Drawing Critical Typologies and Undisciplined Commons

I’ve been thinking of ways of drawing together my old core interests in interdisciplinary modes of practice – specifically drawing in architecture and archaeology– with my new (accidental, but now also core) interests in commons and processes of commoning. I’m working with a Brighton colleague, Luis Diaz (as well as others – but it’s early days) whose expertise is broadly to do with modernist housing, but specifically how we understand the thresholds of these kinds of places with the rest of the city. You can see some of his remarkable work here and here.[1] Here are some, not quite connected yet, notes about how I’m beginning to think around this research:

I want to bring a strong archaeological sensibility to these various notions of drawing, housing and commons. In archaeology, notions of stratigraphy and excavation as simultaneously destructive and creative models and practices bring a propositional sense to material which is interestingly alien to architectural ‘future facing’ design methods. In any case, widespread and reductive notions of architecture being ‘future facing’ and archaeology being ‘past-facing’ are unhelpful. The relationship between building and not-building in urban contexts and in particular how tensions between the past, present and future of these places are revealed and played out in the present is, or will be, revealed through modes of disciplinary and undisciplinary drawing: architectural / archaeological / typological / analytical / poetic / spatial / symbolic / analogical / digital. I am provisionally calling this disciplinary mash-up ‘contextual modernist housing-and-urban threshold critical typologies meets undisciplined drawing-on-commons’. It will get catchier.

Urban Commons / urban thresholds
So, a possible locus for these investigations might be urban green (or hard-landscaped) spaces, or the threshold spaces between building and city / home and away. These places are liminal, peripheral, common and contested (they might be specific like, say, Valley Gardens in Brighton or the commons of south London. Alternatively they may be urban types like, say, squares or alleys. David Bollier defines commons as ‘at once a paradigm, a discourse, an ethic, and a set of social practices’.[2] Bollier also usefully outlines the two conventional positions regarding the commons; ‘the commons as an unmanaged resource (Hardin), and the commons as a social institution (Ostrom). To this day, most mainstream politicians and economists tend to regard the commons in Hardin’s sense, as an inert, unowned resource. But this framing fails to acknowledge the reality of a commons as a dynamic, evolving social activity: commoning. In practice, a commons consists not just of a resource, but of a community that manages a resource by devising its own rules, traditions, and values. All three are needed.’[3]

Undisciplined Drawing
To the place of the urban / urban common juxtaposition I want to bring a variety of drawing methods which are, amongst other things, either disciplinary or undisciplinary. That is modes of drawing which either emerge from within particular disciplines (eg architecture / archaeology) or which are un- (or only loosely) allied to particular disciplines. Elsewhere[4] I have suggested the existence of drawing practices and tools less strongly associated or, in some cases completely unassociated, with any putative parent discipline, but which might nevertheless be used meaningfully within those disciplines.

Threshold typologies
Perhaps it is possible or useful, then, to think of common space as a type of threshold in its own right. Writing about the reciprocating characteristics between threshold space in housing and the tenants themselves, Diaz goes further arguing for the agency of the spaces themselves, that ‘the idea of the arrival sequence (and by implication departure) focuses on how this architectural slice knits, connects and links not just individual homes but home and the city. Diaz further casts this threshold space, broadly understood ‘as an arena where the identity of the home, from the outside as a destination (partly symbolic), is constructed. In additional, this identity construction is inextricable from the way in which individual identity is constructed (as home dweller, urban citizen, drifter, neighbourhood member, etc.).’[5]

Archaeologists Lesley McFadyen argues that an archaeological sensibility could/should make connections between the time it takes to make, design, dwell. In particular she describes a present in which these different temporal modes are enacted; ‘archaeology, of all the disciplines, should be able to take the time to understand architecture as an ongoing and changing practice […] A practice that is defined in the time of its making and unmaking, change and alteration’.[6] McFadyen argues, and has consistently argued, for what ‘archaeology has to offer to a design audience,’ maintaining that ‘there is a lot to be learned from paying attention to what is already there in the world.’[7] Engaging again with differences and similarities in temporal registers between architecture and archaeology McFadyen believes that ‘in archaeology, you draw to make something of what someone else has made in the past; the archaeologist thinks through drawing to understand something that already exists’.[8]

Using the temporally complex archaeological site of Castelo Velho in Portugal and considering the – inconveniently for conventional archaeological analysis – complex of interconnected excavated forms found there, McFadyen argues that it is ‘the woven nature of these conditions [which]  suggest that it was the dynamic of building that was the point, and that the built world was inhabited through its ongoing production and not in a sequence of forms’.[9] This ‘inhabited through its ongoing production’ chimes nicely with Diaz’s ‘history of housing as a series of transformations to the relationship between, and character of, spatial forms and practices.’[10]

