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Euro-Slums: Remaking the European Urban Landscape – Cristian Suau, STUDIO POP

By on September 20, 2016
Lecturer - profile

Cristian Suau


Main affiliation


United Kingdom

European Union



I am an architect (hons) that holds European Ph.D. in Architecture (hons) and Master in Urban Design (ETSAB) combined with three advanced postdoctoral research experiences on eco-design, experimental housing design and urban regeneration in Sweden, Norway and Spain. My main academic areas (research, educational and KE) are Adaptive Urbanism, Transformative Landscapes and Polyvalent Housing Design.

I offer a solid foundation of ecological design excellence; conceptualisation; innovative and cross-disciplinary vision; and leadership internationally with proficiency experience in the fields of human settlements development; urban planning, design and landscape; and architecture through urban studies and designs, recognised research publications and consultancy.

I worked as lecturer in Architecture at the Welsh School of Architecture (WSA), UK (2007-2013) where I led Vertical Studios (Wales), the ART BOX (China), Nomadic Allotments (LFA, London) and FP7 EMUVE as scientific coordinator. Recently I worked as senior lecturer in Architecture at Strathclyde University (2013-2016) and director of the Glasgow Project Office (GPO) where I led Radical Architecture design unit, ERASMUS visiting professorships and the MOBILELAND VIP project.

Professionally I was urban project leader and senior architect in the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Rotterdam (2006-2007) developing Almere Homerus master plan, PRADA Seoul pavilion, Fondazione Prada, and other public buildings. I am director of ECOFABRICA [www.ecofab.org], platform that offers ecological planning and design and educational consultancy such PHS (Pallet Housing System); FOGHIVE 3D fog collection; cycling routes along the Slovene Adriatic EUROVELO 9 network; TEMPUS & ERASMUS+ KLABS educational consultant in in the Balkan Region; and international awarded projects in housing, urban design and landscape projects such Europan 8 Norway and Bulnes boulevard renewal (Chile, 2012) and MOBILELAND, a community-led urban regeneration initiative in Glasgow.

Regarding social initiatives, I am co-led RECICLARQ [www.reciclarq.com], a self-build NGO in Barcelona (2006-2016). Currently I am co-leading STUDIO POP C.I.C. [www.studiopop.net], a new social enterprise –community interest company- that ‘pops’ natural based solutions and eco-design innovations with strong social, technological and environmental impacts in vulnerable communities through life cycle thinking (LCT), service design and collaborative work in the areas of urban ecology, systemic design and self-construction.

English Proficiency

Previous experience of recording video lectures

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Frequency of lectures
Very often

Recording opportunities
Habitat III attendance and availability
17-20 October 2016


Main themes
Urban Infrastructure
Sustainable Cities
Social Inclusion
Slum Upgrading

Euro-Slums: Remaking the European Urban Landscape

Euro-slums represent instant urbanity governed by self-organisation, which include bottom-up strategies, autonomous urban dynamics and spatial activation by remaking.

Issues which the lecture addresses
The lecture reflects on slums as dynamic laboratories for urban pattern making that constructs transitory, elusive or spontaneous geometries and forms. Based on cultural and topographic conditions, slums differ in sizes, shapes and geometries. They are not only the result of urban economic asymmetries and social marginalisation but also elementary construction of evolutionary urbanism. They can be generative or regenerative: visible or invisible; permanent or temporary. This lecture explores the pattern making of existing and new slum formations, mainly located in South European cities. Selected cases will be supported by a taxonomic study and mapping based on conditions, categories, types, size, form, scale and duration.

Short analysis of the above issues
Euro-slums & the New Urban Question
Urbanism is related to the establishment of socio-economic dynamics that create the production and occupancy of every-day spaces in our cities. Nowadays planetary neo-liberal urban-based economies are propagating a new geography of centrality and marginality. Urban poverty is neither an exclusive characteristic of South Globe nor the condition of third world mega-cities. This situation has been convoyed by the abrupt inequity of income distribution; environmental disasters; displacement of rural communities; slum proliferation; rising of informal industry and employment; and the dismantling of social well-fare.

The Southern Euro-slum is a peripheral phenomenon of urban marginality, which is characterized by inner and outer migratory flows and defined transitory and permanent border conditions. The poorer is the bordering country the stronger is the migration pressure. Its shape is generally fragmented rather than diffuse. Here informal settlements grow due to (a) the high porosity of natural and man-made borders (i.e.: no maritime demarcations or buffer zone); (b) low-income neighborhood countries; (c) poor urban planning and housing management in EU Mediterranean countries (cities are ‘momentary stopovers’ for immigrants).

The existence of slums in Europe is often ignored by general public and even denied by governmental reports as an everyday problem. It is pointed as an ‘external’ phenomenon that occurs ‘there’ but not here, and represented by ‘outsiders’. Why nobody applies the term Euro-slums as a new question wherein many consolidated European cities coexist with informal manifestations of dwelling and economy? This study reflects in the physical manifestation of social inequality in south European cities as the “new urban question”, which reallocates the right to the city of deprived communities in response to the spatial injustice and the serious consequences for democracy involves continuous and severe inequality. In the context of the dismantling of the European Welfare State, the city has not long been thought as social integration and intercultural space but a contested space ruled by the principles of assimilation and segregation. In many European cities rich and poor dwellers have always met and continue to meet but this gap is increasingly becoming visible, accentuated and distant. Today more than ever, urban inequalities in South Europe conflict with political strategies often favored by an urban project characterized by cultural fear and social exclusion (Virilio, 2004). Regarding urban morphology this essay reflects on the development of informal settlements in existing Southern Euro-Mediterranean cities; their adaptive spatial structures; and their potential play-elements by recognizing the importance of these ‘urban types’ to shape our changing territories. In doing so we have to confer our urban spaces greater and more widespread porosity, permeability and accessibility; draw them with ambition by taking into account the quality of new urban patterns and the sense of collectiveness.

