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LSA Design Think Tank – Unstable Cities

Multiauthor Collage Masterplan
Multi-author Collage Masterplan

Unstable City, one of our Design Think Tanks, is recalibrating Rotherhithe to benefit from new organisations of economic, political, social and environmental instability.

Cities today are in a state of continuous instability.

If we consider the contemporary city to be a danger to itself – the unsettling nature of the city is paradoxically also the reason why cities continue to be so interesting, dynamic and exciting.

The Unstable Cities Think Tank criticises the notion of deterministic planning. Instead of utopia, it proposes new calibrations and organisations of economic, political, social and environmental instability. What is the balance between control and letting go? How can we design within – and for – the unstable city?

Today, city-making is too often a race to the bottom. Governments are risk averse and developers are driving quality to the minimum in order to maximise profits. The result is a generic city made up of standardised neighbourhood planning, standardised buildings with standard plans and components – all designed by financial logic rather than human values.

Generic+Specific Typology
Generic+Specific Typology

As a response to the above problems and questions, the Unstable Cities Design Think Tank categorises instability as political, environmental, social and spatial and proposes a five-point manifesto based on these categories for a future attitude towards city making.

  1. Political Instability: From commercially driven development to citizens as developers.
  2. Environmental Instability: From wasteful systems to resilient economies based on upcycling, re-use and reciprocity.
  3. Social Instability: From disconnection and lack of control to belonging, opportunity and empowered communities.
  4. Economic Instability: From profit driven development to the generation of community assets and social benefits.
  5. Spatial Instability: From exclusively profit-driven construction to reciprocal systems, resilient place-making and truly public space.
Citizen Owned Infrastructure
Citizen Owned Infrastructure

It’s time for citizens to take authorship of our cities.

Our approach to this design challenge was to imagine ourselves as alliances between cooperative trusts and city-designers working from the perspective of citizens-as-developers rather than only trying to maximise profit. We believe that compromise, argument, collaboration and collage is the stuff of real city making rather than stable masterplanning.


Unstable Cities Led by Petra Marko and Igor Marko from Marko & Placemakers and Paolo Vimercati from Grimshaw, Unstable City explores spatial strategies for the changing metropolis. Its practice members are AHMM, Alma-nac, Citizens Design Bureau, Grimshaw, Marko & Placemakers, Scott Brownrigg, Studio Egret West and 51% Studio; and its student members are Alaric Campbell-Garratt, Oscar Hårleman, Phelan Heinsohn, Duncan McNaughton, Ferghal Moran, Dawa Pratten and Aleksandar Stojakovic.