The rapid growth of Mexico Citys colonias populares over the past four decades is caused primarily by rural-urban migration. Those attracted to the metropolitan area in the hope of improving their standard of living, can often not afford to live in even the cheapest formal residental areas and are forced to settle the irregular developments on the outskirts.

Economic opportunities in the colonias are scarce since many of the settlements are not formally recognised by authorities and therefore not serviced by the municipal infrastructure (running water, gas electricity, sewage).

Those who manage to operate a small local business or find employment in a wealthier area, do often not earn more than a subsistence wage.

Consequently, the average profit margin does not allow for the accumulation of savings. In addition, residents of informal settlements often have no legal rights over the land or property they occupy which is commonly ‘invaded’, subdivided and distributed illegally by informal developers.

This situation essentially deprives the urban poor of their rights as citizens i.e. claims to the judicial system, social security, health care, financial aid, the right to legally register businesses etc.

Mexicos officual ‘zero-tolerance’ policy towards informal urbanisation means that residents have no legal security of tenure and may be subject to eviction if the legal owner of land chooses to enforce his rights. Any possible long-term developments or improvements of spaces and structures is thus discouraged and investment inertia takes hold.

Political, legal and economic disenfranchisement creates a state of dependency where large section of the urban population work to sustain a system which marginalises them to such an extent that they are forced to work for a minimum wage.

This circular causality led to informal settlements being described in academic literature as ‘poverty traps’ rather than ‘temporary’ manifestations of a socio-economic transition of households from rural poverty to the establishment of a livelihood in the city.

Economic stagnation within the colonias is also reflected in and, perhaps, augmented by their physical structure. Vast expanses of improvised housing, laid out on a seemingly formal grid, show no intensities of economic activity and have no centers of vitality.

This project therefore aims to transform not only the physical and humanitarian conditions within irregular settlements but the socio-economic structures of power perpetuating urban poverty and the disenfranchisement of those living in Mexico City’s colonias populares.

Research Question:

Following from the notions that: A | governments, institutions and authorities have no incentive and therefore no intention of investing in the empowerment of the urban poor to improve their standard of living and B | the urban poor themselves are lacking the means (access to capital & resources as well as education, professional training entrepreneurial/management skills) to effectively employ the latent capital or potential assets they hold, the general research question of this project can be formulated as follows:

How can informal dynamics and the phenomenon of self-organisation, observable within marginalised and underprivileged sections of society, inform strategies of community empowerment and participatory design for the implementation of a resident-driven, adaptive, and self-sustaining system of incremental social, economic and physical development?

Which can be broken down further into various aspects:

Capital | Economic & Political Aspects:

  • How can the ‘latent capital’ in informal communities be liberated and utilised as an asset to fuel sustained economic, social and physical development?

    • What forms of latent/dead capital are held by residents of the colonias polulares?

    • What are the requisites for autonomous development of marginalised communities and which of these are lacking in the case of Mexico City’s colonias populares?

    • How do ownership rights and land titles affect the development of housing and public spaces in informal settlements?

    • How can local (community held) capital be accumulated in order to provide low-interest loans and maximise the economic independence of low-income households from commercial investors and markets i.e: maximising economic resilience?

Civic Consolidation | Social structurisation, Participation & Collaboration:

  • What are the potentials of informal modes of operation and how can they be harnessed?

    • What can be learned from the successes, failures, strengths, weaknesses and strategies of civic organisations and movements in Mexico city?

    • To what extent and how successfully do informal organisations replace government institutions (loans & credits, property rights, policing etc…), public/social services (education / healthcare) and physical ameneties (infrastructure, utilities, maintainance of public spaces)?

    • How can such informal institutions be made more transparent, accessible, interconnected, reliable and effective in their operation?

  • How can communities be organised to build local identity and establish collaborative networks for participatory implementation stategies?

    • How can civic organisations and informal public services be established, accommodated and interconnected?

    • How can residents be engaged in and political and civic processes as part of their every-day lives in order to build a culture of local governance and active public life?

    • How can skills and knowledge be shared and developed collaboratively within and between communities?

    • How can participatory design / construction and collaborative action strategies be implemented within informal communities while minimising bureaucratic and administrative procedures?

    • How might this process foster long-term community cohesion, identity and collaboration?

Structure | Physical, Spatial & Programmatic considerations:

  • How do spatial / structural configurations and the provision of public facilities affect the emergence of programmatic patterns and human activity / interaction?

    • What can be learned from the physical structure of Mexico Citys colonias populares and other irregular urbanisation typologies with respect to the structurisation, programmatic uses and vitality of public spaces?

    • How do spatial features (open spaces, width of streets & circulation routes, height and density of structures, interconnectedness of spaces etc…) affect public activities and occupational patterns and how can they be utilised to shape or ‘indirectly program’ public spaces?

    • What programmatic adjacencies and relations have emerged in unplanned urbanised areas and how can this process of self-organisation be emulated to allow for the gradual and free development of an urban environment according to human behavioural patterns?

    • To what extent should spatial layouts, structures and facilities be either planned / predetermined or developed by residents themselves?

    • How can programmatic flexibility and dynamic adaptation of physical / spatial configurations be maximised while maintaining an efficient and coherent base system / structure?

Means of Productivity | Resources, Facilities & Marketplaces:

  • To what extent and in what ways can refuse material be exploited i.e. converted into recycled raw material and manufactured goods while effectively contributing to municipal waste management on an urban and macroeconomic scale?

    • What tools, facilities and spaces are required in order to increase the effectiveness of low-tech, informal methods of waste recycling in order to achieve an economy of scale based on collaborative networks of individual, specialised enterprises?

    • How can recycled materials / products and goods be distributed among to local retail or marketed to corporations and industries?

    • How might the recycling of municipal waste and the production of raw material increase the political and economic leverage / bargaining power of marginalised communities?

    • How can waste material be exploited as an abundant source of low-cost construction material for self-building


  • Irregular settlements manifest themselves as a response to the lacking incentive and thus willingness of formal governments, authorities, institutions and organisations to provide adequate living condition for empverished sections the population.

  • Residents of irregular settlements lack access to knowledge (skill acquisition), live capital (funds, savings, loans), physical means of productivity (space, tools, infrastructure) and institutions for their organisation, mobilisation and effective collaboration. They are therefore ‘trapped’ in a subsistence economy which does not allow for the accumulation of capital i.e. long-term investment and development.

  • Informal dynamics as observable in many impoverished urban communities (informal social and professional networks, value and information exchange, bartering systems, resident initiatives, activism etc.) represent abstract dead capital and hold the potential for autonomous development if brought to bear by increasing their transparency, structuring civic processes and creating open networks for the exchange of knowledge, skills and physical assets.

