[urban interfaces] research group at Utrecht University

URBAN FRICTION: the [urban interfaces] graduate seminar 2017-2018

Are you interested in what the students have written for this course? You can find their blogposts under “Blog”. 

Urban processes have been impacted by frictions all throughout history. The remarkable pace and dynamics of the current phase of global urbanization in the age of mediatization, datafication, and pervasive connectivity suggest a new age where insular, political boundaries have come to shift radically. Perhaps to a larger extent than before, people are identifying as global citizens. However, as a result of this spatial accumulation social, political and cultural frictions within our cities manifest themselves on a wide scale. In this year’s [urban interfaces] graduate seminar series we open up a forum to debate and inquire about contemporary frictions being experienced in urban cities, namely:

Civic Empowerment and “Right to the City”
Mobility and Migration
Urban Institutions and Smart Platforms

We intend to question these frictions from a critical, yet optimistic perspective. Frictions can be both obstructive and productive and, and we aim to disclose this paradox and approach frictions as a prospect to discuss their positive potential for urban culture and society. This seminar series proposes a framework to think about urban frictions, and about how urban media, art and performance as interventions in our cities’ public spaces can productively address these frictions. In each session, we will focus on the temporality and performativity of media, art and performance, and the ambitions of the design of “frictional” urban interfaces as a form of critical making.


This seminar is designed around shared reading, discussions, and also some hands-on experimentation during a two-day “pressure cooker workshop.” Here you find the reading list with materials about urban frictions, issues of participatory city-making, and urban interventions. The program for the workshop on February 27-28 2018 will follow.

Through these readings we will introduce and discuss some fundamental theoretical questions that have formed and challenged urban frictions through the three central frameworks of the seminar: 1) frictions in participatory culture, 2) urban publicness and civic city-making, and 3) urban interventions and the critical making of urban interfaces.

November 8, 2017   
Introduction by Michiel de Lange, Sigrid Merx, Hira Sheikh, Nanna Verhoeff


  • McQuire, S., 2016. “Introduction” and “Transforming Media and Public Space.” In: Geomedia, Networked Cities and the Politics of Urban Space. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 7-49
  •  Chantal Mouffe, 2007. Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces, Art and Research Journal, 1: 2
  • Brejzek Thea 2014 “From Social Network to Urban Intervention: On the Scenographies of Flash Mobs and Urban Swarms.” International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media. 6: 1:109-122. http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/padm.6.1.109_1

January 31, 2018

In this session, we will address urbanity, political participation, temporality, technological development, and performing the civic engagement. These topics are becoming increasingly entangled as the concept of urban publicness gains more influence in the fields of design and technological development. Appropriately so, as it aids us in understanding how digital technologies can support citizen empowerment and help individuals become active agents within the public sphere.

With this, we revisit the question of what an urban public sphere entails amidst emergent frictions such as growing privatization and excessive surveillance. Another question we will address is how these frictions affect the public sphere of democratic practices, where people from different gender, class, and culture can work out cooperation and conflict.


  • The Role of Digital Screens in Urban Life: New Opportunities for Placemaking by Martin Tomitsch, Ian McArthur, M. Hank Haeusler and Marcus Foth in Citizen’s Right to the Digital City: Urban Interfaces, Activism, and Placemaking.
  • New Media in Old Cities: The Emergence of the New Collective by Cristina Ampatzidou and Ania Molenda in Footprint: Delft Architecture Theory Journal, Volume 9, Number 1
  • Temporary use and the onto-politics of ‘public’ space by Suzanne Vallancea, Ann Dupuisb, David Thornsc and Sarah Edward

February 28, 2018
(This seminar is part of a two-day pressure cooker critical making session)

May 30, 2018

To prepare for this meeting you are required to read the following text and excerpt as an inspiration, to understand locality and site-specificity that entails an inherently comparative perspective on urban frictions. Keep in mind you will be employing the following readings as a lens to analysis the projects mentioned below.


  • “Curating the City: Urban Interfaces and Locative Media as Experimental Platforms for Cultural Data” by Nanna Verhoeff and Clancy Wilmot in Rob Kitchin and Sung-Yueh Perng (eds.), Code & The City. 2016. London: Routledge. (Find the pdf attached).
  •  Excerpt from Theatre/Archeology by Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks:

“Site-specific performances are conceived for, mounted within and conditioned by the particulars of found spaces, existing social situations or locations, both used and disused: sites of work, play and worship: cattle-market, chapel, factory, cathedral, railway station. They rely, for their conception and their interpretation, upon the complex coexistence, superimposition and interpenetration of a number of narratives and architectures, histor- ical and contemporary, of two basic orders: that which is of the site, its fixtures and fittings, and that which is brought to the site, the performance and its scenography: of that which pre-exits the work and that which is of the work: of the past and of the present. They are inseparable from their sites, the only contexts within which they are intelligible. Performance recontextualises such sites: it is the latest occupation of a location at which other occupations – their material traces and histories – are still apparent: site is not just an interesting, and disinterested, backdrop. Such performance, in its themes and means of exposition, is not of necessity congruent with its site as when a sixth-century battle is enacted in a car factory. Interpenetrating narratives jostle to create meanings.The multiple meanings and readings of performance and site intermingle, amending and compromising one another.” (2001, p.23)

You are also required to look into the following projects as teams – 100% City produced by Rimini Protokoll in coproduction with HAU Hebbel am Ufer and Body Movies by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Each team will be assigned to watch one video from each of the projects focusing on particular localities.


If you are a Research Master Student, you can earn 4 ECTS. In that case, make sure you register for the seminar via RMeS-fgw@uva.nl.

The workload consists of:
– Attending and preparing for the readings before each seminar
– A final reflection, in one of the following formats: a short exploratory paper (2000 words), a critical essay (2000 words), an interview, a set of 4 blog reports on the seminar meetings, or of other events. Upon review, if you are interested, these texts can be published on the [urban interfaces] web page (https://urbaninterfaces.sites.uu.nl)