlanBude Hamburg, Svenja Baumgardt, and Sylvi Kretzschmar; Refugee Accommodation and Solidarity Space City Plaza; Schneider Studer Primas; Quest – Florian Köhl and Christian Burkhard; Tukano Maloca; Urban-Think Tank; ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles].

ARCH+ features: Working Men‘s Clubs by Harald Trapp, Robert Thum, and Brian Hoy with Immo Klink

For the German version of An Atlas of Commoning, all thumbnails of the pages, and the contents in German, click here

Please see also: The Property Issue. Ground Control and the Commons, ARCH+ English Edition

“Who owns the land?” is a question central to all societies, because space is as vital a resource as air and water. And yet architects seldom explicitly address the question of land ownership. The many contributions on politics and economics in this ARCH+ issue reveal not only prevailing lines of conflict, but also the potential to redefine policy with the long-term aim of establishing land, and thus the city, as a commons. The Property Issue is complementary to An Atlas of Commoning which serves a the catalog for the eponymous exhibition.





University of East London (UEL)


TU Berlin





The Contested Fields of Commoning

Stefan Gruber, Anh-Linh Ngo


As a verb, the term “commoning” describes the processes surrounding the (re)production of material and immaterial common goods. Commoning thus represents the search for an alternative, self-determined existence beyond the influence of market and state. As to be expected, in practice, emancipation from prevailing power structures is rarely free of conflict. Accordingly, commoning plays out on fields that are contested and co-opted by a wide variety of ideologies. The spectrum spans from the German Mietshäuser Syndikat, a group that seeks to permanently remove residential property from the real estate market (p. 76), to the Yoshino Cedar House, initiated by Airbnb, in which the care work of a village community is subjected to the logic of platform capitalism (p. 84). In the face of these contrasting considerations, the Atlas of Commoning, developed by ARCH+ and the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture for a touring exhibition presented by the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), doesn’t attempt to give a singular definition of commoning, but rather seeks to portray its struggle. The objective is to point out the tension between the declared goals and the negotiation processes of each of these situated collective practices. Only thus can the true essence of commoning be revealed.

The Atlas of Commoning assembles commoning projects with regard to their guiding principles as well as their architectural and spatial manifestations. Its starting point is an atlas in the sense of the cultural theorist Aby Warburg (1866–1929): a visual archive with case studies taken from various cultural contexts. By juxtaposing these diverse examples, the Atlas seeks to highlight both their differences and similarities. This selection is then developed into a more in-depth investigation covering three thematic areas of tension in which the conflicts of commoning are played out: Ownership–Access, Production–Reproduction, Right–Solidarity.

OwnershipAccess addresses the typical questions that arise in the context of commons and challenges our understanding of ownership. Today, the instant access to ideas, goods, and services—in contrast to permanent ownership—opens up new possibilities of societal coexistence. Thereby, sharing is no longer necessarily associated with personal sacrifice, as the example of the Prinzessinnengarten demonstrates (p. 88). What’s more, new forms of sharing offer promising approaches that promote a more resource-friendly existence. However, the current transformation of sharing into the sharing economy bears the risk of exacerbating precarious working conditions and social exclusion. Platform capitalism and the hyper-commercialization of every aspect of life deny a growing, marginalized portion of society access to resources that are essential for life and cultural development. Air, water, and food, but also land (and housing) are such contested resources. For architects and planners, this entails the responsibility of taking a clear position in the struggle over the collective right to the city. Meanwhile urban commons should be understood beyond the notion of “liberated enclaves” or alternative islands of resistance, and tackle questions of scale, duration, and structural change.      

Stavros Stavrides sees common space as a non-enclosed threshold space, but one that needs threshold institutions to ensure that commoning remains an open process (p. 14). In common space—space produced and used as commons—people do not simply use an area given by an authority (local state, state, public institution, etc.), they actually mold this kind of space according to their collective needs and aspirations. Whereas public space necessarily has the mark of an identity—it is, that is to say it belongs to, the authority—common space tends to be constantly redefined: commons space happens and is shaped through collective action. One challenge of the commons discourse is solving the dilemma of institutionalization. In Stavrides’s opinion, only a continual process of negotiation can prevent the accumulation and consolidation of power and counteract mechanisms of exclusion. Accordingly, the Atlas defines commons beyond the mere sharing of material or natural resources as ongoing social practice and stresses the active tense: commoning is a verb (see the interview with Massimo De Angelis, p. 26).  

ProductionReproduction is dedicated to breaking down the separation of functions established by modernism, between living and working or public and private. This chapter looks at new collective forms of living beyond the paradigms of the twentieth century, which were built upon the foundations of gender politics and domestic labor. Globally, women still perform the majority of unpaid care work and social reproduction. A critical feminist examination of the Marxist economy exposes domestic labor as hidden form of productive work. The making invisible of unpaid reproductive labor here only serves as one example from an entire arsenal of strategies through which capitalism externalizes costs. More commonly, geographic remoteness helps to render the overconsumption of resources, environmental devastation and human exploitation invisible as well, conveniently dissociating our actions from immediate responsibility.  