  • In order to liberate these potential assets, a culture of collaboration (sharing of skills, knowledge and resources, Specialisation, mutual supplementation etc.) and stimulating entrepreneurial competitiveness or synergy must be established. This can be achieved through community centers, Fora, networking platforms, civic organisations and marketplaces.

  • An autonomous industrial network of informal enterprises and marketplaces must be established in order to access the formal economy i.e. provide and exchange value with formal institutions (national and local governments), corporations, and potential investors.

  • The ability to effectively recycle plastic waste will provide a return on investment for external stakeholders (Government, national industry, international corporations, NGOs) in the form of savings on municipal waste management, raw materials or manufactured products.

  • Achieving an economy of scale and gaining access to formal markets or socio-economic institutions (loan provision, subsidies, ownership rights, legal claims…) will enable marginalised communities to move beyond a subsistence economy and make long-term investments towards autonomously improving their standard of living.

Methods | Topics, Scope & Structure:

The goal of this project is the development of a physical system that is based on a number of fundamental economic, sociological, urbanistic and technical concepts for the autonomous development of informal or marginalised communities by exploiting locally available resources and idle assets. Ultimately, the proposal shall provide a functional, yet flexible and non-deterministic framework of infrastructure and programmatic spaces which, although based primarily on the case of Mexico City, may be adapted to various other contexts and allows for the informal i.e. unplanned but coherent and natural emergence of complex dynamics according to local needs or variables.

This objective as well as the multifaceted context of the project, require a wider scope of research into a diverse range of theories, methodologies and technologies which will allow for the coherent synthesis of various design solutionsw. Thus, rather than focusing on the particularities of a specific setting, the research aims to evaluate the causes, effects and interrelation of overarching factors which can be identified in similar cases of urban poverty, marginalisation and informality.

The research process can be defined in terms of three stages, each with a different purpose and scope:

A | Case Study | Mexico City:

By analysing the reality of the research problem, various aspects, factors, forces and stakeholders can be identified and placed into context. The interrelation and dynamics between these elements is explored through specific examples illustrating their causes and effects in a real-life scenario. Although this may provide a contextual foundation for defining and understanding the challenges present in the case of Mexico City, it can not be assumed that the details of these findings (specific causal relations) apply equally to other, though similar cases. In order to identify the core factors to be conceptually evaluated in more detail and which must be dressed as part of the design proposal, a second, more theoretical stage of research is required.

B | General Theoretical Research | Conceptualisation:

In this stage, examples of other cases similar to specific aspects or problematics identified in the context of Mexico City are examined and existing theoretical research is evaluated in order to reveal any common and possibly defining features. These are then categorised according to their relation to one-another and thus provide the ‘design brief’ as well as the conceptual structure further research. Obviously, as with any research project, this is not a linear progression but a ‘back-and-forth’ process of relating theoretical explanations of certain phenomena to the dynamic reality of their interconnections.

C | Detailed Theoretical Research | Solution Development :

In this section, topics or categories defined in the previous stages (Case Study and General Theoretical Research) was expanded into a more refined analysis, taking into consideration various, often divergent, theoretical interpretations of individual aspects of the research in order to develop potential solutions or alternative scenarios to the problematics identified in the case study. The integration of these aspects into a multifaceted, yet systematic design proposal necessitates a deeper understanding of the potential threats and opportunities they hold as well as of the ways in which they may be related both in abstract and practical terms.

The evaluation of formal urban planning versus informal or irregular urbanism may serve as an example for illustrating the research process here.

Probably the most obvious and defining attribute of irregular settlements is the fact that they ’emerge’ without formal planning in terms of street layout, infrastructure, a programmatic master plan, or the strategic positioning and design of buildings with formal significance; nor do they develop according to formal regulations, building codes, permissions or perscribed construction methods. The complexity of their seemingly chaotic and inconsistent layout is, however, comparable to that of traditional vernacular urban morphologies as well as natural, organic structures and systems. They emerge out of human agency and interaction, according to the practical needs of individuals or groups and without formal interventions attempting to resolve conflicts of interest between various stakeholders. It becomes obvious even from a brief context analysis that, in order to understand the evolution and dynamics of the colonias populares, further investigation into the topics of emergence (or self-organisation of complex systems), informal urban sprawl, irregular construction methods, the resulting morphologies as well as the social or economic structures and processes within these envirinments is necessary. After havin been established as relevant considerations for the research and design process through the case study, the defining properties of such aspects are extracted in the second section; General Theoretical Research.
Equally, findings from the general theoretical research may be put into context or evaluated against real-life examples from the case study. What makes Mexico Citys colonias polpulares particularly interesting, for example, is that they appear to be morphological hybrids; their irregularity is not immediately obvious on an urban scale since they are constructed on rectangular plots of land according to vast, pre-existing grid. Their informality thus only becomes apparent on the scale of individual buildings while their ‘macro-structure’ is that of a repetitive, rigid and homogeneously planned suburban sprawl.
How, then, might this physical duality affect human behavior, interaction with the built environment, patterns of circulation and occupation, public life or community structure and cohesion as compared to examles of either entirely planned or irregular urban environments?

Such observations, having arisen from the case study, were formulated into a set questions through preliminary theoretical research by identifying their most relevant and defining aspects. These were then explored further in the Detailed Theoretical Analysis.

How, for example, may the effect of physical space and structures on human behavior (or vice versa) be studied in the first place and how can possible findings of such an analysis be applied as part of a design strategy that takes into account varying social, economic and political dynamics?

The proposal was developed on the basis of four research categories: 1 | Civic Structure & Engagement, 2 | Economic models of Development 3 | Determinism versus Emergence and ‘4 | Physical, Spatial and Design’ Provisions. Although this categorisation allowed for a more systematic and structured approach in terms of research, it would be misleading to concieve of each of the four aspects as an isolated isolated entity. Instead, they represent different fascets of a single, integrated system and are interdependent in their function and objective. The following describes some of the core principles underlying each of the categories:

1 | Civic Structure & Engagement:

    • Building communal identities (Bonding) as a foundation for local governance, collaboration and resident engagement in matters of common interest.

    • Establishing inter-communal relations (Bridging) for the exchange of information, goods and services, the differentiated development of neighborhoods and synergetic relations between them.

    • Creating platforms for the sharing of knowledge and resources among residents i.e. pooling the collective skills and assets and making them accessible through a transparent, informal network.

    • Implementing bottom-up principles of participatory design and execution, enabling a resident-driven development of the urban environment.

