Assembling high-rise: The uneven agencies of air in suburban densification in the Anthropocene

Publication Name

Urban Studies


The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the surface the critical qualities of air – airflow, ventilation, particulates etc. – in relation to the well-being of people living in high-rise. Engineering and architectural research has burgeoned in response. However, in focusing on models of airflow, ventilation and particulates as discrete variables, engineering and architectural discourse fails to capture the diverse ways that air enters into and shapes the everyday lived experience of high-rise dwelling. Drawing on research in Sydney’s Southwestern suburbs, we reveal high-rise as an assemblage that links apartment dwelling with air, via car-dependent suburbanisation, pollution and climate-change induced temperature extremes in the Anthropocene. In addition to viruses, air teems with carbon, insects, noise and pollutants, while viscerally mediating human encounters with fluctuating temperatures. Multiple relations between people, buildings and air unfold simultaneously, confounding attempts to account for air’s elemental milieu through single variables like greenhouse gas or COVID-19. While embedded in relations of power, high-rise assemblages unleash vernacular adaptation that through low-tech and low-cost technologies work to connect suburban high-rise with evolving ecological systems. Recognising the pharmacological quality of air, as both ‘poison’ and ‘cure’, we contrast models of high-rise as encapsulated environments with resident (and other) experiments that orient high-rise to the elements, and the interlinked challenges of urban living in the Anthropocene.

Open Access Status

This publication may be available as open access



Link to publisher version (DOI)