independent school for the city

Dirty Old Town 2022

A  12-week education programme, dealing with Climate Change, Migration and Control in relation to our urban surroundings, taking place from 31 January - 22 April 2022.

Dirty Old Town is an annual intensive program in contemporary urbanism that takes the modern city as its subject and Rotterdam as its testing ground. Participants in the programme are confronted with the inescapable contradictions and complexities of the contemporary city, while  exploring the urban dynamics by bringing together different disciplines from historical research to artistic expression. We take a closer look at the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead of us, by looking explicitly at the character of the city: not just at its trendy restaurants and iconic buildings, but also by its sharp edges.

After two weeks of general introductions and getting to know the city of Rotterdam, the participants took part in three thematic workshops: Living in the Superdiverse City with Arnold Reijndorp and Neeltje ten Westenend (14 - 25 Feb 2022), Crime & Control in the Public Realm with Kristian Koreman and Charlotte van der Woude of ZUS (02 - 09 Mar 2022) and Citizens of the Anthropocene with Dirk Sijmons and Herman Kossmann (14 - 25 Mar 2022). Eventually the participants developed an individual project based on their own fascinations and gained insights.

We’re no computers’ by Jonathan Keen

As technologies influence more aspects of our lives and society how do we keep the human scale in the city? This project focuses on one Rotterdam block and explores how we can be masters of our technology and not victims. Algorithms help to smooth our online experience; from what content we see to the people we interact with. This too is happening in the real world. Our social interactions are being ‘smoothed’ out reducing the opportunity for spontaneous social interaction.

This project explores two possible future designs of a block in Rotterdam. This could be the future of the block that we are in right now. Elon Musked– an ecomodernism approach to the city block & Beloved– a posthumanist approach to the city block.

The Elon Musked looks to ‘smooth’ out the city by improving efficiency and removing unnecessary human interaction. This aims to increase the technological solutions in aiding our day-to-day interactions. Autonomous cars will drop you off right outside the shop / your flat. No interaction with people in our shops. You will only connect with the people you chose to.

The Beloved looks to prioritise human needs and our place in the public realm. This also makes space for technology but alongside what we need. Shops will also have alternative functions that bring people together to socialise. Rooftops will be for people, technology second. Bikes are prioritised over autonomous cars.

I look to the Beloved vision for our cities which allow us, the inhabitants, to be masters of our technology rather than dominated by it.

KAPWA, by Naly Paz

Kapwa is an amalgamation of two Tagalog words: ka(-) which is a prefix for a union or a relationship and pwa from ‘puwang’, which means space. Roughly translated, this word could mean a union/relationship with those whom where share a space. It could be geographical and global in scope. It can also be temporal and inter- and transgenerational in nature. Kapwa is a collection of postcards that attempts to capture these meanings and extend it into a concept.

The impacts of climate change are positioned, most often, in some future. This creates an idea that we still have time to prepare – albeit too little – before they pounce and get us. These postcards dare to contradict this. Moored in a country where catastrophes have already fallen, Kapwa features lived realities and on-the-ground stories about climate impacts in the Philippines. These range from an aircon that consistently breaks, to a typhoon that submerged an entire neighborhood, and to a culture that is currently being eroded.

Kapwa is a word, a concept, as well as a reminder that we have fellows who live different realities in some distant countries and with whom we share the space of this world.

Rise Up for the Neighborhood, by Lotte de Haan

An educational program about gentrification, in which secondary school students of different educational levels learn to understand and care about urban processes and their social effects. The program is based on a scenario where the process of gentrification affects the privileged people and area’s in a city rather than the vulnerable inhabitants and areas. The social impacts are magnified in the scenario to trigger a spontaneous sharing of experiences and opinions. The program aims to develop a shared experience, language, understanding and a way in which two normally segregated groups can learn how to form an opinion on the ideal of a shared city together.

Concept: Lot de Haan design and research / Illustration: ConformCox / In collaboration with: RVC de HEF

RECONFIGURED.CITY by Bogdan Seredyak

Is knowledge subjective? Through what means collective memory is formed? For how long should we remember our past? Architecture is conflict. Architecture is past, current and future. Ever changing, like the rest. With its destruction so are gone memories of our past. How do we rebuilt what was once destroyed? We must construct a new reality. Not re-creation, not construction of a new, but a reconfiguration of the old, leaving a permanent scar. A scar that will remind, yet one that will evolve with time. A living organism that allows for remembrance yet - progress. Architecture must transform!

RE: Mariupol by Sergii Rodionov

Re: Mariupol is a project by Sergii Rodionov representing a speculative vision of his hometown reconstruction after the war. The core of this project is a visual manifesto published as a book, website and exhibition poster. The project is based on research that includes historical and geographical analysis of the city of Mariupol, as well as the reconstruction of Rotterdam as a case study. Furthermore it builds upon insights gained during the workshops within the Dirty Old Town programme at the Independent School for the City. According to contact with residents of Mariupol, there is no building in the city without damage and the critical infrastructure is destroyed completely. It will take decades, billions of euro’s, and thousands of specialists to rebuild Mariupol. That is why a plan is needed now. We should save the time and act consciously and quickly after the war. This project is the first step towards a new reconstruction plan for Mariupol. Also Re: Mariupol can work as a universal Ukrainian city manifesto and could be useful for other cities.