2 | Economic models of Development

    • liberating and employing latent capital held by informal communities in order for them to overcome the subsistence economyn that is both the cause and effect of their marginalisation.

    • Accumulating local funds and capital in order to minimise dependence on external loans, credits, mortgages and speculative / commercial markets.

    • Shifting of bargaining position through creation of savings and value for potential investors (national and international industries), authorities (municipalities and government) as well is the general public.

    • Achieving economies of scale for cumulative growth and increasing efficiency over time.

3 | Determinism versus Emergencen

    • Theoretical basis of complexity theory: self-organisation of complex systems (natural and artificial), emergence versus pre-determination – strengths, risks, potentials.

    • Emergence in urbanism: vernacular urban morphologies; Urban planning, modernism & mass-produced housing (mechanical, planned) versus Informal Urbanism & self-build (organic, emergent).

    • The paradox of planning the unplanned &: New Urbansim, Grass roots housing, Pattern Language, Urban Seeding & System Design; tools & strategies for enabling / enhancing emergent urbanism.

4 | Physical, Spatial and Technical Design:

    • Space: available urban space, density & sprawl, population density & vertical distribution, relations between urban morphology and social dynamics, public / private space, zoning as non-deterministic urban design tool.

    • Superstructure, infrastructure, & means of productivity: utilities, technical equipment / systems & recycling facilities.

    • Informal developments or infill (or ‘fit-out’) structures: Dwellings and commercial or public structures built by residents (as communities or individuals) with technical assistance of ‘expert builders’ for consultation and construction management.

    • Recycling facilities & process: fundamental procedure of recycling refuse material (with low-tech and low-cost equipment and methods) as developed by informal ‘micro-factories’

    • Construction components: Use of recycled raw material to produce modular construction components for use in self-building.



Context Overview | Mexico City:

Many pre- and possibly misconceptions exist about the nature of informal settlements (slums, favelas or shanty towns), the needs, desires and way of life of their inhabitants and the circumstances they are faced with on a daily basis. Our view of urban communities living in extreme poverty, however, is mostly defined by distorted representations ranging from dramatized and simplistic crime-related sensationalism to the mystified, almost dystopian vision of a ‘parallel society’ which does not adhere to the laws and conventions that govern our own lives. Western culture has developed a fascination for the misfortune, hardship and ‘lawlessness’ but also for the apparent ingenuity, courage and solidarity among those who are forced to live on the edge of existence, ‘making something out of northing’ in their everyday fight for survival. In mainstream contexts, however, this fascination is usually limited to the purpose of entertainment and does not attempt to reveal the less spectacular, albeit relevant, causes and effects of informality in relation to social, economic and political factors.

In the realm of politics and sociology, rapid urbanisation, a growing inequality of wealth and the dire humanitarian conditions observable in many informal settlements throughout the developing world, have come to be recognised as major challenges and are often treated by governments as insurmountable liabilities which can, at best and at considerable cost, be alleviated temporarily. More commonly though, they are either denied and ignored or forcefully confronted through systematic campaigns of eviction, displacement and demolition.

Meanwhile, academic research has expanded on a multitude of theoretical concepts related to the economic, political, sociological, urbanistic or psychological implications of irregularity as the ‘shadow of mainstream society’. Some fundamental questions, however, remain unanswered. How are entire communities and economic sectors able not only to survive but to grow at impressive rates without formal organisation, clear hierarchies of authority or regulatory systems? What rules or logic do they follow? How do individuals coordinate their interactions and manage the complexities of living in a highly active and extremely dense urban environment, completely lacking the security provided by a formal structure, legal system or regulatory framework which we believe to be fundamental to a functioning society?

While idealised notions of lively and colourful, communities flourishing without restriction by patronising authority, will contribute little to bettering the harsh and often banal reality of those living under conditions of marginalisation and deprivation, it must be acknowledged that subaltern strategies of improvisation, non-dependence and substitution (informal initiatives and civic organisations mimicking formal public services or infrastructure which irregular settlements are excluded from) have created a resilience which is unmatched by most formally regulated organisations or communities.

Rather than attempting to suppress informal modes of operation and enforcing regularity (be it with respect to economic systems, social structures or the built environment), the potentials of these phenomena should be identified and utilised as existing assets in tackling their problematic context. The complex relationships of power and intricate social networks which covertly dictate day-to-day activities within informal communities and consequently give rise to their long-term dynamics, for example, cannot simply be neglected or overridden in a process of socio-economic development since they provide the foundations for the identity and cohesive functioning of such communities. Rather, if modes of communication were streamlined to become transparent and efficient, these informal dynamics could serve as a framework for the bottom-up development of a natural civic structure. Similarly, the afore-mentioned surrogate initiatives (to be specified and discussed in more detail later) demonstrate the willingness and ability of residents to self-organise in order to fulfil their needs through direct cooperative action. Indeed, informal enterprise (mostly consisting of small-scale businesses, independent, part-time labour or home workers) constitutes what has been dubbed the ‘shadow economy’ and seems to represent an entire secondary strata of society both in terms of economic activity and social structure. Although not formally regulated as a coherent system and lacking a foundation of legal enforceability, the informal sectors, particularly in developing nations, has attained such magnitudes that it rivals and, in certain cases, even surpasses the productivity of formal, law-abiding industries.
Informality redoubtably brings with it numerous problematics such as low efficiency, a lack of transparency and effective management, inconsistencies in the products and services provided, poor working conditions, exploitation, corruptuin, clientelism and potential hazards for both workers and consumers, to name but a few. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that irregularity, even as per its definition in terms of illegality or non-conformity to laws, regulations or conventional practices, is a powerful (and rapidly growing) force not only in relation to economics but also with regard to social, political and cultural interactions on national as well as international scales. It may be argued that informality is nothing but the natural tendency of people to bypass regulations and authorities in order to achieve certain needs or goals which these authorities fail to provide on a formal level. An appropriate response to the adverse effects of informal processes would therefore be the attempt to understand the causes of its shortcomings and the perturbations it causes in the ‘formal world’, while acknowledging and advantage taking of the potentials offered by strategies which have emerged in response to the weaknesses and shortcomings of formal systems in the first place.

The whole informal activity features techniques, decisions and strategies that, although not very orthodox, entail a form of planning and organisation. They may be sophisticated and effective in the way in which they allocate resources, organise space and deal with both social and economic requirements.’1

The following research aims to analyse the causes, effects and dynamics of urban informality from various disciplinary perspectives by focusing on the specific case of the ‘colonias populares’ in Mexico city. The fundamental conclusions and central aspects relating to different fields of knowledge will then be synthesised to form the basis of a design proposal for transforming not only the physical and humanitarian conditions within irregular settlements, but the socio-economic structures of power perpetuating urban poverty and the disenfranchisement of those living in Mexico City’s colonias populares.

