CALL FOR PAPERS – ‘law and geography’ (a special issue of the International Journal of Law in the Built Environment)

‘Law and geography’

A special issue of the International Journal of Law in the Built Environment

Guest Issue editors:

Luke Bennett, Department of the Natural & Built Environment, Sheffield Hallam University; &

Professor Antonia Layard, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham


Call for papers

 ‘What would be a nuisance in Belgrave Square would not necessarily be so in Bermondsey’

per Thesiger LJ, in Sturgess –v- Bridgeman (1879) 11 ChD 852


By this CFP we invite submission of high quality papers written by legal scholars, urbanists, geographers and social scientists that explore law’s place amidst the spatiality and materiality of the built environment. Our aim is to gather a collection of papers which can bridge the ‘critical’ and ’embodied’ practical aspects of making and managing built environments. We seek to do this by setting critical legal geography perspectives alongside practice oriented built environment legal scholarship, in order to explore potential synergies and creative tensions that may arise from this juxtaposition.

In keeping with IJLBE’s broad remit, papers can be empirical, doctrinal and/or theoretically based and can explore the themes suited to this CFP in any jurisdiction around the world (please note that submissions must be written in English).

We are seeking articles which engage the ways in which law is at work in the built environment and do not wish to be overly prescriptive. But, indicatively, questions that submitted papers might address include:

–          How does law contribute to the making and controlling of  the built environment at multiple scales?: ranging perhaps from the micro-world of design standards for building components upward and outward through law’s shaping influence over rooms, floors, buildings, terraces, wards, boroughs, cities, regions, nationalities and globally.

–          What is law’s relationship with space, place and physical structures in the built environment – and in particular how are objects framed by law (for example by how objects of concern are defined in built environment regulatory laws; or in judicial attempts to develop a  ‘complex structure theory’ as a way of conceptualising – and litigating – building defects)?

–          How can legal processes of built environment place making be critiqued through the lenses of critical geography and progressive urbanism? And in doing so, what are the implications for built environment scholarship and its concern with professional practice?

–          What are the dangers of conflating law and geography? What methodological problems will be encountered? What claims to knowledge and validity can such hybrid analysis of law and geography claim?

–          What role do judicial and other spatio-material imaginaries (images of place and things) play in the adjudication of cases concerning contested land use and/or the conduct of processes that have as their aim the legally shaped ordering of space and/or physical things?

About legal geography

This call for papers arises out of a double session convened by the guest editors at the Royal Geographical Society’s 2014 Annual Conference. It is part of an initiative seeking to raise the profile of legal geography as a hybrid area of scholarship within the UK and to connect with the established Legal Geographers active – in particular – in North America and Australia.

Legal geography is an emerging discipline, located both within geography and with law and society studies. It draws on legal and geographical techniques and concepts to understand ‘the role and impact that space and place have on the differential and discursive construction of law and how legal norms and practices construct space and places’ (Blomley 1993, 63). The central assumption is one of reflexivity: that law constructs space and place and that space and place construct law (both in books and ‘in action’).

While some legal geography research is profoundly theoretical, other more doctrinal and empirical legal research is often highly situated. It is located (to give just a very few examples) on the streets (Blomley, 2011; Valverde 2012); within gated or common property (Blandy, 2006, 2010); shopping centres (Layard 2010); on the boundary (Kedar 2002; Braverman, 2009); in local communities constructed through racial legal geographies (Ford, 1999; Delaney 1998); in a field next to a pub (Bennett, 2011) or in an eruv (Cooper, 1998).

It is perhaps at this situated scale that legal geography comes closest to scholarship concerned with the professional practice aspects of the built environment and its law. It is in this field (as this journal reflects) that the law is encountered as a managerialist tool, it is concerned with ways of ordering and managing the design, construction, ownership, use and removal of places, their physical structures and also of their human inhabitants. Here applicable laws seek to frame these material things in order to know and thereby control them – and their actions – across time and space. Law in the built environment thus has at its heart a practical concern with the governability of things. Perhaps a fusion of legal geography and built environment legal scholarship can open up insightful routes to the understanding, refinement and critique of the processes by which law is translated (Latour 2005) into buildings, streets and the urban landscape.

