The Concordia University Research Chair (CURC) in Performative Urbanism focuses on critical performance design practices in cities and approaches performative urbanism as a mode of address for rehearsing, testing, experimenting, and developing participatory tools and interventionist methods that can be embodied and enacted across a variety of scales and the way we live, work, and play in the city. The research project builds on recent scholarship and contemporary practices of performance design on the one hand, and on the critical application of performance to urban design, the study of cities, and the built environment. The research revolves around the study of the multiple connections between theoretical concepts, practices, 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. This project also considers the role that architects and urbanists are playing in reshaping the discourse on performance design, as well as the role that performance designers and scenographers are playing in reshaping the design, cultural, and public life of cities.
This research program is led by Dr Shauna Janssen, Assistant Professor, Department of Theatre, and Director of Concordia’s Institute for Urban Futures.
Performativity in urbanism presumes a potentiality (Butler 1988). In its most reductive sense, the ‘performative’ refers to, and stands in for and replaces the ‘theatrical.’ Beyond this use, the performative has accrued meanings, paradoxes, and nuances that can help make a case for its use in theorizing a critical framework and developing research-creation projects 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 (and perhaps overlooked or marginalized) expressions and practices of urbanity, the ways that less visible and 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 smart cities.
Some of the salient research questions this CURC intends to address include:
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_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?
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 this program is to therefore 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.