Community Land Trusts and the Possibility of Commoning the City

The present research investigates several CLTs in London, and similar schemes in Zurich, Barcelona, and Stockholm, to construct thoroughly architectural perspectives on community-led housing.
Community Land Trusts and the Possibility of Commoning the City


According to the National Community Land Trust Network, CLTs are “set up and ran by ordinary people to develop and manage homes as well as other assets important to that community, like community enterprises, food growing or workspaces. Thereby CLTs act as long-term stewards of housing, ensuring that it remains genuinely affordable, based on what people earn in their area, not just for now but for every future occupier.”

The present research investigates several CLTs in London, and similar schemes in Zurich, Barcelona, and Stockholm, to construct thoroughly architectural perspectives on community-led housing. The main question driving these investigations is whether and how processes of commoning may take place within CLTs. Upon these findings, our agenda is to reconsider these urban events as counter projects, through which local associations may practice alternative ways of co-existing in the contemporary city. In this sense, CLTs are not just legal mechanisms of reclaiming land for affordable housing but also possible platforms for occupying members to live in common.

As both CLTs and commoning are relatively new subjects to architecture cultures and practices, our cohort uses analytical drawing as a method to assess these concepts from formal and spatial points of view. The research develops as a five-year project centred on the survey, mapping, drawing, and analyses of several of the 263 CLTs which currently spread across England and Wales. Starting from London as a paradigm, our project is to produce a collective book of visual essays exposing the very situations where commoning happens within existing CLTs. This knowledge informs the production of several 1:1 models and an exhibition of design propositions for emerging cases of CLTs.


The Challenge

The challenge of this research is to contribute to the interdisciplinary debate on the commons with architectural perspectives. While economists such as Elinor Ostrom and Massimo de Angelis have put forward fundamental theories on the subject, formal and spatial analyses are still unprecedented. Therefore, our cohort not only dwells thoroughly on those theories but also produces an extensive collection of archival evidence and authorial drawings. The aim is to discover where and how commoning takes (or may take) place within existing CLTs. Examples, therefore, vary from housing to allotments, cooperative workplaces, and so forth. Amongst many case studies, we are currently analysing those of St. Clements in Mile End, 31 Daleham Gardens in Camden, and Brasted Close in Lewisham – all within Greater London.

The Approach

Our cohort proposes that neither the commons nor commoning can ever be designed. But architecture may formalise the spatial means for groups of individuals to share resources, self-organise, and live in common. As these processes develop over time and through various actions and spaces, they gradually produce the commons: an open network system of social relationships, driven by solidarity instead of wages and profit. Moreover, because these processes happen locally and, mostly, at microscales, one cannot – and should not – attempt to identify them with universal forms or typologies. In other words, both the commons and commoning exist in a permanent state of becoming, making it almost impossible to define them typologically.

“Commoning is essentially about the reproduction of life, through collaboration with others, through the invention of new organisational ways and forms based on values that we co-create with others; but we face an environment there which is of a greater scale of social action [that] constrains us, that puts us in particular situations – in different situations – in a complex world. And you need that moment of political actions, of social actions, of social movements precisely to change those constraints and to open up spaces, to make these commoning practices flourish at that lower level.”

Massimo De Angelis “Commoning the City.” Antipode Online, Vol. 52, Issue 6, Nov. 2020.

The Impact

Despite the significant array of 263 CLTs across England and Wales, architecture academia often categorises these urban events as strictly ‘bottom-up’ developments, in which the role of the architect seems limited either to consultancy or provisional solutions. By questioning these assumptions through authorial drawings and essays, our research may also offer fresh evidence for alternative views on the role of designers – not only regarding community-led housing but also architectural practice at large. Moreover, on the potentialities of ‘drawing as a research method,’ our work may demonstrate to future researchers that architecture is a collective form of knowledge that develops through active collaborations, such as those between students, tutors, designers, consultants, and clients.

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