Formality & Informality | Marginalisation, Clientelism & Civic Initiatives in Mexico City:

Irregular construction, which can be seen as a physical manifestation of urban poverty, has been on a steady rise over the past two decades. Housing and population census data shows that 1990 and 2005, a total of about 930,000 new dwellings were constructed in Mexico City’s irregular settlements, 800,000 of which are located in conurbated neighbourhoods.2 According to the XI and XII census conducted in the Federal District, around 60% of the citys residential structures can be classified as ‘irregular’ based on their legal status (unauthorised), access to infrastructure (transport, utilities, sewage etc.) and physical typology i.e: attributes such as roofing, materiality, structure, layout and size (relative to number of occupants).

Informality and ‘extralegal’ activities dominate Mexico City’s economy: over 60% of jobs are estimated to pertain to the informal economy. Around twenty-five thousand itinerary merchants are thought to work in the city center (Centro Historico) alone. Statistics indicate that this figure has risen by 40% over the past five years and a yearly twofold increase may be observed over the coming decade.3

Although the informal sector may be more prevalent still in other metropolitan cities of the global south (such as Mumbai, Lagos or Manila), it does appear to be deeply interwoven and, to some extent, even homogenised with institutions representing formal governance and ‘way of life’ i.e. the dynamics of every-day social, economic and political interactions. The relation between or transition from formal to informal modes of operation is described by Jose Manuel Castillo Olea of the Universidad Iberoamericana in his article ‘Mexico City: The Informal Economy as a Way of Life‘:

‘In Mexico City, both the law and physical space are negotiated. It is not unusual to see that informal leaders, whether street selling or invading land, move on to party structures and elected positions. Social negotiation networks that are being woven in the informal economy are being transformed into clientele networks useful in politics.

It also seems to manifest itself with particular variety, seeping into almost every aspect of daily life and, in certain cases, even affecting the strategies employed by formal industries which are beginning to tailor their supply (the products themselves as well as pricing, marketing and retail) to the informal demand. One of Mexico’s largest mobile service providers, for example, has adjusted to the market by adopting ‘informal’ retail techniques such as street or itinerary selling. Conversely, irregularity is to be found not only in the deprived and marginalised communities on the city’s outskirts but also in more affluent, commercial, touristic and gentrified areas where it is tolerated by authorities and complements the formal secor in an almost symbiotic relation, thus giving rise to a sort of hybrid economy.

The informal economy covers the whole spectrum of the urban economic cycle, from elemental forms of production, to recycling. It includes goods and services such as housing, transport, the infrastructure, credit and occupation of space, extending as far as political negotiation.4

Context overview | Disenfranchisement and urban poverty in Mexico City.

The opportunities provided by metropolitan Mexico City as an economic hub, attracts migrants from isolated and underdeveloped rural areas across the country. High population densities (and consequently higher demand for services and manufactured goods) as well as the social and cultural variety provided by the city (facilitating trade, networking and skill acquisition) represent promising perspectives for those with no financial capital and little to build upon in temrns of human capital (education, literacy, professional skills etc). In bypassing legislative restrictions, the need for formal qualification, as well as burdensome administrative processes and costs (institutional bureaucracy and red tape, registration processes, taxation ect.), informality represents an alternative means of gaining access to urbanity and the opportunities it provides.

Although Mexico City has recently experienced an overall quantitative reversal of the urbanisation trend, which was spurred by the country’s post-world war II period of economic growth and infrastructure development known as the ‘Mexocan miracle’, it is predominantly the emigration of middle and upper class, educated and skilled individuals which causes this statistical decline while underprivileged and comparatively unskilled migrants from rural areas continue to migrate towards the city.

It has been argued that irregular settlements at the periphery of the city or on vacant and illegally occupied land within it are a “transitory phenomenon characteristic of fast-growing economies” and that they gradually “give way to formal housing as economic growth trickles down.”5 This view, however, assumes that rural-to-urban migration and the resulting expansion or densification of informal settlements is related exclusively to economic factors and that the majority of residents will eventually ‘move up the social ladder’ or into formal housing. Although social mobility does exist and the growth of irregular developments is clearly linked to economic trends, it would be naïve to conclude that informality and irregular construction is merely the first step towards socio-economic betterment for thousands of migrants every year. Statistical data and surveys suggest instead, that many families continue to live in the same self-built dwellings throughout generations. This suggests that, for the majority of residents, slums constitute what has been termed ‘poverty traps’ rather than a transitory state.6

Unable to afford formal housing, the majority of migrants will settle in the irregular colonias populares; predominantly in those established after 2001 which have not yet reached a stage of consolidation and are still expanding by new dwellings being constructed on vacant land. The infrastructure in such settlements is usually less developed than that of older colonias which have already been consolidated and where public space as well as private dwellings have, through incremental improvements, reached a certain qualitative level of permanence. The longer an irregular (illegally subdivided and allocated) parcel of land has been occupied by a single household i.e. the longer a settlement has been established, the less likely eviction by authorities becomes. Providing that it has been constructed on government rather than privately owned land (municipalities are forced to act when private or corporate owners with higher economic bargaining power demand the eviction of squatters from their land), it may be tolerated or even formally recognised as a residential development.7

Newer settlements, however, are usually less developed and more vulnerable to reprehension by authorities. Due to reduced security of tenure (I.e: increased risk of eviction), residents are less likely to invest in the development of the land or structures they occupy.8 Younger communities are also less established and organised in a political/administrative sense thus finding themselves in a weaker position when it comes to ‘negotiations’ with authorities. Since, officially, the Federal District Government (GDF) of Mexico City holds a zero-tolerance policy towards the illegal occupation of land, irregular developments effectively depend upon authorities ‘turning a blind eye’. This, of cause, is rarely done out of good will or based on formal and permanent legislative recognition of the settlement. Rather, local politicians have been known to adopt a
laissez-faire attitude or afford such communities minor (token) investments and benefits in return for their political support.9

More often than not, irregular settlements lack any form of infrastructure (power grid, water supply, waste management, communication etc…) which forces them to informally (illegally) provide for themselves what municipalities will not grant them. Obviously, this limits opportunities for economic development greatly while pushing communities further into illegality and towards conflicts with authorities. This form of political clientelism and exploitation, combined with wide-spread corruption has led to deeply engrained distrust a among the population of irregular settlements towards local, municipal and national governments as well as their executive forces. Ultimately, it demonstrates a deepening divide between the formal and the informal powers within Mexico City where the latter is caught in the power struggles of the former and is compelled to sustain the status quo by supporting the very political system which fails to provide what is necessary for their autonomous development.