Furthermore, McFadyen, referring to S.O. Jorge’s work at Castelo Velho on drawing depositional ‘moments’,[11] argues that, ‘In one way, these drawings are very different to the plan drawing because they draw on an extended range of objects, and they are about the material culture rather than the structure. They demonstrate that the processes by which things were assembled together also carry with them a spatial quality. […] The impact of this work is that architecture and occupation are linked more closely through the study of material culture. This is important. These drawings are inspired by the reality in which people live, they describe action.’[12]

Policy and governance
The marginal nature of the types of space outlined above inevitably, perhaps, lead to ephemeral or illicit modes of building: squatters cottages, fairs, circuses, refreshment pavilions etc. For example see Miranda Nicolaou’s nicely suggestive, layered mapping of traces left by temporary structures and informal paths taken across the grass at Brighton’s Valley Gardens (Fig.1).[13] All of these types of dwelling and acts of dwelling have a precarious kind of existence. But do they need protection or is the ‘romance’ of them dependent upon their continued marginality? I want to use the undisciplined techniques described above to understand and propose (I think) ways of use, inhabitation, perhaps even governance of, or policy towards, these kinds of place, even if the conclusion is that there should be no governance or specific policy or policies towards them.

Victoria Gardens 1.500 map current A2

Fig.1 Nicolaou, Miranda. Map of Victoria Gardens (Valley Gardens) – Current Traces in The Perception & Representation of Cities, 2018


Bollier, David. “Commoning as a Transformative Social Paradigm.” In The Next System Project [Blog], edited by David Bollier. Washington D.C.: The Democracy Collaborative, 2016.

Diaz, Luis. “Coming Home: A Chronological Guide to the History of Arrival Sequences in British Housing [Blog].”  https://acgthhoesibh.wordpress.com/.

———. “The Responsibility of Form: The Spatial Form and Practice of Arrival.” In The Reponsibility of Form [Website], edited by Luis Diaz. Brighton: WordPress, 2016.

Jorge, S.O. “Uma Estrutura Ritual Com Ossos Humanos No Sítio Pré-Histórico De Castelo Velho De Freixo De Numão (Vila Nova De Foz Côa).” Portugalia Nova Serie, no. XIX-XX (1998/1999): 29-70.

McFadyen, Lesley. “The Time It Takes to Make: Design and Use in Architecture and Archaeology.” In Design and Anthropology, edited by Wendy Gunn and Jared Donovan. Anthropological Studies of Creativity and Perception. Farnham: Ashgate, 2012.

Nicolaou, Miranda. “The Perception & Representation of Cities [Unpublished Masters Dissertation].” Brighton: University of Brighton, 2018.

Zambelli, Alessandro. “The Undisciplined Drawing.” Buildings 3, no. 2 (2013): 357-79.


[1] Luis Diaz, “Coming Home: A Chronological Guide to the History of Arrival Sequences in British Housing [Blog],”  https://acgthhoesibh.wordpress.com/. “The Responsibility of Form: The Spatial Form and Practice of Arrival,” in The Reponsibility of Form [Website], ed. Luis Diaz (Brighton: WordPress, 2016).

[2] David Bollier, “Commoning as a Transformative Social Paradigm,” in The Next System Project [Blog], ed. David Bollier (Washington D.C.: The Democracy Collaborative, 2016).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Alessandro Zambelli, “The Undisciplined Drawing,” Buildings 3, no. 2 (2013).

[5] Diaz, “The Responsibility of Form: The Spatial Form and Practice of Arrival.”

[6] Lesley McFadyen, “The Time It Takes to Make: Design and Use in Architecture and Archaeology,” in Design and Anthropology, ed. Wendy Gunn and Jared Donovan, Anthropological Studies of Creativity and Perception (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012), 101.

[7] Ibid., 102.

[8] Ibid., 105.

[9] Ibid., 109.

[10] Diaz, “The Responsibility of Form: The Spatial Form and Practice of Arrival.”

[11] S.O. Jorge, “Uma Estrutura Ritual Com Ossos Humanos No Sítio Pré-Histórico De Castelo Velho De Freixo De Numão (Vila Nova De Foz Côa),” Portugalia Nova Serie, no. XIX-XX (1998/1999).

[12] McFadyen, “The Time It Takes to Make: Design and Use in Architecture and Archaeology,” 112.

[13] Miranda Nicolaou, “The Perception & Representation of Cities [Unpublished Masters Dissertation],” (Brighton: University of Brighton, 2018).

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