How to submit a paper

The deadline for submission of papers for consideration is 23 January 2014. Papers should be submitted via the publisher’s on-line submission point:

Full details of the Journal’s instructions to authors regarding words limits, citation, layout and writing style are available here:

Submitted manuscripts can only be considered if they adhere to these procedures and instructions.

The editors are very happy to correspond via email with potential contributors prior to the submission deadline regarding queries related to this CFP and/or the ‘fit’ of any paper or proposal.

Following peer review selected papers will be published in the ‘law and geography’ themed issued of the journal (Volume 7, Issue 2), in July 2015. The selected papers will also be advance published on-line via the publisher’s EarlyCite facility, in (we estimate) Autumn 2014.

About the journal

The International Journal of Law in the Built Environment was launched in 2009 and is published by Emerald. It provides a vehicle for the publication of high quality legal, socio-legal and related scholarship in the context of the design, construction, management and use of the built environment. It publishes up-to-date and original legal research contributions for the benefit of scholars, policy makers and practitioners in these areas, including those operating in the fields of legal practice, housing, planning, architecture, surveying, construction management, real estate and property management.

A specific aim of this special edition is to consider how the journal can connect its concerns with wider academic communities sharing an interest in urbanism, place making and the building of environments.

Further details (including sample articles) are available here:

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Announcing: ‘plastiCities: re-thinking the past, present and future of damaged topographies in urban environments’

FP montage

We are very excited to announce that an occursus led post-disciplinary bid for a major 5 year funded research project to investigate urban plasticity has been submitted this week. The bid is led by occursus director Amanda Crawley Jackson (French Studies, University of Sheffield), with  Luke Bennett (Built Environment – Sheffield Hallam University), Katja Hock (Fine Art – Nottingham Trent University), Tom Stafford (Psychology, University of Sheffield), John Barrett (Archaeology, University of Sheffield), Cristina Cerulli (SSoA), Vanessa Toulmin (University Head of Engagement) and Sophie Watt (French Studies, University of Sheffield). The bid is grounded upon the existing collaborations and explorations already catalysed by occursus and the Furnace park project, such as Scree (Bennett & Hock) and academic papers reflecting upon the site assembly phase of the Furnace Park Project (Bennett & Crawley Jackson).

We have set out the summary below that was submitted with the bid. We will know at the start of 2014 whether our bid has been shortlisted, and if successful in the process will commence this exciting project in October 2014. Fingers crossed!

plastiCities is a project about the damaged topographies that litter our contemporary urban environments – brownfield, neglected and abandoned sites; wastelands and tipping grounds; and the post-traumatic, post-industrial sites that are awkwardly left over in the gaps between regeneration and housing projects. A post-disciplinary team of researchers will investigate the ways in which recent advances in understanding the plasticity of the brain might help us repair and re-purpose such sites, evolve new futures for them and connect them to wider urban recovery. Through an innovative live project, Furnace Park in Sheffield, and through widening engagement with other similar projects, we will develop and disseminate effective and innovative practice through case studies, workshops, guidance notes and a variety of other resources (including extensive online media). Our concern in this project is to examine both how ‘wasteland’ sites have adaptive potential and to understand also those material and other resistive factors that retard change – for example, contamination, structural remnants, liability and powerful narratives of perceived risk, redundancy, blight and danger.

The fate of the places we are concerned with is wrapped up in their pasts, but there is an urgent need for these pasts to be considered in a more holistic way. It is precisely for this reason that the project engages voices from the arts and humanities in order to disrupt and re-cast perceptions, putting forward other visions and narratives of damaged topographies drawn from literature, art and film, in order to release and expose alternative futures. This will be complemented by the work of artists in residence and other creative practitioners who are embedded in the research team, alongside lawyers, geographers, archaeologists, psychologists, architects and literary and cultural theorists. Voices and expertise from the arts will therefore play a part in developing creative but also pragmatic responses to caring for the future of damaged topographies, acknowledging the resistance of the past while at the same time refusing to remain bound by it.

We will explore the idea that the past is multi-layered and multi-populated (by humans, animals and other things). We will suggest that it is as important to consider the materiality of the past as it is its human spectres. This stubborn materiality, we will argue, radiates out into our future, creating constraints and strange knock-on effects that we often struggle to understand within conventional forms of urbanism. The resonance of the past in the present and future is not always understood, but it is tangible nonetheless. The past piles up and forms the made ground of the sites humanity occupies, abandons and passes through.

