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and Informality

The notion of informality is based on an implicit divide, created by an authority setting the normative tone and standing in opposition to anything that falls out of its realm, that is non conforming – informal. The legitimacy of a formal authority stems from different sources, for example: a) Planning law (unplanned/spontaneous/illegal land uses); b) Culture (cultural, moral and religious norms); c) Design (unexpected affordances of objects); d) State welfare (formal procedures for public service provision and entitlement). But this is basically an analytical distinction: publicness, as a practical notion, constantly challenges the formal/informal divide. Publicness is about becoming and change – creating inclusive spaces, sharing a common cause, a sense of belonging, safety and recognition whenever an issue perceived as a collective concern sparks a public into being. Publicness is a performance in socio-materiality, not a permanent condition.

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Informal Publicness at

Lotto O

To address empirical research on informal publicness, we focus on contextual conditions that help explaining why and how people come up with informal solutions to create collective forms of gathering in both private and public spaces.
These contextual conditions are the local response to broader processes of socio-spatial restructuring mostly dealing with the shrinkage of welfare state.
Once the state withdraws from tasks such as public space maintenance or basic services provision, background conditions already affecting the quality of life
in large public estates (concentration of low-income families, high rates of school drop-outs, violence, widespread economic informality, gender segregation
issues) start spiraling down into a process of slow violence and solidify into socio-spatial assemblages obdurate to disentangle. The exhibition displays our first take on three key areas: ruins of welfare state facilities, informal material alterations,
and profiles of socio-spatial segregation. The results show an obdurate assemblage in which people are not just entrapped, as they also respond and make sense of their hardship producing informal publicness as a matter of creative resistance to slow violence, cultural stigma and socio-spatial segregation.

Research Team:
Gilda Berruti, Maria Cerreta, Laura Lieto, Federica Palestino, Giuliano Poli,
Grazia Pota, Marilena Prisco, Paola Scala, Maria Reitano, Giovangiuseppe
Vannelli. Students: Maria Girardi, Rosaria Iodice, Ciro Mascolo, Valeria
Matrisciano, Department of Architecture, University of Naples Federico II, Italy

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Informal Publicness at


We understand informal publicness through spatial manifestations where people’s initiatives break with the expected and possibly with formal rules, resulting in appropriations of specific spaces. This appropriation may be physically manifested for a long or short period and may be accepted or rejected by management and other spatial users. In case of rejection, the space may become contested.

Informal publicness may be assessed (and perceived by those in power) as positive or negative. Furthermore, appropriative initiatives may be sustained or removed. This dynamic can be described through a two by two categorization. Appropriation through informality can contribute to democracy in being a way of expressing diversity in public spaces and establishing arenas for deliberation amongst residents and strangers.


At Fjell there are both written and more subtle regulations for how to use different spaces. Playground areas are designated for children’s play to avoid noise and nuisance elsewhere. The indoor common areas can only be used for designated purposes. The

prime enforcers of these regulations are the cooperatives through their boards or the apartment block responsible (blokkansvarlig). Empirically we find several examples of appropriations that are considered both positive and negative by the cooperatives

Research Team:
Inger-Lise Saglie, Lillin Cathrine Knudtzon, Melissa Murphy, Beata Sirowy,
Department of Regional and Urban Planning, Faculty of Landscape and
Society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway

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Farum Midtpunkt Between the Formal and the Informal

In Farum Midtpunkt, everything was planned down to the last detail, from how individual terraces should be planted, to how craft tools should be shared among neighbours. These authoritative, strategic planning ambitions are highly present in the

spatial organisation, landscape and architectural elements. Yet over the years, through numerous everyday activities, people have begun to use the spaces in ways that were not planned. Reacting to some of these often rigid spaces, people have invented new ways of using and being, of doing publicness, privacy and communality in Farum Midtpunkt. Some intended spaces of publicness have become privatised, and new forms of publicness have begun to take place in spaces that were meant for parking, schoolteaching or shopping.

But this has not been the simple replacement of authorised intentions with informal uses. Rather, Farum Midtpunkt is characterised by multiple both/ and situations. For instance, the authorised plan intended from the start to stimulate informal social encounters and creative uses. And some spaces that seem informal are actually highly planned and regulated. This allows an intermingling of formal and informal that characterises Farum Midtpunkt.

Informalities are defined here as situations where people and other actors, such as dogs or plants, act in ways that counter the authorised initiatives, plans and narratives.

Publicness and Informality at Telli/Tscharnergut

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How are different ways of living together on site produced, performed and contested as processes of governance and power? How does this create publicness(es) and what is the status of informality in a Swiss housing context? Studying publicness in large scale housing estates following anthropology, we put focus on how different people make sense of things. Of interest is the diverse actors’ frame of reference, how it affects their everyday lives, i.e. how people engage with policies and what they make out of them. In this understanding, informality in publicness is something situational, which is (re)produced by the actions of all people who deal with or challenge formal intentions. In a rather over-regulated Swiss housing context, informality is realized in everyday practices of coping with, neutralizing, maybe resisting policies and regulations or also transforming them from below in the physical and social realm of a large-scale affordable housing estate. As everyday practice, informality is an ephemeral process. In the Swiss case studies, caretakers following strict norms and house rules keep spaces clean and “in order” on a daily basis. Therefore, we have to focus everyday anew on traces and figurations of informality on site: collective events, spontaneous maneuvers or also temporary appropriation techniques that differ from the formal purposes that define how a specific place should be used. Informality in this sense, exists within the dynamics, in which spaces are created in “border-pulling orders and negotiation processes”.

[ Löw, Martina (2016; deutsch 2004): The Sociology of Space. Materiality, Social Structures, and Action, London ]
Research Team:
Marie Glaser, Eveline Althaus, Liv Christensen and Angela Birrer, ETH CASE Centre for Research on Architecture, Society and the Built Environment, ETH Zürich, Switzerland. Students: Maria Bazzicalupo, Iakovos Birdas, Elaheh Iranmanesh, Joanna Lawson, Charline Lefran.ois, Jooyung Koag, Efijeni Kok.dhima, Mariia Kushchenkova, Drizona Ma.ani, Eleftherios Papamichelakis, Sabeen Shahid Salahuddin, Laura Sanchis Estruch and Anastasia Tzompanaki, MAS in Housing, ETH Zürich, Switzerland.

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