May 19th 2017

Convergence, Divergence and Transformation in the Urban Realm

Friction and the City is a one-day conference at the University of Chicago about the architectural, social and political dynamics of change in the urban realm, comprising an international roster of speakers from professional practice, the humanities and the social sciences.

With their increased scale and prominence, cities have come to represent the contradictions of modernity, harboring the best (demographic diversity, technological advancement, job opportunities, a concentration of cultural events, lower carbon footprints) and the worst (gross iniquities in income distribution, crime, cramped living conditions and ghettoization) aspects of a globalized society. Increasingly these frictions are emphasized in the media, depicting racial injustice, class conflict, migrant camps, urban sprawl and uneven development as symptomatic of the failure of urban societies. Yet simultaneously, the skylines of the urban realm are held up as symbols of its success, with glossy architectural renderings representing unprecedented accumulations of wealth.

This conference asks the question: what are the decisive factors determining friction in the city? In the literal and geological sense, the notion of friction is that of a resisting force, which is produced in the contact between two bodies altering the motion of one relative to the other. The term therefore designates a productive interaction in which different phenomena come into dynamic contact and hence provides a useful framework within which to investigate the current urban condition. As a physical process, friction can be both constructive and oppositional, but always transformative. This conference aims to understand the process of friction in the urban realm via three thematic sessions, Convergence, Divergence and Transformation, which address the dynamics of urban change within the built environment and the public realm.

For information or assistance contact:
Amy Thomas (
Marcello Barison (


Saskia Sassen (Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology, Columbia University)

Adrian Lahoud (Dean of Architecture, Royal College of Art, London / Forensic Architecture)

Nicholas de Genova (formerly Reader in Urban Geography at Kings College London)


Gia Biagi (Principal of Urbanism and Civic Impact, Studio Gang Architects)

Luis M. Bettencourt (Director, Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, University of Chicago)

Adrienne Brown (Assistant Professor, Department of English Literature and Language, Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, University of Chicago)

Oscar Buson (Architect, Studio BLB, Brühlmann Loetscher Buson, Zürich)

Michael Conzen (Professor of Geography, Committee on Geographical Studies, University of Chicago)

Joshua Craze (Collegiate Assistant Professor, Social Sciences and the College, University of Chicago)

Roberta Feldman (Professor Emerita, School of Architecture, University of Illinois Chicago)

Theaster Gates (Artist, Director of Arts + Public Life and Place Lab, Professor, DoVA, University of Chicago)

Sean Keller (Associate Professor, Director of History and Theory, College of Architecture Illinois Institute of Technology / Visiting Associate Professor, DoVA, University of Chicago)

Jon Levy (Professor of US History, Fundamentals, and the College, University of Chicago)

Kareem Rabie (Collegiate Assistant Professor, Social Sciences and the College, University of Chicago)

Yehuda Safran (Adjunct Associate Professor in Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University)

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