Urban form follows economics. Informal economy is neither residual nor marginal but rather the most dynamic sector of any fast growing economy. According to Manuel Castell (1989), the phenomenon of informal economy establishes “a major structural feature of society both in industrialized and less develop countries. And yet, the ideological controversy and political debate surrounding its development have obscured comprehension of its character, challenging the capacity of the social science to provide a reliable analysis’”.

Slums -as informal cities, settlements or enclaves within cities- are informal economies per se. Nonetheless there are not enough consistent observational urban studies that examine the dynamics of them within consolidated urban structures and its morphological adaptation. These underground economies constitute dynamic urban responses against the activation of South European markets. Slums represent contradictory spaces characterised by contestation, internal differentiation, and continuous transgression. The border condition of slums as ‘terra incognita’ is understood as peripheral, remote or marginal spaces allotted between frictional and segregated political, ethnic and socio-economic regions. They are vulnerable habitats exposed to severe ecological dereliction; and urban and demographic pressure. Slums are neither continuous nor functional but asymmetric territories but the result of intermittent aggregations of functional, morphological and environmental means.

Slums as interstitial urbanism is defined by accidental or residual spaces along vacant lands, infrastructures or voids respectively. They are a kind of instant or sporadic urban forms and detached from conventional planning paradigms. Programmatically the social “étiquetage” or labeling condition of slum dwellers gives opportunities to deal with transgressive and adaptive urban systems and dwellings for better social resonance. According to Howard Becker (Outsiders, 1963) dominant “social groups create deviance by making rules whose infraction creates deviance, and by applying those roles to particular people and labeling them as outsiders”. If we apply this social theory of deviance in slum-dwellers, it is “(…) rather a consequence of the application by other of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. The deviant is one to whom that label has been successfully applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label” .

Urban informality is a state of spatial contradictions, exceptions and ambiguities. Slums in Europe or Euro-slums are connected with spaces of insurgency, resistance and the ‘quiet encroachment’ or infringement of the poor and marginalised upon the cities. The impermanence of these informal structures can be proven highly resilient. As “an idiom of urbanization”, the power of (re)making informal spaces does not occur through any formal zoning scheme but the spontaneous occupations in existing lands and buildings. They activate spaces in disuse and abandonment, finding opportunities for underground commerce and unofficial dwelling. For instance, the favelisation process triggers the proliferation of ‘loose spaces’ characterised by temporary and subversive spaces in South American mega-slums.

This lecture analyses significant informalised urban structures that manifest new border conditions in European cities throughout a comparative analysis of selected cases by taking into account topological and morphological characteristics.

Propositions for addressing the issue
Informal urban economies, evolutionary urbanism, adaptive urban forms, Southern European slums, pattern making, self-organisation.

Content structure:
– Introduction on Informalism
– Slum-pattern making
– Euro-slums
– Generative vs regenerative slum making, comparative cases.
1. War-made slums: Belgrade, Serbia
2. Immigration slums: Reception centers, CARA di Mineo, Italy
3. Border-slum: Calais, France
– Finale

Additional Reading Materials

– Brenner, N., Peck, J. and Theodore, N. (2012) Afterlives of Neoliberalism, London: Bedford Press
– Secchi, B. (2013) La Città dei Ricchi e la Città dei Poveri. Roma: Laterza
– Virilio, P. (2004) City of Panic. New York: Berg
– Castells, M., Portes, A. and Benton, L. (1989) The Informal Economy, London: The John Hopkins University Press
– Lefebvre, H. (1974) The Production of Space, Contradictory Space, Malden: Blackwell Publishing
– Davis, M. (2006) Planet of Slums. London: Verso.
– Soja, E. W (1997) Six Discourses on The Postmetropolis; Imagining Cities, Script, Signs, Memories. London, Routledge.
– Suau, C. (2015) The Pan-American Highway: Informality Urbanism in Latin American Border Cities, in Kite, S. Odgers, J. & McVicar, M. (ed.) Economy and Architecture (2015) (eds.) Routledge, New York
– Laguerre, M. (1994) The Informal City. London: MacMillan Press.
– Wallace, A. Russel (1912) Influence of Natural Selection upon Sterility and Fertility. Darwinsim: An Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection with Some of Its Applications. London: Macmillan
– Tafuri, M. (1976) Architecture and Utopia Design and Capitalist Development. Massachussets: MIT edition
– Žižek, S. (2000) The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, London-New York
– Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation. Chicago: University of Michigan Press

– Fikfak, A., Suau, C. & Zappulla, C. (2014) Pattern Making of Mega-Slums on Semantics in Slum Urban Cultures London: Volume 38, Issue 4, Routledge
– Bayat, A. (2000) From Dangerous Classes to Quiet Rebels: Politics of the Urban Subaltern in the Global South, London: SAGE, International Sociology 15/3
– Roy, A. (2009) Strangely Familiar: Planning and the Worlds of Insurgence and Informality, Planning Theory 8 (1)
– Montemurro, M. et al. (2010) Invisibility of Urban IDPs in Europe. Forced Migration Review, no. 34. Oxford: Oxford University
– Foucault M. (1967) Des Espace Autres. Paris: Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité Journal
– Žižek, S. (2012) Internazionale Journal 937: http://www.internazionale.it

Draft presentation