[urban interfaces] research group at Utrecht University

Creative Urban Methods: [urban interfaces] graduate seminar 2022-2023

Creative Urban Methods: A Critical Exploration 

Dates: 11 May (session 1), 25 May (session 2), 8 June (session 3), workshop day (29 or 30 June, exact day to be announced)
Credits: 3 ECTS (seminar sessions) + 2 ECTS (workshop day). Credits are for RMa Students and PhD Candidates only, MA students are welcome to participate, but are not eligible for credits. The seminar series is open to (R)Ma students and PhD candidates
Organized by: https://urbaninterfaces.sites.uu.nl. Sigrid Merx, Michiel de Lange, Nanna Verhoeff, Elle Zwinkels
More information: urbaninterfaces@uu.nl


In this seminar, we will discuss ways to expand conventional ways of doing theory in, for and with cities and urban contexts. The growing catalog of creative methods for various disciplinary and interdisciplinary urban inquiries demonstrates a wide array of research techniques ranging from data walking to performative mapping or critical making, from experimental ethnography and co-creation to dramaturgical or interface analysis, and curatorial or action-based research to uncover and engage alternative ways of data collection, production, and analysis. Such creative urban methods are embodied and explorative, as well as experimental and interventionist. They share a phenomenological emphasis on embodied experiences of the (citizen/academic) researcher.

In the context of the multifarious global crises on planetary, societal, and political levels we find ourselves in today, it seems relevant to explore creative methods that can reshape ways of knowing about the city. We are keen to stimulate debate on the use and application of creative methods in academic and practice-based contexts, critically examining and addressing questions related to their merit and limitations as problem-solving research tools. What is the specific value of creative methods for understanding urban lives, situations, and spaces? How are urban creative methods different from more traditional and established methods for research on the city? What (new) urban knowledges can we produce with suchmethods? Who/what are privileged in and through such approaches and what kind of power relations are produced?

The seminar consists of three 2-hour sessions, each focusing on and discussing a different method/approach: critical making, co-creation and performative methods. Additionally, there is an optional workshop day during which participants can actively engage with different creative urban methods. For this, participants can receive extra credits.


  • Seminar session 1 – May 11, 2023 14:00 – 16:00. Location: MCW Lab, Kromme Nieuwegracht 20 (theater space downstairs), Utrecht.
  • Seminar session 2- May 25, 2023 15:00 – 17:00. Location: MCW Lab, Kromme Nieuwegracht 20 (theater space downstairs), Utrecht.
  • Seminar session 3 – June 8, 2023 15:00 – 17:00. Location: Room 0.07, Trans 10, Utrecht.
  • Workshop day – 29 or 30 June, 2023 10.00-17.00. Location and exact day t.b.a.

Research Master students can acquire 3 ECTS for the seminar, if they write an illustrated blogpost of about 1000 words for each seminar session (3 in total). The best blogposts are selected for publication on the [urban interfaces] website. Research Master students can acquire an additional 2 ECTS if they participate in the workshop day and write a (creative) reflection (1000-1500 words).


Reading list:
  • Ratto, Matt, and Garnet Hertz. “Critical Making and Interdisciplinary Learning: Making as a Bridge between Art, Science, Engineering and Social Interventions.” In: Bogers & Chiappini – Critical Makers Reader.
  • Dunbar-Hester, Christina. 2014. Radical Inclusion? Locating Accountability in Technical DIY. In: DIY citizenship : critical making and social media. Matt Ratto and Megan Boler (eds). 75-88.
  • Groten, Anja. “Unsettling individualized design: practice through collaboration” In: Mareis et al. 2022. Critical by Design? Genealogies, Practices, Positions. 112-123.

During this session we look at how types of makership may foster critical, participatory, speculative perspectives of techno-urban futures. In a series of texts, we learn about the opportunities and pitfalls of such approaches. Guest speaker Klaas Kuitenbrouwer will share with us his work on the Zoöp, which can be understood as a critical making practice that explores more-than-human forms of eco-urbanism.

Zoöp is the title of an organisational model for cooperation between human and nonhuman life that safeguards the interests of all zoë (Greek for ‘life’). The zoöp model makes the interests of nonhuman life part of organisational decision making.

Klaas Kuitenbrouwer is senior researcher at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam and teaches theory at the Gerrit Rietveld and other academies.

Since the late 1990s, he has worked at the intersections of art, design, technology and ecology. He researches, curates and lectures in themes at the touch points of these fields. In the early 2000’s he set up and curated the Mediamatic research workshops on the cultural significance of new digital technologies. He co-curated the Transnatural festivals (2010 – 2013) and worked in the field of cultural policy of digital culture at Virtueel Platform (2009 – 2013).

Summary: This second session will explore urban environments as surfaces for visual analysis. Specifically tending to the walls in our cities, the session looks into how we can research walls as visual-textual objects from which we can learn about our social and material environments. We will approach this methodological question of comprehending walls from semiotic, visual studies, psychoanalytic, and poststructuralist dimensions. In critically reflecting upon strategies to “interview walls”, as surface scholar Sabina Andron would say, we tend to the semiotic layers and the contestations of power between them that altogether make up hybrid surface inscriptions. The session touches upon various concepts, including but not limited to materiality, visibility, power, and spectatorship. The session investigates this methodological question at the hand of examples that we bring along and will analyze together.