The commons debate counters this approach with a broader, more diverse definition of economy, in which all forms of work—paid and unpaid, productive and reproductive—are recognized as creating value. In her essay, Kim Trogal points out that care work itself is a form of spatial production. Thus, the experiments on the socialization of domestic labor in the nineteenth and early twentieth century entail “new kinds of domestic workspace, cooperative forms of organization and architectures” (p. 122). Similarly, in The Property Issue (ARCH+, May 2018), Silvia Federici argued that emancipation must primarily be directed towards the gender-hierarchical division of labor and the dependence of market-based production relations in the kitchen. Only when the domestic sphere becomes an arena of collective political life, and collective forms of reproductive labor form the basis of social reproduction, can alternative forms of economic activity—based on solidarity, commons, and sufficiency—become effective in a lasting way. For architecture this means overcoming the dichotomy of public versus private: spatial boundaries need to be renegotiated, domestic activities need to extend into the public sphere, and, conversely, cooperative care should lead to new typologies of community. The Kalkbreite housing cooperative in Zurich, for instance, features a gradational multiplication of kitchens—from the private kitchenette and shared cluster-apartment kitchens to a central, bookable professional kitchen—which leads to an excess of cooking facilities, and in turn casually encourages the collectivization of the daily reproductive task of cooking (p. 140).     

RightSolidarity explores the notion of universal rights in the context of global capitalism and discusses new models of governance that reach beyond the borders of nation states. Many concepts of the commons are centered on the definition of a specific community that (re)produces, owns, maintains, and shares the commons. This raises the question of belonging to a community of commoners. Inevitably, this also places commoning in a problematic tradition: in contrast to the concept of society, the idea of community traditionally designates a group that is unified by a collective identity and constituted by mechanisms of exclusion and demarcation. The term, however, doesn’t only have an exclusionary dimension, it is also anti-modern: Zygmunt Bauman pointed out that it clings to the narrative of a loss of community in which societal change causes a decline in communality.

Consequently, the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies’s early twentieth century writings on the relationship between community and society were compatible with the identitarian trends that culminated in the Volksgemeinschaft chimera of Nazism. Today, right-wing conservatives and the new right are once again invoking the notion of the community. On the other hand, representatives of the left spectrum bemoan increasing individualization and fading solidarity in society and are therefore developing alternative concepts of commoning. Juliane Spitta’s article investigates this precarious interpretation of community, which oscillates between appropriation by identitarian and emancipatory movements. In her opinion, a reference to the fiction of the community can only be emancipatory when we overcome the narrow bounds of identitarian affiliation and think in terms of solidarity and globalism (p. 20).

Thus, the politics of commoning should be aimed towards “increasing freedom and agency” for those who don’t yet belong (p. 218), as in the example of the City Plaza Hotel in Athens. At the height of the European migrant crisis, refugee activists occupied an abandoned hotel in the Greek capital. They then turned the building, which like many other vacant properties had become a symbol of Greece’s financial crisis, into a shining example of solidarity. The project, which survives without state funding, is based on a collective organization of reproductive labor. Beyond a mere shelter for refugees, the City Plaza Hotel has become an antithesis to Fortress Europe. Unlike the Western Sahara project, where in a decade-long commoning process, refugees established quasi-governmental institutions and now claim autonomy (p. 210), the City Plaza Hotel is an example of a pre-state institutionalization.

An Atlas of Commoning

Across the world, there are significant cultural differences in the relationship between community, society, and the individual. Viewed in a global context, the Western model, which prioritizes the individual, is in the minority. While commoning is currently generating considerable interest in Western societies, in other regions its logic is self-evident. But the effects of the capitalist system, with its ubiquitous practice of commodification and privatization, are global. Its most serious repercussions are anthropogenic climate change and resource scarcity, which raise urgent questions about the ownership of global commons and the responsibility regarding global resources.

Against this backdrop, to what extent can commoning serve as a basis and vehicle for intercultural understanding? It is with this ambition, that we have assembled the Atlas as both a physical platform for exchange and as a starting point for collaborative action. The initial selection of 25 core projects that form the Atlas of Commoning will be complemented with new ones, to be added in collaboration with local partners as the exhibition tours from city to city. As a result, the Atlas will continue to grow as an open knowledge archive. At the same time, its focus can shift. Thus, the atlas presented here is just one of many possible atlases. It is a snapshot in an open and continuous process of co-production and of negotiation between architecture and the commoning of places, spaces, and structures.

An Atlas of Commoning: Places of Collective Production
An Atlas of Commoning: Places of Collective Production