Performative Urbanism is a research cluster of

Institute for Urban Futures 

What does it mean to say that urbanism is performative? What should be included in the evolving discourse of performative urbanism, which is also to ask what ‘matters’ for an understanding of performative urbanism? What critical framework can the ‘performative’ bring to urbanism and the spatial politics and narratives of urban change? This Concordia University Research Chair in Performative Urbanism is focused on critical urban practices, performance design, and artistic responses that  engage with the spatial politics of urban change, including widespread urban inequalities around gender, race, class, sexuality, and ability in the built environment. At PULSE we focus on performative urbanism as a lens for understanding wider performance-making practices and performance design ecologies as vital to the formation and democratization of the built environment, public and urban participatory events, as well as the performance of urbanity and urban meaning.  


This research program is led by Dr Shauna Janssen, Assistant Professor, Department of Theatre, and Director of Concordia’s Institute for Urban Futures.

This research project builds on recent scholarship and contemporary practices of performance design to explore the critical application of performance to urban design. Our approach to researching the politics and epistemologies of performative urbanism takes the city and urban space, the human and ‘more than human,’ as vital collaborators in the creation, enactment, and performance of urbanity and urban meaning. How can the performative help to structure a critical framework for engaging with widespread urban inequalities and the spatial politics of urban change, including the spatial implications of emerging smart city technologies?  A performative approach to urbanism considers emergent, overlooked or marginalized expressions and practices of urbanity--the ways that less visible and less powerful urban agents are at play within cities-- and the critical and creative role they have to play in the design, planning, and cultural production of urbanism.

What is the longer-term impact of the smart cities agenda on the right to the city and how might performative understandings of urbanism and urbanity open up intersectional perspectives and inclusive ways for how we experience “intelligent” cities?

As a research creation platform, PULSE engages with the study of multiple connections between theoretical concepts and practices of urbanism (and design), and the history of scenography, as manifested in the rapidly changing discourse on contemporary performance design practices, performance design pedagogy, and the field’s critical application to urbanism and the social life of cities. In the early 2000s, the emerging field of Performance Design was ushered in by a discourse and experimental collaborations between theatre historians, performance theorists, interdisciplinary artist-researchers, architects and stage designers/ scenographers - first formulated through new academic programs in New Zealand and Denmark and articulated through a published anthology (Hannah and Harsløf 2008). At this time, performance design became a relatively new way of thinking about design for performance that transcends purpose built theatre spaces and architecture. While the emergence of performance design has become a field of study for examining an aesthetic shift in contemporary scenographic practices beyond the stage - which challenge some long-held principles of design for theatre and performance - there is still work to be done on the urban nature of scenography and its critical application to the city. The design or enactment of performative urbanism acknowledges this recent ‘scenographic turn’ (Brejzek 2015) in the performing arts – described as both “scenography expanded” (Aronson 2015; McKinney and Palmer 2017) and as a critical framework and expansion of practice into urban design and planning. One of the research objectives of  this program is to address the move towards urban scenographies that exhibit critical realism and engagements with the spatial politics of cities in the era of smart and sustainable cities.