  • Andron, Sabina. 2016. “Interviewing Walls: Towards a Method of Reading Hybrid Surface Inscriptions.” London: Routledge.
    • This reading provides a rather clear method for researching urban surface inscriptions. We invite you to pay specific attention to this method, its possible advantages and disadvantages, and to critically note what you feel is left unaddressed.
  • Sturken, Marita, and Lisa Cartwright. 2001. “Spectatorship, Power and Knowledge.” In Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • This reading is, one could say, an introductory chapter with concepts that you are likely familiar with, but we included it to provide a supplementary framework to Andron’s specific visual methodology. Please pay special attention to how the mentioned concepts can be of use to analyze surface inscriptions and expand Andron’s methodology.


Assignment to prepare before session: 

The assignment for this session comprises two elements:

  • First, we would like to ask participants to carefully read the assigned readings and bring with you questions/notes that you would like to discuss during the session.
  • Second, we invite you to walk through your neighborhood/environment and take a photo of a wall that you find to connect to the required readings. Why does this wall stand out to you? How does the wall relate to Andron’s methodology? We will return to the photos of your walls during the session to collaboratively analyze them.

Session 3 – Listening to rivers

Summary: This session will explore the creative practice and method of ‘deep listening,’ as an affective and embodied way of gathering information and data, as well as sonification, the practice of using nonspeech audio to communicate and ‘narrate’ data. We will explore deep listening and sonification together with Argentinian actor, theatre maker and sound experimenter Nahuel Cano particularly through the lens of his artistic work Ways to Listen to a River. For Nahuel the river is a site where ecology, economy and coloniality intersect in complex and often violent ways. Starting from the question ‘where does violence come from?’, for this project, Nahuel has ‘listened’ to two rivers in his home country: Limay and Salado. He has translated his findings into audiovisual artworks, in which he creates listening experiences for his audience. Currently, Nahuel is exploring the river Vecht, together with different stakeholders from the Province of Utrecht. Outcomes of this research will be presented at the Gaudeamus Festival in Utrecht this September.


“I listen to the stories of people and to the ‘natural’ surroundings. I even listen to the silences: to what is not said in meetings. Then I give back some of these sotires trying to reveal how territories (the Vecht in this case) are complex and layered, that many histories co-exist, that ‘nature’ is also ‘speaking’, that there are some subjects silenced, and that there are things that are not measurable. In this process, hopefully, the people involved can gain a new perspective.”


Nahuel will share his way of working and doing research with us, but he will also invite us to actively participate in an exercise of deep listening. Collectively we will collect sounds and aural sensations and start sharing how these sounds and sensations resonate with us: how do they make us feel, what do they make us think of, what do we think they tell us or show us?

Readings for session 2




These materials are assigned to help you get a better understanding of listening as a form of perception, deep listening as a particular artistic practice, sonification as a field of academic (and artistic) research and investigation. These are all materials that have been sources of inspiration for Nahuel Cano in his own artistic practice.

  • Voegelin, Salomé. 2010. Listening to Noise and Silence. Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art. New York: Bloomsbury Academic and Professional. Please read Chapter 1 “Listening”
    • This reading provides an introduction to how we can understand ‘listening’ as a form of perception and cognition in a phenomenological and philosophical sense, within the context of Sound Art.
  • Pauline Oliveros. 2003. Deep Listening. A Composer’s Sound Practice. Please read Preface and Introduction.
    • This reading is a descriptive text that explains the (artistic) practice of deep listening according to artist Pauline Oliveros
    • This report describes sonification as a field of research and investigation, discussed its potential for academic research and for facilitating communication and storytelling via ‘narrating’ sonic data.
    • This blog describes different cases in which data sonification is used as a tool for raising ecological awareness and inviting climate action.

Extra reading for those who are interested:

  • Eduardo Kohn. 2013. How Forests Think. Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. University of California Press. Please read the Epilogue
    • This book, from which we have attached the epilogue, has been an important source of inspiration for Naho in sparking his interest in non-human thinking


Deadlines blogposts 

  • Blog 1: Wednesday May 24
  • Blog 2: Wednesday June 7
  • Blog 3: Wednesday June 21
  • Blog for workshop: Wednesday July 12

Specifics for blog assignments

– Ca. 1000 words, using structuring section headers.
– Including at least one relevant image.
– Slightly more accessible language, not too heavily academic.
– Very short author bio of ca. 50 words.
– Chicago Manual of Style author-date or footnote style

E-mail assignment to urbaninterfaces@uu.nl.

  • Blog 1: 
    – Explicitly address how you wish to engage with the theme of the session: what do you see as the potential but also downsides of this methodological approach for generating new knowledge(s) about urban culture?
    – How do the texts offer helpful concepts and perspectives for the creative approaches to studying urban life?
    – Use an illustrative vignette or short case to make your analysis concrete.
  • Blog 2: write a blog in which you analyze the photo of your wall to think about the methodological inquiry of visually researching city surfaces. Engage with Andron’s work to dissect the wall’s signification systems, but also reflect upon your analysis to think of what could be improved in or added to her methodology in terms of mediation. Which element that Andron minimally addresses or does not work with could still be of use in comprehending our urban environments as mediating cultural values? We encourage you to draw from other literature to make new connections.
  • Blog 3: write a blog in which you reflect on the method of deep listening, based on your own experience during the deep listening exercise. What data did you/we collect? What did these data tell you in relation to one another about (this) public space and the city? To what kind of (academic) research questions and topics give these data rise? What kind of knowledge(s) did the experience of deep listening produce?