Christian Schmid: Planetary urbanisation and Henri Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space

Planetary urbanisation and Henri Lefebvre’s theory of the production of space

Christian Schmid, ETH Zurich

In the last decades, urbanisation has become a planetary phenomenon. Urban areas expand and interweave, and novel forms of urbanisation emerge. In this process, new urban configurations are constantly evolving. Therefore, an adequate understanding of planetary urbanisation must derive its empirical and theoretical inspirations from the multitude of urban experiences across the various divides that shape our contemporary world. Urbanisation has to be considered an open process, determined as much by existing structures as well as by constant innovation and inventiveness.

Starting from Henri Lefebvre’s three-dimensional theory of the production of space, this contribution explores the consequences of planetary urbanisation for urban research. Adopting a planetary orientation means first of all decentering the focus of analysis, and looking from an ex-centric position. Such an orientation enables a researcher to detect a wide variety of expressions of the urban that have traditionally been excluded from analytical consideration because they are located outside large agglomerations and metropolitan regions and their immediate hinterlands. It thus helps to illuminate the wider context of an urban territory and to trace the effects of the various relationships and mutual interactions between centralities and peripheries.


Christian Schmid is Professor of Sociology at the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. He has authored, co-authored, and co-edited numerous publications on theories of the urban and of space, on Henri Lefebvre, on territorial urban development, and on the comparative analysis of urbanisation. Together with architects Roger Diener, Jacques Herzog, Marcel Meili and Pierre de Meuron he co-authored the book “Switzerland: an urban portrait”, a pioneering analysis of extended urbanisation. He currently works together with Neil Brenner on the theorisation and investigation of emergent formations of planetary urbanisation, and he leads a project on the comparison of urbanisation processes in eight large metropolitan territories, which is based at the ETH Future Cities Laboratory Singapore.