Recent investigations and scholarly work such as ‘
The Economics of Slums in the Developing World‘ (2013) by Benjamin Marx, Thomas Stoker and Tavneet Suri of MIT, ‘Poverty Trap‘ (2006) by Samuel Bowles, Steven N. Durlauf, and Karla Hoff or ‘The Economic Lives of the Poor‘ (2007) by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Dufl show that the vast majority of households located in ‘slum areas’ (commonly defined in all three works as “densly populated urban areas characterized by poor-quality housing, a lack of adequate living space and public services, and accommodating large numbers of informal residents with generally insecure tenure”10) are merely able to operate on a subsistence level. Their earnings (in the case of Mexico City often not more than two to three times the minimum wage for a household of four to six) do not allow them to accumulate savings and make investments to improve their standard of living or economic opportunities in order to break out of the circular causality of marginalisation and subsistence labour.
A simple example illustrating the irony of this self-sustaining deprivation is that of exclusion from public services and infrastructure based on the informal status of dwellings:

In his series of articles on the sociological and political dynamics underlying the development of Mexico’s irregular settlements, David R. K. Adler explains the insurmountable paradox for most peripheral colonies”: through the simple fact that “you can’t develop water infrastructure without government support, but you can’t get government support without water infrastructure”.
Studies such as the afore-mentioned, which are based on field reports and journalistic research methodologies (interviews, surveys and qualitative or anecdotal references) as well as quantitative statistical analysis suggest that more powerful stakeholders such as land owners, developers, real estate firms, industries, and local politicians naturally act as lobbyists against the interests of the urban poor, thus creating a hegemonic system which denies those associated with informality their rights of citizenship and maintains their dependence on formal economic and political forces.

However, as the following analysis will attempt to show, these circumstances have forced informal communities to develop alternative strategies of improvisation and direct action in order to satisfy their needs.

Since the 1970s, for example, civil society organisations such as the Movimiento Urbano Popular (MUP) or the Frente Popular Francisco Villa Independiente (FPFVI) have emerged and gained influence throughout Mexico City’s poorer neighbourhoods. Offsprings of activist and revolutionary groups which formed in rural areas during the first half of the century, they gained foothold among urban communities by organising them and mobilising residents with a set of specified political and social goals.
By exerting pressure on local authorities through protests and activism as well as engaging in political negotiations, the FPFVI, MUP and other local organisations achieved a formal victory when the GDF (Federal District Government) formally acknowledged ‘The Right to Decent Housing’ in Article 4 of its 2010 charter.11

In practice, however, this formal victory turned out to be of little benefit to those who were truly in need of decent housing. The articles implementation and financing mechanism through the INVI (Mexican Institute of Housing) which provides development loans, effectively excluded the urban poor from its benefits through bureaucratic and legal processes, red tape and unrealistic conditions of eligibility. The ‘right to decent housing remained an abstract concession without real consequences for most informal communities.

In reaction to this, the FPFVI established community funds and began to manage the legal acquisition of privately owned land which it then subdivided and allocated to individual households or community projects. Various informal civic organisations assumed the roles of housing and infrastructure developers, lending institutions and even provided health and educational facilities. In the district of Yuguelito, for instance, the FPFVI was able to gather sufficient funds for the construction of a community center providing internet access, books, venue spaces and, thanks to a simple but effective purification system, clean water. Beyond this, a ‘vigilance committee’, which is to replace the corrupt, disengaged or simply absent government police force, has been put in place.
No single event, however, revealed the governments incapacity and unwillingness to provide aid to those who require it the most but have the least to offer in return than the earthquake that devastated Mexico City in 1985 and claimed over 30,000 lives. Vast areas of the city lay in ruins after around 400 buildings had collapsed, burying people beneath the rubble. The Citys infrastructure had been severely damaged and the water supply to almost all areas had been cut off. Hospitals (if still standing and operational) were overwhelmed. National and municipal governments, however, failed to take the appropriate action and authorities were unable to coordinate emergency measures. Instead of responding swiftly and pragmatically to the situation, Mexico’s president at the time, Miguel de la Madrid, ordered a nation-wide media shutdown and neglected to make make a public statement until two days after the earthquake had struck. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, those most vulnerable and worst affected by the disaster received the least aid. The governments failure to act alienated these sections of the population and deepened any pre-existing distrust in the political system. Civic Organisations from within Mexico City and throughout the country, on the other hand, were quick to provide the (limited) aid they could.

the earthquake gave them the space and the stage to show how citizen solidarity could displace a corrupt national government.”12

These as well as other examples of failure in formal governance and its replacement by direct, informal civic action, demonstrate the need for self-reliance I.e: non-dependence on government institutions.
The actions and achievements of organisations such as the MUP or FPFVI, which have attempted to consolidate individual civic initiatives into a unified political movement, demonstrate that formal institutions and government bodies can be ‘pushed out of necessity’. From the provision of infrastructure, utilities, social services, small-scale loans and even policing to the management of informal ownership rights (to be described in more detail later), they have taken on many of the responsibilities commonly associated with formal governance. Beyond merely substituting for government functions, civic organisations have, in some cases, become local surrogate governments in their own right with considerable influence in social and political matters.

Informal rules shape how democratic institutions work […] they reinforce, subvert and sometimes even supersede formal rules, procedures and organisations [affecting] the quality, performance and stability of democracy”13

Although their efforts often rely on improvisation and are based limited financial and technical means, it may be possible to ‘streamline’ and interrelate informal civic organisations, institutions, processes and modes of operation which are already in place but lack a transparent, unifying structure, in order to effectively harness the idle capital existing within marginalised communities and the informal sector.

While the FPFVIs social engagement is largely tolerated by formal authorities, the role of entities such as the MUP (Movimiento Urbano Popular) as driving force behind political mobilisation and civic activism has, unsurprisingly, been met by Mexico Citys government with targeted as well as passive resistance.

