Kenny Cupers, Ph.D. (Professor of History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism)

Projects and publications

Kenny Cupers is an architectural and urban historian with expertise in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe and its relationship with the transatlantic world and (post)colonial Africa. Within this field, his research projects center on questions of human and material agency, the epistemology and geopolitics of modernism, and design as a technique of social intervention. He is the author of The Social Project: Housing Postwar France (2014), winner of the Spiro Kostof Book Award by the Society of Architectural Historians and the Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize by the Vernacular Architecture Forum, amongst other prizes. The book reveals how France’s unprecedented building boom after WWII turned dwelling into an object of modernization, an everyday site of citizen participation, and a domain of social scientific expertise. His edited volume Use Matters: An Alternative History of Architecture (Routledge, 2013) examines how architecture depended on changing definitions of use throughout the twentieth century. Spaces of Uncertainty (Verlag Müller + Busmann, 2002), coauthored with Markus Miessen, explores the importance of leftover spaces for public life in Berlin. Other publications focus on the intersections between architecture and the social sciences; architectural manifestations of the welfare state and neoliberalization; the politics of participation; and cultural landscapes from wastelands and youth camps to street vending.

Cupers’s work has been supported by Fulbright, Chateaubriand, and Humboldt research fellowships. Educated in Belgium (KULeuven), Britain (Goldsmiths College), and the United States (PhD, Harvard University), he has taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he held the Reyner Banham Fellowship, and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His teaching integrates approaches from the history and theory of architecture, urban and social history, cultural geography, and the history of science and technology.

Cupers’s current book project interrogates the entangled histories of empire and the environment, focusing on Germany and sub-Saharan Africa. Tentatively titled “Modernism and the Environment: An Epistemological History,” it examines how environmental thinking has shaped the rise of modern architecture and urban planning since the late nineteenth century. A second book project explores the global production of mass housing.


Manuel Herz (Professor of Architectural, Urban, and Territorial Design)

Projects and publications

Manuel Herz is an architect whose research focuses on the relationship between the discipline of planning and (state) power. He has worked extensively on the architecture and urbanism of refugee camps, with a regional focus on Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa. His book From Camp to City—Refugee Camps of the Western Sahara (Lars Müller Publishers, 2013) documents how camps can be spaces of social emancipation and are used to prefigure the institutions of a nation by a refugee population living in exile.

His award-winning book African Modernism—Architecture of Independence (Park Books, 2015) presents the architecture of countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Zambia at the time of their independence in the 1960s and 1970s. The book’s main thesis is that this architecture is witness to, and can give evidence to, the complexities and contradictions of the decolonizing process that was specific to each country. The accompanying exhibition, shown at the Vitra Design Museum, is currently travelling to cities across Europe, the United States, and sub-Saharan Africa.

Herz’s architectural office is based in Basel. Among other recently completed projects, the office lays claim to the construction of the Jewish Community Center of Mainz, the mixed-use building “Legal / Illegal” in Cologne, and a museum extension (in collaboration with Eyal Weizman and Rafi Segal) in Ashdod, Israel. Current projects include housing projects in Switzerland, Germany, and France. The projects have received several prizes, such as the German Facade Prize 2011, the Cologne Architecture Prize 2003, the German Architecture Prize for Concrete in 2004, and a nomination for the Mies van der Rohe Prize for European Architecture, 2011.


Sophie Oldfield, Ph.D. (University of Basel—University of Cape Town Professor of Urban Studies)

Projects and publications

Sophie Oldfield is internationally recognized as an urban and human geographer for research on cities in the Global South through her theoretical and primary research and as coeditor of the pathbreaking Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South (Routledge, 2014). She is a leader in her discipline, serving as President of the Society of South African Geographers from 2012 to 2014 and helping to establish and develop the Southern African City Studies Network from 2007 to the present.

Her research examines the situatedness of cities, grounded in both empirical and epistemological questions central to urban theory. Focusing on housing, informality and governance, mobilization and social movement organizing, and urban politics, her research pays close attention to political practice and everyday urban geographies, analyzing the ways in which citizens and organized movements craft agency to engage and contest the state. She has a track record of excellence in collaborative research practice, challenging how academics work in and between “university” and “community.”

Trained in the United States (PhD, University of Minnesota), Oldfield holds the University of Basel–University of Cape Town Professorship in Urban Studies, based at the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.