Kenny Cupers

Associate Professor of History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism / Head of Urban Studies

Publications  (selection)

Projects  (selection)


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. His research focuses on questions of human and material agency, the epistemology and geopolitics of modernism, and design as a technique of social intervention.

Cupers is the author of the award-winning The Social Project: Housing Postwar France (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), translated into French as La banlieue, un projet social: Ambitions d’une politique urbaine, 1945-1975 (Parenthèses, 2018). 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 co-edited volume Architecture and Neoliberalism from the 1960s to the Present (with Helena Mattsson & Catharina Gabrielsson, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019) explores the multivalent role of architecture and urbanism in processes of neoliberal transformation. 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, focuses on the importance of leftover spaces for public life in Berlin—a theme he has recently revisited in Spaces of Uncertainty: Berlin Revisited (Birkhäuser, 2018).

Other of his publications concern housing histories and the politics of participation; intersections of design and the social sciences; the role of architecture in the welfare state and its neoliberal transformations; territorial design and economic planning; and cultural landscapes from wastelands and youth camps to the urbanism of street vending.

Cupers received a B.Sc. and M.Sc in Architecture from the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), studied photography and cultural theory at Goldsmiths College (London), and received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 2010. He taught in the United States before co-founding the University of Basel’s Urban Studies division in 2015. 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’ ongoing research explores questions of infrastructure, environment, and colonialism. His current book project, entitled The Earth that Modernism Built, situates the development of modern architecture, planning, and design in the politics of land during the age of empire. Focusing on Germany and its global entanglements, the book brings the history of modernism to bear on what it usually ignores, namely the very ground under our feet and our fundamentally colonial relationship to it.

Cupers co-directs Highway Africa, a collaborative research project on infrastructure and decolonization. He leads the SNF-funded project, How Infrastructure Shaped Territory in Africa, and co-coordinates (with PI B. Ayata) the SNIS-funded project, Infrastructure Space and the Future of Migration Management.