As civil movements gain momentum and the organisations representing them become more established, they are inevitably politicised and begin to take on a more formal, hierarchical structure. Involvement in case-specific disputes, diplomatic conflict and legal technicalities divert attention away form their original and fundamental goals. The ‘movement’ as a whole begins to crystallise into a multitude of divergent factions lacking the solidarity necessary in order to bring about significant and lasting political or social change. This ironic relation between the growing influence, increasing formalisation and subsequent ideological disintegration of informal political groups has been exploited by the state as part of its ‘counter-activist’ strategy. By being involved in endless negotiations and diplomatic processes, and legal formalities over issues which are of little relevance to the fundamental goals it tried to achieve, the MUP lost much of its ‘revolutionary momentum’; its relation to and representation of marginalised demographies, its uncompromising stance in claiming civil rights, its ideological unity and, therefore, its social significance. Throughout the 1980s, the MUP had managed to infiltrate various government bodies and institutions such as the INVI (Mexican Institute of Housing) by virtue of the ambiguous distinction and interconnectedness between the formal and the informal realms within Mexico Citys political scene. Some of its members attained influential positions within the formal sector and were able to support its cause ‘from the other side’. Often, however, such individuals as well as entire branches of the MUP were simply absorbed into bureaucracy and no longer acted in the interest of social and political change.

according to MUP leaders, the civil society ‘spies’ that have penetrated the government have turned out to be more like double agents. […] the rising influence of the MUP has ultimately served to weaken it severely—a tragic irony. “The MUP began to break apart when people became functionaries.”14

It can therefore be argued that Mexico Citys civil rights movement fell victim to the tried and tested political strategies of ‘divide and conquer’ and ‘control by inclusion’.

Given that informality and the urban poor are commonly perceived as a liability rather than as a potential asset and provide little incentive for dominant economic or political stakeholders to make any kind concession to them, it seems that instead of seeking direct confrontation, becoming involved in diplomatic struggles or depending on the charitableness of government institutions, disenfranchised demographies and the civic the organisations representing them must shift their bargaining position and increase political leverage by providing economic value.

This project proposes to take advantage of the single most abundant (potential) resource within a metropolitan Mexico City which, at the same time, represents one of the biggest environmental, economic and logistical challenges challenges: municipal waste.
Like the informal sector and irregular housing development, it is generally recognised only as a burdensome by-product of formal economic development and commerce. Produced by industries, businesses and private households in masses on a day-to-day basis, it seems to be inexorable almost unmanageable. Yet, if approached form a different perspective, one might be able to redefine its implications and harness it as an asset which is already in place and needs only to be ‘liberated’ or taken advantage of in a way that benefits all stakeholders.
In fact, the solution may lie in combining the practical problem of urban waste management with the politically / economically polarising phenomenon of the informal sector. The latter, while stigmatised and condemned by formal institutions and enterprises, may have the capacity or hold the logistical key to solving the former.

Wasted Resources | Municipal Waste Management and the Informal Sector.

Of the 40 million tonnes of waste generated in Mexico each year, the country recycles only about 6 million tonnes (15%). Industries as well as small businesses, gastronomy and private households seem to make little effort to reduce the amount of waste they produce. In a dense urban environment such as Mexico City with and inconsistent level of infrastructural development (transportation, waste extraction, sewage) throughout its districts, formal municipal waste management lags far behind in collecting and processing the overwhelming amounts of material disposed of on a daily basis. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, politicians and government institutions are not particularly motivated to acknowledge the severity of this problem, take their share of responsibility for its ecological, economic and social consequences or make any serious commitment to changing anything about it- doing so could be considered as diplomatic self-harm. The entire issue is therefore most commonly treated with neglect and selective unawareness while, day by day, tonnes of unprocessed material are buried in pits (as distinct from reasonably well developed landfills which are isolated from the ground water and possess an exhaust and filtration system for the gasses produced by underground decomposition) on the citys outskirts or in neighbouring municipalities. Representatives in public offices and campaigning politicians prefer to elaborate on politically more fruitful and less polarising issues while the population certainly has enough concerns of a very different nature. The consequence, then, is the “absence of a culture of non-generation, classification & recycling of waste15 Considering that ownership of waste material is not legally defined or regulated (federal law only regulates the management of refuse material and hazardous waste), it seems that Mexican legislation, by mere lack, facilitates this state of affairs.

According to the National Mexican Instutute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), the countrys average per capita production of waste lies between 0.680kg (rural areas) and 1.33kg (urban) per day- with a mean of 0.870kg per day. Statistics produced by UN Habitat indicate that in 2012, around 84% of all Mexican households were serviced by municipal waste collection. Although this figure may be true in the sense that a vast majority of dwellings officially have access to waste disposal systems (temporary storage facilities or formal collection services), it says little about the ultimate quality and effectiveness of these services. According to research conducted at the Autonomous University of Baja Californa, the fact that incineration and recycling plants in Mexico seem to have great difficulties in staying operational (economically viable), can be attributed to inadequate systems of formal waste collection and transportation which, due to lacking technological and logistical development, do not allow for a consistent flow of material to such facilities.16 Similarly, while 77% of Mexican municipalities have formal disposal sites of some sort, their quality and capacity is often insufficient for the amount of waste generated in the region- only 13% of these sites are classified as controlled landfills (with provisions for protecting the immediate surrounding against toxic substances) while 87% are categorised as ‘open pits’- technically undeveloped dumps of varying size which, though legally (or de facto) sanctioned, are often not isolated form the ground water and include no exhaust filtration system. In addition, only around 66% of the estimated municipal waste produced nation-wide in 2011 was registered to have been received by formal processing or storage facilities. The remainder is, for reasons of cost and convenience, likely to have been deposited in ‘clandestine dumps’ or incinerated in open pits with no pollutant control.

In 2009, the Mexican federal government suspended plans for developing several ‘Integrated Waste Recycling and Energy Centers’ – ‘
Centros Integrales de Reciclado y Energia’ (CIRE) which, considering the challenges posed by municipal waste management, would have seemed a worthwhile investment.
In 2011, the left wing municipal government decided to close Brodo Poniente -the largest landfill in the federal district of Mexico City- because it had come close to reaching its maximum capacity, was no longer considered economically viable and posed a severe ecological threat, releasing toxic gases into the air and leaving toxic residues of decomposing organic and chemical waste to seep deeper and depper into the ground.
The dump had been operational since 1985 and, with an area of over 60 km2, received around 12,600 tonnes of waste daily (of which 7000 tonnes were produced in the state of Mexco itself). 800 tonnes of plastic (mainly PET bottles), cardboard and metal scraps were recycled and 600 tonnes of organic material was used for alternative energy production at Bordo Poniente every day. Although these processes pointed in the right direction, the rate at which they were conducted by formal waste management systems did not come close to the rate at which trash is being generated in Mexico City and, from a radically critical perspective, may be considered a futile or token attempt to establish an effective waste management strategy. About 4,600 tonnes of material per day were left ‘without designated purpose’. It is estimated that over 70 million tonnes of waste have been buried at Bordo Poniente over the years.17 With its largest landfill now out of operation, and no new treatment centers or dumps constructed, Mecico Citys waste problem turned from bad to worse. Neighbouring municipalities and states refused to accept the vast quantities of trash produced in the metropolitan federal district and the only two dumps remaining for its deposition were soon at risk of overflowing. For lack of alternatives, new ‘clandestine’ dumps, reportedly sprang up in the countryside.18 Waste was being distributed across numerous unknown locations around the city rather than at least being concentrated on a single site.

