Planning and Design for Changing Cities


Course Content

Cities are complex systems that change and adapt due to top-down interventions and bottom-up, spontaneous transformations emerging from an uncountable number of place-based actions. Jacobs labelled this phenomenon as ‘a problem of organised complexity’ emphasising the crucial role of self-organisation and spontaneous behavioural patterns of urban realms. Processes of this kind are unavoidable in cities and generate both risks and benefits: They can give rise to undesirable social-spatial configurations that must be mitigated and readdressed by planners but can also determine the emergence of beneficial dynamics that enable the use of polycentric crea- tive forces in society.

Several studies have investigated the interplay between planning/design and spontaneity in recent years. Nowadays, more and more often, planners stress the positive role of flexibility and adaptability of settlements and design strategies to deal with uncertain development scenarios. Nevertheless, implications on how to plan and design for the open-ended and unpredict- able development of cities and neighbourhoods are still in their infancy and have hardly penetrated ordinary planning and design practices.

In this course, students will deal with:

  • Complexity theories of cities and the main self-organising principles ofchange (Why is the city a complex system? What are the driving forces of urban self-organisation?)
  • The complementarity between design and spontaneity (Why do cities evolve in largely unpredictable ways? Why are certain urban areas more adaptable/spontaneous than others?)
  • The main ethical and technical aspects connected to these issues (When is a spontaneous configuration just or unjust? How can planners design/regulate an open-ended and uncertain future?)

Learning Objectives

The main objectives of the course are to:

  • Introduce an understanding of complexity thinking in the analysis and design of the urban realm.
  • Explore different planning and design conditions that shape the long-term evolution of the built environment.
  • Explore methodological design and planning approaches that consider the challenges of adaptability and self-organisation.
  • Understand the nature of certain spontaneous transformation proces- ses (e.g., distribution of uses, population clustering, self-regeneration processes).
  • Discuss critical ethical questions concerning the interplay between plan- ning and justice.



Module Responsible 

Prof. Christa Reicher, Chair of Urban Design and Institute for Urban Design and European Urbanism

Teaching Staff

Dr Stefano Cozzolino (ISL)


Thursday, 14:30 - 17:00. SG301