Christian Werthmann from Leibniz University, Hannover, summarizes his international experience of non-formal urbanism into ten points aimed to act as a guideline for designers intending to work in these contexts. Based on real life experiences and research he describes what is essential to keep in mind when designing towards sustainable urbanization in dense urban environments. This lecture was filmed in association to the Metropolis Nonformal - Anticipation symposium in Munich 2013 including the launch of the Laufen Manifesto for a Humane Design Culture.

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10 things Designers Need to Work On - Christian Werthmann


Christian Werthmann is a Professor at the Institute of Landscape Architecture, Leibniz University Hannover. Werthmann researches the implementation of ecological infrastructure in emerging cities, a line of research that he initiated as an Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. His most recent research is concerned with landscape strategies for post-disaster reconstruction in Port-au-Prince (Haiti) and anticipatory urbanization strategies for the landslide prone hills of Medellin (Colombia). 


Based on UN Habitat projections that close to half of future urban growth will be defined as “slums”, the lecture addresses the need to train future designers and practitioners to bring actual improvement to these neighborhoods. The attitudes and mindset of these future trainees will critically influence the outcome of their work. Therefore a critical discussion of education hallmarks is paramount.

The 10 considerations are based on Christian Werthmann’s five year investigation of numerous small and large scale improvement projects in Latin America as wells as the outcome of two symposia titled “Metropolis Nonformal” curated by Werthmann (held in 2011 and 2013). During this study it became clear that the current training of designers and planners is inadequate to address the diverse and different universe of nonformal urbanism and the key paradigms for education have to be formulated.

Propositions for addressing the issue:

1. Terminology: The terminology of informality is imperfect. A value neutral vocabulary has to be found. Patronizing language produces patronizing plans.

2. Comprehension: we have to get to a deeper understanding of neighborhoods that are fully or partially self- organized in order to avoid the infliction of harm by trying to improve them.

3. Collaboration: participation has to be superseded by collaboration on an eye-to-eye basis.

4. Transdisciplinarity: Community experts have to be on an equal level with design, engineering & planning experts.

5. Process: designing and finding the right process is as important as the product.

6. Food and Water: one should never loose track of designing for basic survival.

7. Economy: all design and planning should aim to generate long-term work opportunities.

8. Multifunctional: every intervention has to fulfill multiple needs.

9. Multiscalar: no neighborhood can be studied and improved in isolation from its city, region and country.

10. Beauty: is an essential need and an engine for pride of underprivileged populations.

These considerations are not comprehensive. Nonformal urbanization is highly diverse, therefore, this list is meant to start a discussion.


Christian Werthmann, full biography

Metropolis Non-formal symposium information

Christian Werthmann on “Tactical Operations in the Informal City Web”

Christian Werthmann on “Design Process” 

The Laufen Manifesto