This is what we mean by plasticity: first, it recognises the ways in which past, present and future are enfolded in and impact on each other. Secondly, it affords both the possibility of change and, in its appreciation of the vibrant agency of the ground itself (the site in which the past is barely contained), an acknowledgement of both contingency and constraint.

The ethos of our project is one of learning and reflecting through doing, as the gardener learns how to work her site through her hands-on engagement with it. From this vantage point, which characterises, critiques and builds on traditional and established practices within urbanism, we will develop novel ways of seeing, defining and managing damaged urban topographies in order to contribute tangibly to their future repair, recovery and resilience. We aim, finally, through this research, its dissemination and a series of spatial interventions, to improve community well being and show how other groups of practitioners, enthusiasts and citizens might reconsider and reconnect with  these ‘dead’ spaces, which have hitherto been assumed to exist outside of community purview.

‘Fixing a hole where the rain gets in’: everyday inundation and the assault of objects

“I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in,

And stops my mind from wandering”

The Beatles (1967) ‘Fixing a hole’

So, I pick up the phone. It’s my mother calling to tell me how the first day of having her hallway and landing redecorated has gone.

So, I listen to the radio and Paul McCartney is trying to stop his mind wandering.

So, Twitter talk gets me thinking about Thomas Dolby’s 1982 LP, The Golden Age of Wireless.

So, I’m skim reading Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia and I’m beguiled by its wild talk of poromechanics and Tellurian lubes.

So, I’m sitting in a class listening to student presentations. A colleague, urges the participants – next time – to take a note of the weather on the date of inspection. One fresh faced youth asks me why this is needed.

I’m not sure.

But my colleague explains:

“You see how the building works when it rains.

You notice whether the gutters manage to channel water,

you see how it encounters the exposed surfaces,

and whether they are watertight.

And in the wet air and its collision with cold zones

you see condensation saturating window panes.”

In the occurrence of wetness, a dynamic is revealed. A creeping wave of action – staged upon an event surface – rises to prominence and material finishes and conduits alike are subjected to a trial by ordeal. This is an inundation battle-space.

My colleague’s calm but confident acknowledgement of the revelatory agency of occasional precipitation leaves me slightly stunned. All the books I’ve been reading recently about object oriented ontology and vibrant matter tell me – in theoretical terms – that nature should be seen in this way, as agentive. But my colleague already gets this, and doesn’t need theory to guide her there. For her, buildings sit exposed to the elemental. They can be abstractified by the designer’s plans, marshalled for utilisation and valued using sophisticated techniques. But their properties are put to proof by a humble, universal (and unpredictable) visitor: rain.

“The copper cables all rust in the acid rain”

So sings Thomas Dolby in an album saturated with brooding wetness. I’ve known these songs for 30 years. Certain phrases – like this one – hang eternally in my mind, hummed mantra like in idle moments. These images of metal or flesh succumbing to a surfeit of hydration. Drowning, flood, clouds of enveloping damp air, all rolling into the scenes affecting the surfaces that they inundate. Wetness assailing human agency, curbing or ending life or co-opted as metaphor to the spent exhaustion of a liquid-like love:

“End of our summer

Your body weightless in condensation

My heart learned to swim

And the feeling was gone again”

I’m back in the phone call from my mother. She has great powers of recall, taking me through – blow by blow – the occurrence of her day. The story is dominated by surfaces and their disturbance; of the spatial and material disruption of re-decoration and specifically of the unsettling of her smoke detector, a sealed unit with no access to the battery inside.

The decorator had spent the day removing the existing wallpaper, exposing the raw poured concrete of this house’s walls, walls that bend any nail that you attempt to drive into them. The stairwell had filled with steam, tiny airborne particles of wallpaper and cement dust and an attendant sulphurous smell – so my mother curtly describes it – “of vomit”.

All of this has proved to be too much for the isotope encased in the smoke detector, steadily degenerating in the tick-tick of its half-life. This device works on the principle that smoke will disrupt that steady decay and the local ionisation that it will charge the air with, and the perturbation causes the alarm to go off.

