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The Dead Zone & The Architecture of Transgression (Ph.D. Thesis, TU Delft school of architecture)


…bad lands, blank space, border vacuums, brown fields, conceptual Nevada, Dead Zones, derelict areas, ellipsis spaces, empty places, free space liminal spaces, nameless spaces,  No Man’s Lands, polite spaces, , post architectural zones, spaces of indeterminacy, spaces of uncertainty, smooth spaces, Tabula Rasa, Temporary Autonomous Zones, terrain vague, urban deserts,  vacant lands,  voids,  white areas, Wasteland…  SLOAPs … Taken from the architecture and planning discourse in the past decade or so this list is an attempt to grasp a kind of urban and semi urban space that seems to be endemic in the post-modern city.

Taken from architecture, Urbanism and urban geography discourses these names all indicate spaces which are ostensibly  “unknown”, other to the city, empty or populated by malevolent populace, decaying, dirty and “natural” (i.e. happened, created by mistake, unplanned), in short – the Other to the city. The ways in which these spaces are researched or written about are almost always from a distance (physically but also socially). Usually they are discussed in a pretext to urban renewal. 

Motivating Question(s):

To answer the call of van Dijk to write the “history of the void”, and to show that this discourse has a far longer pedigree than its current association with the conditions of the postmodern city.

To offer a critique of the current professional and theoretical approach to these spaces through developing different urban research methods and writing modes that give a more complex and accurate account of the so-called “dead zones”.

To argue that these spaces contribute to the city in just as an important way as planned and regulated public spaces.

A Summary of the research:

The discourse about the “dead zone”, although prominent in contemporary culture, can be traced back to antiquity. This discourse (urban and architectural) cannot be separated from the issue of colonialism (Hans van Dijk1996). The space-concept of the “dead zone” has existed as different names since the creation of the first gridded city (Miletus) if not even before (the Biblical city of Hanoch which was built by Cain). It has been always depicted as the negative space of the city.

In parallel to this, the research include an extensive ethnographical field research in 20 cities in Europe, America and Asia. These investigation shows the condition under such “dead zones” are created and the everyday life in them.

Research problématique:

In spite of exhaustive attempts, the discourse has not been able to define these spaces, and many attempts were flawed even when it came to legal definitions. There is an almost unbridgeable gap between the discourse about the dead zone and the spaces it allegedly represents. In one of the discourse’s blind spots (in Hebrew = dead zone) are concealed the marginalized communities who inhabit / create such spaces. The reasons for this gap vary but the fundamental one is the methods by which these spaces are researched and written about.

Although the discourse presents the “dead zone” as a real space, defined, and tangible, I argue that this is not the case. There are no “dead” spaces nor can the attributes of them be pinpointed to a certain “zone”. On the contrary, the so-called “dead zones” are transgressive spaces that act as alternative public spaces (to the planned and regulated ones). Their qualities can be transcribed onto other spaces (into texts, building and spaces).

Disciplinary Approach:

The research into the “history of the void” was conducted through a genealogical, nomenclature survey, and a re-reading of texts from the disciplines of  Architecture, Urbanism, Art and literature, urban anthropology and geography, philosophy It comprises a review of the “discourse of the void” from antiquity until today. It’s theortical framework and some of research methods are taken from post structuralist theory (esp. Foucault Bataille de Certeau), and on critical geography, post colonial, queer studies.  This interdisciplinarity is based on the assumption that such methods can give a better account of the subject of the “dead zone”.

Ethnographic Site Research:  The site research took place mainly between 1999 and 2002 and some places have been revisited in the past 3 years.

The main framework is a qualitative ethnographic research.   I have been using multidisciplinary research methods for site research for present day spaces: textual research, site observations, photographic documentation and analysis, interviews, de’rive and interventions.

The backbone of the site research and the way it will be laid out in this chapter will follow a particular history of urban studies which has gradually erased the object/subject  – researcher/researched dichotomies: from the seemingly detached urban  flâneur (Benjamin, de Certeau) – to the critically and politically charged de’rive (Situationists)  – and to urban intervention as a research tool (Transgressive Architecture, Stalker, Benny, Lim).


Writing Methodology:

  1. The writing takes its cue from sources that best reflect the research methodologies (the discourse and the site research). The discourse’s research will use post structuralist writing (re-reading, discourse analysis, genealogy) and the site research uses various forms of ethnographic writings (see: van Maanen, J. (1988) and Tyler, S. (1985)) and drew inspiration from the writings of Bataille, Benjamin, and de Certeau.


