Habitat Unit

September 29, 2019 | 4:30–8:30pm | ExRotaprint, Gottschedstraße 4

Mapping the Global Factory. Architectures of Commodity Chains

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What kind of buildings and urban situations do things traverse on their way to become commodities? How are global production chains of bread or T-shirts anchored within specific places, and shaped by physical (infra)structures? And how can interdependencies of planetary production systems, uneven urban development, architecture and spatial planning be investigated?

Contemporary built environments are decisively shaped by the continuing global expansion of commodity production, as geographically dispersed systems of manufacturing and distribution require physical structures on the ground – whether factories and warehouses, mines and fields, or roads and harbours. These built structures, from the architectural object to the operational landscape, are instrumental in attracting and chanelling commodity flows. In turn, transnational production systems impart their profit-maximizing logic on the design and allocation of buildings and infrastructure, contributing to shape the patterns of urbanization. Considering architecture and urban space from a global commodity chain perspective allows to read current urbanization processes as relational phenomena distributed across diverse geographies, and thus puts forward a multi-local, planetary approach to urban research.

The symposium brings scholars from the fields of architecture, urbanism and geography in conversation. Four lectures trace stations and routes of global commodity production, exploring the interplay with the built environment and planning. As concluding event of the research project Transnational Production Spaces at the Habitat Unit (Chair for International Urbanism, Institute for Architecture, TU Berlin) the symposium aims to take stock and chart new ground for transdisciplinary research at the interface between commodity chain studies, urban and architectural research.

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Architectures of Grain. Physical impacts of the political economy of wheat from Cairo to Chicago.

Food systems as well as the factors that influence them at social, economic, and political levels affect architecture, urban form, and territorial organisation. The lecture examines how food systems operating at various scales—trans-national, national, and local—transform socio-spatial territories and how those systems are reciprocally transformed by ongoing changes in territorial relations.

Charlotte Malterre-Barthes is an architect and urban designer based at ETH Zürich. She investigates the relationships between food systems and the built environment through the lens of political economy, from global financial market places to rural Egypt.

Surplus Form

Lean operations generate spatial redundancy and architectural flab. This presentation examines the relationship between logistical systems of commodity circulation and the spaces that support them by looking at the operations of Walmart and Amazon. It argues that through the analysis and theorization of logistical architectures, a range of design responses emerges.

Jesse LeCavalier is a designer, writer, and educator whose work explores the architectural and urban implications of contemporary logistics. He conducts design and research work through LECAVALIER R+D and is associate professor at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto.

Where is the Global Factory? Spaces of transnational clothing production in Turkey, Bulgaria and Ethiopia

Tracing the pathways of fashion production and their relocation to different manufacturing sites, this talk charts how transnational production relations interact with the urban built environment and urban planning. It discusses how commodity chain approaches can be employed as a productive analytical tool for relational, multi-scalar urban research, offering insights into the transnational character and constitution of urban space.

Elke Beyer and Anke Hagemann are architectural and urban researchers at Habitat Unit, TU Berlin. In the research project Transnational Production Spaces (2016-2019), they have investigated the mutual impact of global production networks of the clothing industry and urban transformations at production sites.

Getting the Territory Right: Spatial planning and the expansion of production networks

A 'global growth coalition' comprised of multilateral development banks, elite private-sector firms and powerful nation-states (e.g. China and the US) is currently seeking to connect historically isolated places via large-scale intra-city infrastructure. The expansive territories that are envisioned and produced tend to connect resource frontiers with dedicated nodes of production and logistics, so that they can be 'plugged in' to global production and trade networks. I term this regime 'infrastructure-led development' and in this talk I will explore its origins and evolution before explaining its implications for urbanization and global production networks in the Global South.

Seth Schindler is Senior Lecturer of Urban Development and Transformation at the University of Manchester. His research appears regularly in leading academic journals, and he is currently exploring the relationship between large-scale infrastructure projects and deindustrialization in developing countries.


Elke Krasny is a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Her feminist scholarship in cultural theory, urban research and curation connects issues of labor, economy, and ecology in architecture, urbanism and contemporary art.

Jana Kleibert is an economic geographer and leads a research group on transnational education spaces at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space and the Humboldt University of Berlin.

Philipp Misselwitz, architect and urban planner, holds the chair of Habitat Unit at TU Berlin. His recent research fields include user-driven urban development in Europe and the Global South, rural urbanisation, and patterns and economies of translocal spatial production.


The project Transnational Production Spaces (PI Philipp Misselwitz, researchers Elke Beyer, Anke Hagemann) is funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation) under research agreement MI 1893/2-1.