Architects as 'Mediators': Socio-political roles in mediating the ‘temporary use’ of vacant spaces

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Climate change, resource depletion, and other complex global challenges place urgent pressure on cities to develop more flexible and inclusive approaches to planning and the adaptable (re)use of existing built environments. In recent decades, the ‘temporary use’ of vacant spaces – such as the adaptation of empty offices or hospitals into spaces for artists, residents or entrepreneurs – is increasingly recognised by scholars and planners as a resource-efficient, experimental and inclusive approach for managing urban change. However, despite the growing appreciation of temporary uses and their formal deployment in cities of the Global North, temporary uses face challenging socio-political conditions, including structural barriers and tensions between the multiple actors involved. ‘Mediators’ are increasingly recognised as necessary actors in managing the socio-political dynamics and conditions in temporary use. Recent examples show architects often act as mediators; one example is my own work as an architect engaged in temporary use in Finland for over ten years.However, socio-politically engaged work of this kind expands beyond architects’ traditional training and competencies and thus presents a need for learning across disciplines. However, there is currently scant academic literature on mediation in temporary use. At the same time, relevant knowledge is rapidly emerging in practice. To contribute to the conceptualisation and analysis of mediation,this doctoral thesis aims to develop conceptually relevant and nuanced articulations of mediator roles in temporary use and outline the underlying socio-political conditions. I address this aim through a research approach that integrates knowledge from adjacent scholarly fields and professional practice. To elaborate the socio-political conditions in temporary use and conceptualise mediation work, this thesis integrates related perspectives from four scholarly fields: temporary use, participatory design, urban sustainability transitions and architecture. In addition, the thesis investigates mediation roles on and through practice in two empirical studies. In a ‘practice-based’ study, informed by qualitative ethnography, I studied my ongoing work as a mediator in a temporary use project in Espoo, Finland. To provide broader insights into mediation, I conducted qualitative interviews with five other mediators in four European cities. This is a ‘compilation thesis’, comprising four peer-reviewed academic papers and seven introductory chapters. The papers present complementary perspectives on mediation and its conditions. The fourth paper presents a detailed typology of mediation roles, further elaborated in the introductory chapters. As a cross-cutting finding, this thesis articulates three roles for mediators in temporary use: brokering the collaboration and partnerships between actors, negotiating the structural conditions and building capabilities for temporary use. This doctoral thesis offers conceptual and practical contributions relevant to different academic and practical audiences. Besides the three mediation roles, the thesis elucidates detailed activities and instances of such roles in practice, which also bring to light broader socio-political dilemmas.By articulating mediator roles in temporary use, the thesis highlights aspects of professional work that question our current premises behind planning,architecture and related expert work. Therefore, the thesis provides relevant knowledge for municipalities and practitioners aiming to develop approaches for sustainable, inclusive and adaptable urban development.
Translated title of the contributionArkkitehdit välittäjinä: Välittäjätoimijoiden sosiaaliset ja poliittiset roolit tyhjien tilojen väliaikaiskäytössä
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Jalas, Mikko, Supervising Professor
  • Mazé, Ramia, Thesis Advisor
Place of PublicationEspoo, Finland
Print ISBNs978-952-64-0774-6
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0775-3
Publication statusPublished - 2022
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • mediation
  • intermediation
  • temporary use
  • participatory design
  • urban sustainability transitions
  • architecture
  • planning
  • sustainability


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