This device has become spooked today. It has – my mother tells me, with jaded weariness in her voice – been intermittently going off every few minutes for the past 12 hours. She has improvised a paddle with which to waft the soiled air away and calm the nerves of this sentry, but the miasma now permeating the hallway, hanging as stale fetid damp air, keeps goading this sensor. The air and the sensor are locked in a quarrelsome dialogue, within the hallway of this now unsettled house, and there is little that she – as human bystander – can do about it.

A telephone call to the manufacturer’s helpline elicits a blank response – indeterminate advice on the theme of opening windows, repeated air-wafting and a polite chiding of

“well, we always recommend

that fire alarms are removed before any decorating works,

our alarms have very sensitive sensors you know”.

Bit late to tell me that now, my mother mouths through gritted teeth as she stares up at the agitated flying saucer pinned to her ceiling.

Reflecting on my mother’s account of her day, what struck me was how the entire event had been a narration of thing-led events, with her playing catch-up to the awkward interconnections and knock-on effects unleashed in the house by disturbing its equilibrium. This was description of an everyday encounter with matter, and a description of the rich challenge of simply facing matter – this was not things standing as symbols of ideas, positions or activities elsewhere. This was a description of an event in itself, born of an encounter with things themselves (walls, air, dust, an isotope). In the account the smoke alarm and its random bleeping was the story, there was nothing beyond the sheer irksomeness (and loss of control) experienced in this encounter.

As I thought about this I recalled something Daniel Miller wrote about the inherent experience of sari wearing in his book Stuff: that accounting for human relationships with saris should not just seek to characterise the symbolic role of sari wearing within cultures to which that apparel is indigenous, but rather also seek to explore the direct relationship of the wearer to the ‘thing itself’ – to give an account of the wrappings, the weight, the shaping of movement of the wearer: the embodied experience of the act of wearing this garment.

The weight of the sari should be heard for and of itself.

The smoke alarm in my mother’s hallway found a way to make itself heard today. Tomorrow it will fall silent. It will be wrenched from the ceiling, taken outside by my uncle, and rudely put to death with a brick. As he carries the disc to its point of brutal disassembly, a waft of fuggy air will no doubt follow out in his wake, stale air drawn inexorably towards the cooler outdoors with the opening of the door. The house will exhale, and – as it wafts past – the tendril of fetid house-breath will perhaps look down disdainfully at the now-vanquished smoke detector lying like a crushed insect in the yard, its battery and isotope now leaking their modest wet danger into the gaps between the paving slabs beneath.


Dolby, T (1982) The Golden Age of Wireless, Venice in Peril/EMI (LP):

Miller, D. (2009) Stuff, Polity: Cambridge

Negarestani, R. (2008) Cyclonopedia  – complicity with anonymous materials, Melbourne

Image source:

New uses for old bunkers #36: Ondergronds Arnhem – Atoombunker Willemsplein

“Real estate property is linked, directly or indirectly ,

to the faculty of its penetration and,

just as something changes in value

in being taken from one region into another,

a place changes in quality according to

the facility with which it can be crossed.” (19)

Paul Virilio (1994) Bunker Archeology 

arnhem cross section

During the summer a young Dutch architect, Arno Geesink contacted me to tell me about the new uses he, Maarten Verweij and their other enthusiastic collaborators were planning for some abandoned Cold War and WWII bunkers in Arnhem. Arno kindly responded to some interview questions that I subsequently sent him and provided me with a wealth of information about his group’s hopes for the subterranean structures that they had taken under their wing.

The Q & A is presented below. Arno’s comments represent an interesting cross over between preservationist motivations and the creative ideas for re-purposing developed by a group of young architects. Arno’s attentiveness to the need to work within the constraints of bunker space and the constriction of movement within them is notable, and the second video embedded below shows the subway configuration of the Arhem Atoombunker and the group’s concept designs for a wide variety of re-uses that might work in that space.

The idea of an abandoned city beneath the everyday street haunts his narrative, but also I think there’s also a strange tension between the urbex frisson of discovery and material encounter with the enclosed and abandoned (shown in the groups exploration films), and a projection of re-purposing onto these now found spaces (in their design work). This seems an implicit acceptance of the view that we should strive to bring ‘dead’ space back to life when and where-ever found. I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the context of wasteland recently, and the long standing dominant view that dereliction and emptiness is a social and economic evil: that property needs to be kept in use.

