Medellin Comunas
Global Land Enclosures, Urban-Technology, and Experimental Property in Medellin’s Comunas
Migration and Cities


Individual land titling remains a dominant feature of global slum-upgrading initiatives. Proponents of privatizing informal settlements argue that titles bring tenure security through legal, financial, and administrative clarity, allowing economic benefits for residents, including rental income, capital gains on sale, and access to credit. On the other hand, much research has since demonstrated how this approach can be deeply flawed, resulting in countless false claims, immediate resale of land, displacement, and creation of new informal settlements, and an explosion in land value that only benefits local patronage networks.

What is clear is that even in Europe or the United States, when considering easements, zoning, complex families, or mortgage derivatives, the idea that property can be entirely individualized remains mythical. Moving beyond the rhetorics of capitalist development and normative critiques of neoliberalism, this project will attempt to account for the fact that the realities of property are always highly complex, messy, and contingent: hidden values and aspirations laden within regimes of property ownership must be understood through their commensurability or incommensurability, factors that are only visible given enough time to document changes in the built environment and enough space to understand possible displacements of people.


This project studies cultures of property in Medellin’s Comunas and the reception of technologies currently working to make them more uniform. It aims to evaluate how developments in data gathering, mathematical modelling, and mobile mapping can document urban migration and violence to predict the effects of implementing different property rights arrangements. It then shifts to a propositional stance, via an “architectural social science,” through PEAK, land policy, and start-up funding networks: attempting to combine data and architecture services into a platform that helps sustain property rights beyond existing individualized models, including the acquisition, management, and profit sharing of mixed communal-individual land ownership.

A wide range of technological tools have emerged in the last five years and are currently at the disposal of policy makers, companies, and research-practitioners seeking to work at the intersection of law, land, and income-generation. The analysis of forms of property created by/propelling urban violence/migration in Medellin, of technologies promising to clearly parcel land through privatisation, and the development of strategies for using them in new ways raises the following key research questions:


  • What are past, existing, and emerging forms of complex property relations in informal Medellin, as seen through the lens of urban migration and violence?
  • What are the assumptions built into technologies pushing for land privatisation, with respect to their short- and long-term economic, social, and cultural effects on people?
  • What impact do these technologies have on everyday and professional architecture?
  • How can the gathering and modelling of big data linking urban migration and violence reveal existing property rights arrangements and the effects of privatisation over time?
  • How can the gathering and modelling of big data on construction & architectural patterns recognize forms of property rights and the effects of privatisation over time?


  • How can alternative regimes of property rights facilitate rural-urban migrant integration?
  • How can data, mobile technology, satellite mapping, blockchain cadastration, and platform cooperativism help create and manage mixed, context-specific property forms?
  • How can architecture work with technology to sustain experimental property rights?