The City on Display: Architecture Festivals and the Urban Commons

Robinson, Joel (2023). The City on Display: Architecture Festivals and the Urban Commons. Routledge Research in Architecture Series. London: Routledge.



This book explores how recurring architecture festivals have put the city on display, with a view to shaping its current realities or offering alternative imaginaries. It investigates how these globally oriented biennial and triennial mega-exhibitions have spotlighted urban matters, broadening a public sphere for these with each next edition. Although the history of these events is rather short, only going back a few decades, this study already seems long overdue (especially next to all the research done on other urban festivals, e.g., large-scale international biennials and triennials of art). What follows only deals with a fraction of that history, leaving aside other pieces of it to focus on how these events ‘exhibit’ the city as something collectively made. With bold curatorial propositions and themes, these events have increasingly purported to be about the common good, reacting to how dire the urban condition has become. As events that register the same ‘curatorial turn’ (O'Neill 2007) towards that antagonistic discursivity that is found in art exhibitions, they distance themselves from trade fairs or real estate extravaganzas. They align themselves instead with knowledge institutions so as to raise bigger and more pressing questions about planetary urbanisation. These include questions about sustainability and inclusivity, about how inhabitants might ‘reinvent the city more after their heart's desire’ (Harvey 2012: 25), despite the various threats of enclosure, misfortune, and intolerance looming everywhere on the urban horizon.

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