  1.  In addition the text will aim to recreate rather then represent (Grillner, 2004) on the page the “dead zone”, its everyday, and the researcher meandering / intervening in it. To do that the qualities of the “dead zone” (fragmentation, dirtiness)  will be used as a generative tool for writing the text.


For publications about the research please see:


Chapters in Books

  • Beyond The Lines- for the Urban Intervention. An Epilog for the book “Time- City” – the catalogue of the 2010 Biennale of Urban Landscape Architecture – Bat Yam.
  • Epilog – urbanaccio`n 07/09, Ana Mendez De Andes (ed) CAJA Madrid 2010
  •  “Transgression & the City”, in Border Conditions, Mark Schoonderbeek (ed) 010 Publishers, 2010, Netherland
  • “those marvellous empty zones outside the city limits”, Heterotopia and the City, Eds. M. Dehaene &L. De Cauter. –Routledge, 2008. First published in Referred Publication of the conference by the same name.
  • “Dead Zones, Outdoor Rooms and the Possibility of Transgressive Urban Space”, Loose Space: Possibility and Diversity in Urban Life, Eds.K. Franck and Q. Stevens, New York: Routledge, 2006. (includes discussion on the works of the students at my studio at Uni. Of Brighton)
  •  “Urban Interventions and the opening of radical democratic space” in Generalized Empowerment:Uneven Development & Urban Interventions, Brussels: City Min(e)d (Eds.) Brussels


Publications about Art, Architecture and more


  •  “The Void That Does Not Exist” UmBau (Institut fur Architecktureherie TU Wien) Issue 20,(06/2003)pp. 103-113. (Refereed Publication)
  • “A Global Derive”, The New Babylonians, special issue of Architectural Design (AD), Vol.71No.3,(07/2001) pp. 53-57
  • “Leaps and Boundaries”, Building Design , (27/04/2001) p. 12
  •  “Ethical Architecture – a competition”, Blue Print, (11/2000), p. 3
  • “A New Urban Paradigm – Kyong Park in Detroit” Archis, (09/2000), pp. 67-71
  • “Guerrilla Gardening: Reclaim the Streets in London” Archis, (07/2000) pp. 48-50
  • “The Dead Zone & the Architecture of Transgression” Archis (04/2000) pp. 48-57


Quotes and references to my work in other publications


  • Keith, Michael (2005) After the cosmopolitan?: multicultural cities and the future of racism, Routledge, UK AA files: annals of the Architectural Association School of Architecture, Issues 49-50
  • Pierce, J. Reinvigoration the Concept of Land Tenure for American Urban Geography, Geography Compass, Vol. 4 , issue 12, pp.1747-1757
  • Lovell, S.T. and Johnston, D.M.  Designing Landscapes for Performance Based on Emerging Principles in Landscape Ecology, Ecology and Society 14(1) 44, 2009
  • Murray, J. Martin. (2008) Taming the Disorderly City, Cornell University Press
  • Lampen, A. (2008) Schrumpfende Städte: ein Phänomen zwischen Antike und Moderne, Bohlau Verlag, Koln
  • Jorgensen, Anne and Tylecote, Marian. (2007) Ambivalent Landscapes – Wilderness in the urban interstices, Landscape Research, Vol. 32, No. 4, August 2007,443-462
  • Saskia Sassen (2006) “Making public interventions in today’s massive cities”, in Generalized Empowerment: Uneven Development & Urban Interventions, Brussels: City Min(e)d (Eds.) Brussels
  • Dr Helen Armstrong, “Time, Dereliction and Beauty: an Argument for ‘Landscapes of Contempt”paper at the conference, The Landscape Architect, IFLA Conference Papers (May 2006)
  • Tahl Kaminer (2006) “Architectural Autonomy: from Conception to Disillusion”, Haecceity Papers,Volume 1 Issue 2: What Now Architecture? Spring 2006
  • Mortenbock / Mooshammer (2003) Visuelle Kultur, Berlin: bo`halu Publishers
  •  “Spaces of Indeterminacy” in Bridge The Gap? (7.2002) Akiko Miyake and Hans Ulrich Obrist (eds) Kitakushu: Center for Contemporary Art  and Koln: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koning Cupers K. Miessen M. (2002) Spaces of Uncertainty, Wuppertal: Verlag Muller + Busmann

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