During the first two weeks, participants will be introduced to the School and to the city of Rotterdam. Through expeditions and lectures, we will look at the city from various perspectives and become familiar with different disciplines and crafts. You will explore the physical but also the invisible realities of the urban landscape, and will be introduced to the main tutors of the School, whose diverse backgrounds, works, professional experience and opinions will sharpen your own professional position and help you navigate the rest of the programme.

Afterwards, we'll dive into three themes that are pre-eminent among the characteristics of Rotterdam and are linked to its historic origins as an industrial city and a port, a spider within an international web. These three themes form the backbone of the course, also in their mutual relations:

Because of the port and its connection with the rest of the globe, Rotterdam has attracted people from all over the world for decades already. Nowadays over 170 different nationalities call the city their home. The population has become so diverse that Rotterdam has become part of a worldwide family of Majority-Minority cities - cities in which more than half of the population has a migration background. And, not just the amount of nationalities has increased: as generations pass, also the diversity within the different migrant groups has become increasingly complex. This increased diversity, or Superdiversity, makes the city interesting, dynamic and attractive, but also creates social tensions. There are huge differences in income, housing situation and development opportunities between the various groups in the city. The spatial spread across the city is also beginning to show signs of segregation. During these two weeks, we aim to understand this Superdiverse reality through photography in combination with participatory research: observation, walks and talks. We ask you to step up to people and engage with them in conversation about what they are doing and how they are living, and to capture hidden, unlocked experiences and phenomena about their life. Can we find out together what binds different groups?

In the recent drug-related crime wave in the Netherlands, the port of Rotterdam plays a significant role as the import and export harbor of drugs. In industrial areas on the periphery of the city, garages are combined with prostitution and human trafficking. These areas are on the outskirts of the city or even far beyond, invisible to the average city dweller. We will be mapping and visualizing this aspect of Rotterdam to make it part of the narrative of the city.

Just as many cities around the world, Rotterdam has the ambition to become green, sustainable and resilient. All around the city we see projects being developed to transform this car-dominated city, into an attractive and green environment for all its inhabitants, while simultaneously aiming to increase awareness about climate change and sea-level rise. But is it enough? During this thematic block, we’ll dive into the Anthropocene – the geological era marking the dominant human impact on the Earth systems. Through four philosophical viewpoints that one can have of this age of mankind, and while confronting the causes and effects of climate change, biodiversity loss, land-use change et cetera, we will try to bring the effects of our actions close to home, literally and painfully. We’ll use our collective knowledge and imagination to improve, layer and enrich our worldview, to understand our own cities and countries and to develop our own position vis a vis the new normal of the and how we as humans need or want to act.

WK9 TAKE POSITION (28 MAR - 01 APR 2022)
Time to organise your thoughts and reflect on the ideas and stories that emerged during the previous weeks. Which conflicts did you discover? What issue or problem do you want to engage with? What position do you want to take as an urban professional? And how do you see the future of the city? Through various exercises and conversations with critical minds, you will both look back and ahead. 

WK10 - 11 STRATEGIZE (04 - 15 APR 2022)
During these two weeks, you will take the step from research findings to strategy and make plans in order to reach your ultimate goal. Use the means you need for the goal you have in mind: you can write an article, make a short movie, design an object or a campaign, plan a landscape or plan a revolution. As long as it is in line with your position and puts your research results to the best use.

WK 12 PRESENT (18 - 22 APR 2022)
Time to show your work to the world! The Independent School will organise a final collective event and invite the leaders of the City and other professionals to see what has been produced and to react to it. We’ll show Rotterdam what we’ve got and finish this intensive programme with a bang!


Tutors and contributors to this programme were: Crimson Historians & Urbanists (Ewout Dorman, Mike Emmerik, Annuska Pronkhorst, Michelle Provoost, Simone Rots, Wouter Vanstiphout, Cassandra Wilkins), ZUS (Elma van Boxel, Kristian Koreman and Charlotte van der Woude), Thijs Barendse (De Dépendance), Sereh Mandias, Rene Boer (Failed Architecture), Neeltje ten Westenend, Leeke Reijnders, Lisa Doeland, Theo Deutinger, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Jord den Hollander, Herman Kossmann, Arnold Reijndorp, Dirk Sijmons, and many more.


The course will use the Independent School for the City’s methodological triad of Research, Stories and Strategies.

Through lectures by the best experts, precisely planned excursions through Rotterdam and mapping exercises, we will 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 will look at the city as a palimpsest of different systems, ideas, infrastructures, policies and ideologies. Each time, we 'll consider Rotterdam as a means to get a close-up view of global trends and networks.

To share our position on the city with others, in order to turn it into action, we need to construct a strong narrative. That is the subject of the second week dedicated to each theme. Lectures and workshops will be held on the different formats and techniques, the 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. We will 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.

The last part of the programme is dedicated to translating insights and stories into strategies and concrete action. We take a broad view of what constitutes action. A precisely written and timed manifesto could have as much influence as a government funded masterplan; a tactical policy change can have as much impact on the shape of a street as an iconic piece of architecture. We will choose a number of sites in Rotterdam and subject these to our transformational strategies and to the tactical interventions that they produce. The programme will conclude with an exhibition and a conversations with the officials, planners and politicians who have been entrusted with Rotterdam’s future.