Meanwhile, it must be recognised that the socio-economic impact of waste in Mexico City is considerable. According to sociologist Héctor Castillo Berthier of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the livelihoods of over a quarter of a million people (informal garbage collectors, street cleaners, pepenadores, scrap dealers, worker employed in the processes of transportation, sepparation and recycling as well as the those they support through their work) is dependent upon irregular systems of municipal waste management.19

Anything you change is going to alter that tradition,” he said. “There are more and more layers of informality. These are complex processes.”

In relation to the municial governments waste management policy, he remarked:

They have no Plan A, let alone a Plan B” […] “They are going to bet on a reshuffling of the informal systems.”

Studies suggest that the total economic value of recoverable materials currently being disposed of or incinerated throughout Mexico lies at around 16.8 million pesos or US$0.95 million per day. 20

However, it is unlikely that industries will adjust their production to the incorporation of recycled materials as long as so doing is not deemed profitable. In terms of demand, the Mexican market for products made from recycled material is not yet established enough to provide the economic assurance necessary for industries to make such a (costly) shift.

Lastly, the importance of legal recognition and enforcement of (or rather the provision of incentives for) sustainable waste management should be acknowledged. Although, as described earlier, there often exists a considerable discrepancy between ‘formal law’ and actual practice in Mexico, one can not expect a ‘culture of waste reduction and management’ to develop spontaneously, without stimulation through legislative change.

A small but significant step towards this end was taken on October 8th 2003 with the passing of the ‘General Law of Waste Prevention and Integrated Waste Management’ was passed. The decree recognises municipal solid waste (MSW):

1 – as a “potential contaminant that must be avoided, reduced and managed in an environmentally adequate manner” and

2 – as material endowed with a value, that can be employed through reuse, recycling or recovery of the energy contained in it—as long as this is done in an environmentally adequate manner.

In a critical light, such legislation could be seen as a mere lip service by the government- a show of commitment to an agenda of ecological sustainability and moral imperatives despite its cost and against the (short term) interests of industrial lobbyists. If laws of this kind are not enforced or contain no specific and binding obligations, this may, in deed, hold true. Nonetheless, formal acknowledgement may stimulate social and economic transformation, providing there exist incentives means for key stakeholders to adjust their mode of operation i.e: such adjustments promise long-term benefits which outweigh short-term costs. In such a case, the primary function of government policy would be an indirect one: to increase awareness and change the common perception about the issue in question. Besides highlighting the risks of poor MSW management and establishing the potential benefits of a ‘culture of waste reduction and recycling’, for example, the federal law also recognises the role of informal labour in the collection and processing of solid waste. It also anticipates the ‘gradual & flexible formal integration of such processes.

Another recent legislative development to be mentioned here is the ‘Recommendation 7/2016’, the full title of which is almost sufficiently explains its content: ‘Omissions in Mexico Citys urban solid waste collection, separation and final disposal and the creatiobn of decent working conditions for those who undertake these activities’.

Issued by the citys human rights commission in 2016. Although it does not sanction or lawfully support the informal sector as a whole, it officially recognises informal waste collection and processing as an important contribution to municipal waste management and public well being. Furthermore, it proposes various amendments to elevate the legal status of informal labourers and improve their working conditions by providing them with basic rights.

The relevance of this recommendation lies mainly in the fact that it draws ‘legislative attention’ to the social exclusion, stigmatisation, discrimination and even abuse which waste picker are often faced with due to the low social status of their occupation.

However, as in the case of Article 4 ‘ The Right to Decent Housing’ discussed previously, it falls short of bringing about practical change for a majority due to its definition of who it applies to. The document distinguishes between ‘volunteer workers’ and ‘informal waste pickers. The former are those who collect scrap materials on the streets or garbage from private households and businesses i.e. the first stage of waste management. Unlike workers at later stages along the collection and processing chain, they are usually self-employed and, besides voluntary donations from those whose waste they collect, depend upon minimal payments by ‘scrap dealers’ to whom they sell their collected material. Individuals engaged in either selective waste picking and scavenging (referred to as ‘pepenadores’) on sites such as open trash dumps or in the subsequent sorting and recycling process, on the other hand, are often members of informal ‘waste picker associations’ and thus considered ‘informal workers’. Although these associations may be able to provide marginal benefits (fixed pay, small loans, relative job security), they have also been known for the exploitation of workers, forcing hard labour under extremely, harsh, unhygienic and hazardous conditions and without working contracts of any kind21. Their virtue lies mainly in the slight status increase they provide for their ’employees’ which, for instance, allows them to qualify as ‘informal workers’ according to Recommendation 7/2016.
Despite formal, technical and political complications which often inhibit (attempts at) positive social development, legal acts such as those discussed above, reinforce the point that providing marginalised demographies, particularly those engaged in work which benefits both the government itself and the general public, with an adequate legal status (inclusion in and protection through enforcible working rights), access to capital (micro credits, investment schemes etc…) or technical support, might greatly increase their effectiveness in contributing to municipal waste management.

Reportedly, a total of at least 10,300 informal waste pickers were working within the Districto Federal of Mexico Ciry in 2012 and their contribution to the collection, transportation and sorting of municipal waste seems to be significant.22 Due to the inherent lack of accurate data on the informal sector, the number of individuals engaged in this process might, however, be far greater.

Issuing ‘Recommendation 7/2016‘, Mexico Citys human rights commission stated:

The government of Mexico City is neglecting its obligation to respect, protect and guarantee decent work for volunteer workers and informal waste pickers who are part of the free labour force that is essential to the proper operation of the municipal sanitation service in Mexico City.”

Considering that municipalities of mexican cities, on average, manage to collect only 75% of the waste produced, it can be said that both the government and residents of Mexico City do not only profit from but depend upon informal labour for municipal waste management.

