Zuri Camille de Souza – COUNTERSPACES

Urban ecologist and graphic designer Zuri Camille de Souza focuses on ecological hegemony and natural subversion in the metropolis of Istanbul.

Resilient. Sustainable. Ecological. Biodynamic. Smart.

These are the terms we are constantly surrounded by–as architects, designers, urban planners, individuals that inhabit the city. They are forced upon us; sometimes hinted at; sometimes explained.Pardon my sweeping collectivist tone but we are then meant to assume that these are ideals we need to live up to. We are given a set of rules that lead to the manifestation of these ideas in physical form–the smartest, greenest, most sustainable building working within the most resilient urban environment.

At the risk of sounding emotional, it makes me uncomfortable.

I do not believe that we have fully understood the terms ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecological’ in a manner that is deep enough to allow us to define them. I do not accept just one meaning of them–it is all context-specific. Who and what are we designing for? How are we working within our environment and with the materials we are presented with–emotional, physical, intellectual and natural?

However, I do see the urgent need to incorporate the myriad ideas of sustainability into some sort of lived standards; to include it in the essence of our urban lives. Nature is doing this, itself. Pushing through the cracks, filling in the empty spaces, decomposing the ones that are unnecessary. Nature is reclaiming the city, subverting the rigid architectural rules we impose upon the urban environment. I believe we can learn from these Urban Ecological processes and in order to create systems that work; that make life a pleasure; that draw us to be outside and enjoy the spaces within which we live; to, like nature, occupy the city–the public spaces, the gardens, stairwells, parks, streets, walls, benches, riverbanks, rooftops.

Socially, politically and economically, there is an increasing discrimination within the urban environment–to deny this is naive and short-sighted. Our cities are, like David Harvey rightly says, becoming spaces for absorbing and consuming capital. I do not want more ‘cute cafes’ or ‘interesting, secret bookshops’ or ‘vintage and secondhand clothing’ or ‘concept stores’ in the place I live. I do not care for a coffee shop that also sells cactii or the secret, best bar in town. I do not want to put the baker whose grandfather set up his business before I was even born out of business because I choose the new place instead.

I want spaces where I am not made to feel the need to consume in order to exist. I want to be able to sit on the sidewalk for hours doing nothing except watching life on the streets and in between the buildings; I want to see the marks of people on the walls, the roads and the houses. And I don’t mean just street art, stickers and other phenomena of urban culture also the simple processes and practices of everyday life–flower-beds and vegetable gardens; laundry hanging off clotheslines; tea houses filled with smoke and formica furniture; children’s drawings on walls; women sitting and talking in the late morning; fresh vegetables that are affordable; cats, dogs; places that are truly open.


I do not want a white, privileged, quaint Jane Jacobs-inspired desperately nostalgic idea of what neighbourhoods should be. Of course, our urban public spaces should be clean and safe; of course, we need interesting sociocultural spaces; music, art, theatre, film…all these things. But we also need dissent, and freedom, and rawness as practical manifestations of true democracy–one that goes beyond simply the right to vote towards self-determination of how spaces can be used, developed, hacked and transformed.


We need to be able to change our cities when we want to and how we want to. Evictions in the name of urban renewal; rents increasing as a result of new socioeconomic classes being formed; devastating social housing projects–these aspects of the urban environment need to change. However, without the active, integral participation of people, this will not happen.

This project is an exploration of how we can approach sustainability–culturally, socially, politically, ecologically–from the perspective of Nature; how there is a hegemonic system that constantly tries to de-humanize us, making us into units of production to feed systems that depend on exploitation of human capital. We try to do the same to Nature but it just ignores us; in the ultimate, beautiful expression of civil disobedience, nature just IS.

Istanbul is the ideal city within which to do this. The vast layers that exist on top of one another within the city–material, cultural and historical elements–lead to the constant creation and destruction of physical spaces. This lends the city the quality of palimpsest and it is explicitly visible as one moves through this urban environment. Simultaneously, this also allows for spaces that are left vacant–the interstitial environment which nature so effortlessly interacts with.

Let us learn then, how to reclaim our right to the city; how to live in symbiosis with our selves and the environment around us.

The city is ours and we only need to take it back.

Thank you.

Below are a few excerpts from Zuri Camille de Souza’s ‘Counterspaces’ project, produced in the frame of her research with ‘Beyond Instanbul.’ 

View the entire project and other works on Zuri's website. 

Purchase a C-Print of Zuri’s work in our Pop Up Shop.