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PhD position on “Reimagining open spaces for radical participation and collective imagination” in Zürich

Studierende finden an der ETH Zürich ein Umfeld, das eigenständiges Denken fördert, Forschende ein Klima, das zu Spitzenleistungen inspiriert.


Zurich, fixed-term

This PhD project engages with spaces for cultural transformation. More specifically the research looks at cultural spaces in (peri-)urban areas that form the basis for contemporary imaginaries for inclusivity. The researcher will engage in participatory ways with such places to understand the (spatial) conditions, relations, and moments that are key to building transformational communities. Topics of hosting, retreating, organisational grounding, and processes of collective learning will be actively touched upon during this PhD. Planned secondments: (1) NetHood, Ileana Apostol & Panayotis Antoniadis: to perform PD research with an open community of researchers and activists connecting digital and urban spaces, (2) UHasselt, Oswald Devisch: to learn and gain hands-on experience about co-design of collective spaces for socio-ecological transition.

Project background

This doctoral student position is part of a European doctoral network that is funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action “”. 

The general theme links 11 students, providing them with collective learning opportunities and individual secondments (shorter and longer stays to benefit from a range of experiences working with other institutions both inside and outside academia). These take place across nations and practices. The overall theme of the network is as following:

Ecological issues are experienced differently by different actors, communities, and organisations, leading to societal polarisation and inhibiting urgently needed actions around these issues. As Participatory Design (PD) researchers, we observe a need for design approaches that can bring diverse actors together to tackle these challenges in participatory ways, with particular attention to those who remain silent, both as human and non-human actors (e.g. plants, rivers, and insects). REWORLDING doctoral network aims to investigate and outline such a careful and situated PD approach that can better understand and create synergies between the different worlds in which people live and work, and the more-than-human worlds they are entangled with. This is achieved through an interdisciplinary methodology based on collective learning and participatory action research, embedded in inter-sectoral collaborations with non-academic partners who address socio-ecological issues from diverse perspectives. In doing so, the network identifies and articulates reworlding design capabilities that can support next-generation researchers in tackling the connections of social and ecological challenges. Design capabilities link research and training in REWORLDING. The research program explores the capabilities needed to address socio-ecological issues and their translation to specific skills and training needs. Based on research insights, the training program iterates the proposed courses and enhances identified capabilities by exposing the researchers to non-academic socio-environmental practices.

Job description

The overall objectives of this PhD position include the following: (1) Engage with existing design practices of activist collectives and community-based initiatives, with focus on spaces of informal learning, participation and openness. (2) Perform design research to detect connections between social and environmental challenges in community and activist spaces. (3) Conduct collective imagination and Participatory Design workshops for co-creating tools and environments for reworlding, linking physical and digital space via learning methodologies and urban transformation processes. Expected results include: (1) Collection and description of design practices and scenarios in community and activist spaces in Europe. (2) Participatory Design workshops to develop guidelines and roadmaps for those spaces. (3) Prototypes of physical space and hybrid space

Your profile

We are seeking individuals with a background in architecture, landscape architecture, urban and territorial design and planning, and social sciences, with strong research or design experience that can benefit from the inter- and transdisciplinary engagements offered by the institute.

  • You hold a Master of (interior) Architecture or Design (or equivalent)
  • You are interested in interdisciplinary research and have strong analytical skills.
  • You can work independently and as part of a team.
  • You have strong communication skills and are fluent in English (speaking and writing).
  • You agree to do the foreseen secondment(s).
  • You can demonstrate the necessary (participatory) design skills, clearly stated in your CV and/or portfolio uploaded with the application.
  • You can demonstrate your affinity with the research topic through a brief research plan (max 3000 words) uploaded with the application. The research plan must contain an overall purpose, questions that the project intends to answer, an account of the methodological approach, a description of material collection and type of research material, and an account of the theoretical framework. The research plan should explicitly address how the project will be relevant to the theme of the REWORLDING network and the specific research project, described above.
  • You can be of any nationality but have to comply with the MSCA eligibility criteria.

See also the.

MSCA-specific selection criteria

  • According to the , the applicants must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Switzerland for more than 12 months in the 36 months immediately before their recruitment date.
  • Qualifications or equivalent work experience in urban studies, planning, design, architecture, sociology, STS, sustainability, or other relevant fields.
  • Experience with co-design, participatory design, participatory action research, and/or community work.
  • Experience with design for sustainable transitions and/or regenerative practices
  • Full professional proficiency in English (essential)
Your workplace
Your workplace

We offer

The NEWROPE Chair of Architecture and Urban Transformation is part of the Department of Architecture of ETH Zürich and deals with the field of spatial design and social innovation, focusing both on innovative solutions and processes.

The NEWROPE Chair wants to engage in rediscovering Europe as inhabitable ground, and a shared space for all, in a world that is constantly changing. The rediscovering of this territory, both as a shared history and a common future, is what we call NEWROPE. It comes with an exploration of the large diversity of urban practices that inhabit and shape Europe.

The NEWROPE Chair applies and investigates the idea of Design in Dialogue, or the belief that the complexities of our time can only be tackled collectively, by developing transdisciplinary ideas and projects, linking spatial and strategic knowledge to other disciplines and urban practitioners, with a radical openness to learn from others.

Researchers at NEWROPE chair are integrated into a wider european network of actors with multiple affiliations and expertise, engaged in different sites of transformation, urban planning projects, cultural centers, and participatory processes.

We value diversity
In line with , ETH Zurich encourages an inclusive culture. We promote equality of opportunity, value diversity and nurture a working and learning environment in which the rights and dignity of all our staff and students are respected. Visit our to find out how we ensure a fair and open environment that allows everyone to grow and flourish.
Curious? So are we.

We look forward to receiving your online application with the following documents:

  • CV/Portfolio
  • brief research plan (max 3000 words)

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

Further information about can be found on our website. Questions regarding the position should be directed to Seppe De Blust (deblust@arch.ethz.ch) (no applications).

About ETH Zürich
ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

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