It all leaves me wondering, what are the demons that un– or under – use brings forth?

The life of this subterranean structure – its flipping in and out of active use and attention is also touched on by Arno, that this chamber space was first a passageway built to keep pedestrians safely separated from the traffic circulating on the roads above, that it was then closed as ‘socially unsafe’ before being repurposed as a nuclear shelter in the early 1970s, by the appropriation of some blast doors from a nearby abandoned WWII bunker. Bricolage indeed…

1) How did you find your bunkers?

When I came to Arnhem to work at an architects office I wanted to create a project for myself to have full creative freedom, as opposed to the office work. I have always been highly interested in history, with a slight preference for military history, so bunkers and other remnants entice me. While I was looking up some old photo’s of the Arnhem city centre I noticed some entrances leading down from a traffic square in the centre of Arnhem.

Soon I found out it used to be a pedestrian tunnel, built in the 50’s and closed in the 70’s. I was first told by the municipality that it was filled up or destroyed, but one employee there told me it was still there, completely intact. Me and a friend then lifted a sewer lid above the supposed location and we found a time capsule, as the bunker was left there in its original state and was untouched for nearly forty years.

The bunker was first built as a pedestrian subway, which was closed because it was socially unsafe, after which it was converted in the early 70’s into an atomic shelter. The bunker doors – taken from nearby WWII-era German bunkers – were installed along with a lot of other adaptations. So in the end it is a pedestrian walkway with bunker-like properties….

But the bunker-feel of the space surely makes the space much more interesting and exciting.

2) Have many bunkers been restored or re-purposed in your area?

As Arnhem was a garrison town for centuries and was part of the IJssellinie in the Cold War period, there are lot of bunkers in its vicinity.

  • The bunker Diogenes at Schaarsbergen, the former Luftwaffe command center for Western Europe (specifically for directing nightfighters) has been used as an archive, but this is now being replaced. The bunker is in need of a new use.
  • An old bunker of the Civilian nuclear protection organisation is now in use as an archive as well.
  • A bunker underneath a playground is still prepared to be used as a communication bunker for the government in case of disaster.

There’s many more bunkers, which we are indexing at the moment, but most of them don’t have a real use right now. There haven’t been any really creative new uses, but we are hoping to change that. As most bunkers used to be part of a different network as the urban network of the present, their location can make it hard to find a new commercial use. We have a map (here) where we pinpoint these structures.

3)  What special problems are faced in designing re-use for those places?

arnhem planThe space is very confined, so we have to be very creative in making the most of the space provided. Safety, ventilation, plumbing are all aspects that we have to take care of, to make the space functional. As the street profiles have changed over the past forty years, the old entrances at the end of the tunnel are now located underneath the streets, so we can only use a central entrance. The entrance will now be located in the middle of a green lawn in the boulevard of the city, which imposes strict rules about its size and look. The fun part of our project is that is located right in the centre of town, where everything is filled in and regulated. But because we found this underground leftover space, we can inject the centre with a new function, as we see fit. This would be impossible otherwise.

4) What designs, buildings and ideas have influenced your approach most?

As bunkers are built to resist external force, it’s pretty costly to adapt them to new uses. You mostly have to use them as they come, so apparently they end up as archive space due to their robust nature and constant climate. Because of this I haven’t seen that many new uses, but I love the bunker 599 project by Ronald Rietveld, as it shows the workings of a bunker sensationally, with a very simple gesture (which wasn’t that simple in reality). As our bunker used to be a tunnel, it is narrow and long, and we have been looking at similar spaces, instead of focussing on the bunker aspect.


5) How important is preserving a sense of the past of these places?

The Cold War is an under-exposed period in Dutch history, although loads of physical remnants are in plain sight, their historicial connotation is not apparent. By opening up this space to the public, we do want them to know what it’s purpose used to be, and that nuclear war was a real threat in the past. We call our project Atoombunker (nuclear bunker), which will make this clear. The essence of the bunker, it’s thick walls, steel doors and confined spaces will induce the visitor with the old function of the building.

The text part of our REcall-project proposal discusses the intrinsic value of bunkers as non-museal storytellers, which need to be preserved in my opinion.

[NB: Arno is referring in particular here to his award winning work on the Diogenes WWII bunker , I will do a future NUFOB on that project soon].