Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg


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Nora Colden

Ph. D. Student (Scholarship holder 10/2010 - 04/2013)
on leave since 05/2013
1st Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Richard Rottenburg
2nd Supervisor: Ola Söderström (Université Neuchâtel, Schweiz)
Mentor: Dr. Daniele Cantini

Unpacking politics in architecture and urban planning: a critical reflection on current city planning projects within the frame of development aid policy

The project examines the problem of urban planning and the related controversial debate on the role of built environment and its political impact on social realities. From a transdisciplinary perspective I will analyze current city planning projects (in Ethiopia) developed within the frame of development aid policy by focusing on mobilities, knowledge, in-between-spheres and the co-production of urban forms and social realities.

Recently, in the interdisciplinary field of STS studies, philosophy, geography, city planning, economics and development theories, a remarkable importance is attached to urban challenges including effects of climate change, resource depletion and economic instability, plus continued urbanization. It seems to be clear that contemporary urban planning systems – which in most parts of the world have been shaped by 19th-century Western European modernist master planning – are not equipped to deal with these challenges, and instead relational, participative or action-based plans are promoted. But even if the ideologies behind these current programs might have changed, their influences on and compatibility with social reality remain as open questions. Driven by the observation that we can (nevertheless) examine an increase in belief in the transformative force of built environment and in the possibility to use urban planning and architectural forms in a strategical way to create a desired social order, my project is guided by the curiosity to know how successful urban artifacts actually perform this task.

It would seem to me worthwhile not only to consider the (circulating) ideologies, models, ideas and information underlying these designs, but also their implementation in urban forms and their use in general, I attempt to cast some light on the nexus between planning, urban forms and social relations. I try to find answers to the following questions:

  • How and which kind of (mobile) ideas, ideologies, models, visions, images, types etc. are embedded in these designs, and how do they circulate?
  • How do these mobilities shape urban forms and how are they translated, interpreted and (re)shaped themselves?
  • To what extent are architectural artifacts really able to (re)form social realities? How is architecture itself (re)shaped, changed and stabilized by social structures?
  • Does architecture really have the ability to shape society, or is this just an utopia doomed to fail?
  • What forms of (normative) knowledge and what kinds of models are implicit in these plans? Which processes of negotiation do these norms provoke?

Curriculum Vitae


10/2010-09/2012Ph.D. Student at the Graduate School "Society and Culture in Motion" at the Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg
04/2010Magistra Artium in Social Anthropology (major), Sociology and History of Art (minors), Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg and University of Leipzig
MA-Thesis in Social Anthropology on: “Does Architecture Shape Society? An Enquiring Concerning the Nexus Between Architecture, Gender and Politics
08/2004-02/2005Erasmus Programme at Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier

Professional activities

06/2007-09/2007Self-organized qualitative research project on feminist architecture, Freiburg/Breisgau
04/2006-10/2006Student assistant- Seminar for Social Anthropology at Martin-Luther-University

Presented Papers and Publications

Presented Papers: Unpacking politics in architecture: inscription and de-scription of gender-specific relationships. Conference: „Politics of Design“, University of Manchester, June 24-25th 2010

Publication: Ein eignes Zimmer. Eine kritische Analyse „frauengerechter“ Architektur. Phase2. Zeitschrift gegen die Realität 37: 40-44; Seot. 2010