UCL Grand Challenges


'The Centre Cannot Hold?': Trans-Centric Urbanism in the 'Fringe City'

This two-day conference looks at the aesthetics, politics, economics and effects of centrality and monumentality in 20th century cities.

The Centre Cannot Hold? (Image)

1 August 2015


Grant: Grand Challenges Small Grants
Year awarded: 2015-16
Amount awarded: £3,815


  • Jane Rendell, Bartlett School of Architecture, The Bartlett/Built Environment
  • Michal Murawski, School of Slavonic and East European Studies 

The idea of the city dominated by a soaring landmark or a grand epicentre - whether a sacred temple, a secular monument or a Central Business District - was allegedly buried along with utopian high modernity, sometime during the second half of the 20th century. The new urban age taking shape in its place, say politicians, planners and scholars, will be humbler, more sustainable, collaborative and polycentric: eco-cities instead of monumental axes; pop-up innovation hubs rather than palaces of culture; fleeting anti-statues in place of equestrian heroes and sky-high monoliths; Gumtree and Airbnb amid the debris of the Galeries Lafayette and the Grand Hotel.

But is this centrifugal tendency really as absolute, inevitable - and desirable - as all that? And is the negation of hierarchy - on the terrain of the city itself, as well as of its descriptions and theorisations - in fact complicit in concealing new (or old) forms of domination? This conference will explore the aesthetics, politics, economics and affects of centrality and monumentality, from their 20th century golden age to their contemporary inheritances, afterlives, ruins and appropriations.

Led by Michał Murawski (SSEES, UCL) and Jonathan Bach (New School, New York), the line-up includes contributions from prominent researchers, architects and artists such as Owen Hatherley, Kuba Snopek, Łukasz Stanek, and Vladimir Paperny. Clare Melhuish, Pushpa Arabindoo, Andrew Harris and Victor Buchli from UCL Urban Laboratory.

The conference is supported by UCL Urban Laboratory, UCL Grand Challenges, and the UCL Mellon Programme.

Impacts and Outputs