independent school for the city


The Independent School for the City is a playground for all urban thinkers, do-ers and designers – based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. It brings together critical and experimental ideas in the field of urban research, design, strategy and activism and, through a range of diverse activities, offers a platform where urban professionals can meet to informally discuss the challenges facing the modern city. 

The school is an initiative of Crimson Historians and Urbanists and ZUS (Zones Urbaines Sensibles) and is rooted in their practices of combining a critical and activist approach to the city with effecting real change through architectural and planning projects. The independent school for the City is founded on a strong belief in an incremental instead of a tabula rasa approach to city planning which blurs the lines between critique and practice on the one hand, and research and policy on the other.

The Independent School for the City is a school in, of, and for the city. It builds on the conviction that strategies for the city – architectural and economic, spatial and social – should be based on real, first hand, empirical research. Empirical because the reality of the city offers interesting conflicts and unpredictable synergies to learn from and build upon. The school is fully independent and has an unaccredited status by choice. Its research is rooted in the different disciplines teachers and participants have been schooled in. It will not be constrained by the formalities of academia or disciplinary boundaries. Participants and teachers form one team in which the advanced and less experienced will inform each other and contribute to the research. Research that is not necessarily solution-oriented or focused on final designs, and may not come to design as such, but will lead to a text, a film, an exhibition or an action. Our approach is open-minded but critical, inclusive but discerning, flexible but precise. This offers the participants and their international team of teachers the full intellectual freedom to research the city in the broadest sense. It will give us the chance to have seemingly coincidental encounters with parts or aspects of the city where clashes of various kinds take place, where otherwise invisible realities reveal themselves. These are, we believe, the instances that can teach us fundamental things about the city in all its complexity.

The educational programme of the Independent School for the City is composed of different stand-alone courses, ranging from  4-day crash courses, to an intensive 12-week programme on contemporary urbanism. The activist and multidisciplinary approach of the Independent School is strongly embedded in all activities, whether you participate in one single course or sign up for all of them.


In all its activities the Independent School for the City’s uses the methodological triad of Research, Stories and Strategies, which ultimately lead to a concrete Action.

We believe that strategies for the city should be based on real, first-hand, empirical research. Empirical because the reality of the city offers interesting conflicts and unpredictable synergies to learn from and build upon. Through lectures by the best experts, precisely planned excursions through Rotterdam, mapping exercises and desk research, we can uncover the invisible layers of the city, look at sites through various lenses and collect the data needed to take a position vis-à-vis the city’s challenges. We look at the city as a palimpsest of different systems, ideas, infrastructures, policies and ideologies. Each time, we consider Rotterdam as a means to get a close-up view of global trends and networks.

To share your findings and insights on the city with others, in order to turn it into action, we need to construct a strong narrative. You can use different formats and techniques, different languages and methods with which a story can be told. From the written manifesto to the exhibition, the political campaign to the utopian plan, the movie to the historical essay. The aim to discover how a narrative approach not only carries the message we want to share but will shape and influence it too. Through the stories we tell, we start to change the reality of our cities.

After research and a story, comes a strategy: way to change the environment, to bring your story to the widest possible audience, to influence policies with your research, to make an actual physical thing or to start a process of transformation that involves as many people as possible. What is your end goal, and which kind of process, which strategy, would you choose to reach it?  

The final step is to develop a concrete action. This can be a carefully written and timed manifesto be a poster campaign or a government-funded master plan; the construction of a prototype, a demonstration or a tactical policy change. An active resident group can sometimes have as much impact on the shape of a street as an iconic piece of architecture. With an action, we take the first step in developing a strategy and attempt to land our ideas in the "real world.


Independent School for the City
Delftsestraat 33 III
3013 AE Rotterdam
The Netherlands
+31 010 2827724

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Chamber of Commerce (KVK) number: 77038436
RSIN number: 860880072
VAT (‘BTW’) number: NL860880072B01


Annual Overview 2023
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Annual Overview 2022
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Annual Overview 2021
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Annual Overview 2020
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Overview October 2018 – May 2020 (download link)

Independent School for the City is supported by the Municipality of Rotterdam, Creative Industries Fund NL, Droom en Daad Foundation and our Maaskant Members