It would be idealistic to expect legal or financial efforts merely out of a moral obligation in return for the work done by informal labourers. It can hardly be denied, however, that the informal workforce, which is comprised almost exclusively of marginalised, low income demographies, have the capacity to generate economic value by transforming a major liability (municipal waste) into an abundant resource for national industries or even international trade while reducing government expenses on MSW management and contributing to the maintenance of the urban environment. The prospect of exploiting this potential may provide some incentives for governments to invest in poor sections of the population by providing them with the means for autonomous development and increased productivity.
The importance of worker associations in representing and ensuring the rights of those employed in the informal recycling industry, must be recognised. Such organisations should not take on the form of for-profit enterprises with an economic agenda perseverate from that of the workers themselves. Rather, their function should be that of unions and they should remain independent from the government, corporations and the industries. This principle may be extended to the formation of a transparent, non-hierarchical network of civic institutions and centres of exchange providing the foundation for a natural and deregulated, yet efficient social structure.

The capacities of a well developed and informal recycling industry are demonstrated by the case of Dharavi; an irregular settlement located in Mumbai, India which, despite being built mainly from waste material itself, has become the citys ‘recycling hub’- far out-performing Mumbais formal waste management systems. The settlement occupies an area of only 2km2 but, according to estimates, houses over 1million people. Disperced throughout the complex maze of small shanty dwellings and narrow alleyways, around 15,000 single-room factories employ at least 250,000 workers and produce an estimated annual turnover of over US$1billion.
Mumbai generates, on average, 7,025 tonnes of waste every day, roughly 80% of which is thought to be processed in Dharavis recycling district known as the “13th Compound”.

For comparison, only about 20% of the municipal waste produced by cities in the United Kingdoms is recycled by formal public services and government institutions.
Though unplanned and not organised as a corporate entity, Dharavis phenomenal performance as an informal recycling hub has been described by analysts as “one of the most inspiring economic models in Asia”.
The self-organised system whereby so-called ‘ragpickers’ (300,000 of whom are thought to work in Mumbai) collect waste material from, dumps, landfills streets and throughout the city, sell it to scrap dealers who, in turn sort it according to type, quality and composition and then pass it on to various specialised ‘micro-factories’ for subsequent processes of recycling, seems to have become indispensable for the city as a whole.
“Due to the lack of formal systems of waste collection, it falls to the citys ragpickers to provide this basic service for fellow citizens. Without them, solid waste and domestic garbage would not be collected or sorted, let alone recycled”.



Design Proposal


The following section describes the transition from conceptual solutions, derived from the case study and theoretical research, to the final proposal both in terms of physical structure and operational logics. All aspects of the design can be seen as a direct consequence of core theoretical principles which, after having been extracted from the reasearch through a diagrammatic analysis and design process, manifest themselves in spatial and structural arrangements. The geometry of the superstructure, for example, is based on programmatic objectives as defined by research done on planned as well as unplanned urban morphologies and their relation to social, political and economic dynamics.

Conclusions obtained from the general research, concepts developed in the detailed research, as well as the proposed design solutions are integrated and explained according to the four research categories outlined earlier (see: Methods | Topics, Scope & Structure).

The order in which these four categories are discussed here, is based on their progression from theoretical, abstract concepts to concrete, physical structures and technical systems. While this reflects the logic of the design process (from theoretical analysis to abstract concept and, finally, to physical form), the proposal itself would, arguably like any design, operate in the exact reverse order where concrete physical, spatial or programmatic elements and attributes comprising an integrated system are means to attaining the less tangible social, economic, political and even psychological objectives defined by the theoretical research.

From a technical point of view, the proposed structure can be broken down into a series of descending levels of scale – from ‘Compound’ (Urban scale) to ‘Platform’ (Neighbourhood scale) to ‘Cluster’ (Block scale) and, finally, ‘Plot’ (building scale).
The level of determinism i.e.: the extent to which the physical structure is defined in the design, correlates with this sequence of scales. Infrastructural elements on an urban scale are physically predetermined to a larger degree than, for example, spatial and programmatic configurations on a ‘Plot’ (building) scale which, in accordance with the principles of complex systems development through self-organisation, leaves more room for the natural and dynamic emergence of structures according to human action and interaction.

Based on concepts such as ‘open building’, ‘incremental development’, participatory development as well as the ‘unplanned’ nature of vernacular urbanism, this approach aims to maximise the adaptability of the system as a whole to the divergent and changing needs of users.

1 | Model of Ownership and Economic Development:

Local, community-owned funds and the accumulation of private capital i.e: overcoming the subsistence economy (see Hypothesis and Context Overview | Disenfranchisement and Urban Poverty in Mexico), will reduce dependence on government aid, funding through NGOs and, arguably, criminal activity. Enabling residents to invest directly in various aspec1ts of their lives according to their specific needs as individuals, families or communities can foster a sense of empowerment, perspective and responsibility, thus promoting autonomous, bottom-up development. This not only not only benefits the residents themselves but will help change their status as a ‘liability’ in the eyes of the government and general public.
How, then, could access to local capital be provided and managed and in what was is the accumulation of independent funds preferable to the reliance on subsidies, bank loans and donations by charitative organisations?

Firstly, it should be established that the argument here is not to reject any form of external aid or economic relation but to move from a position of dependence to one of value generation and exchange by liberating idle human capital and increasing (or creating) incentives for stakeholders to invest in the potential of urban poor communities.
The economic model for the proposed development is based, to a large extent, on the hypothesis of Austrian born architect Christopher Alexander who, having received education and training not only in architecture but in computer science, mathematics, sociology and psychology, took a thoroughly multidisciplinary approach in his theoretical work and its practical application. Though produced during the mid- to late 1900s, many of its aspects remain highly relevant today- particularly, considering the recent economic crisis related to sub-prime credits as well as the accute housing shortage among the urban poor, with respect to real estate finance, ownership and security of tenure.24 In a practical sense, Alexanders multifaceted research and, at times, highly abstract concepts serve as the foundation for a sustainable economic system which minimises the dependency of economically challanged households on mortgages, loans, the housing market or banks and enables exponentially accelerating rates of autonomous housing development.

Furthermore, Alexanders socio-economic explorations and models provide incentives for incremental development, strategic investment into the built environment and the collaboration among residents (formation of communities/clusters, management of common land & communal fund)- all of which are highly relevant in the context of this project.

The theoretical outline for a design and construction process titled The Grass Roots Housing Process aims to provide an economic model for enabling people to build low-cost housing for themselves. It breaks with the mortgage system which, according to Alexanders criticism, does not allow residents to truly own their houses. From an economic and psychological perspective, however, Alexander argues that housing (and the built environment at large) should not be seen and treated as a commodity for resale and speculation but rather as an ‘experience’, ‘activity’ or ‘process’, the physical manifestation of which is a structure, tailored to the personal needs and way of life of It’s owners. This, in turn, is built upon his proposition that mass-produced housing (real estate as a commodity or a mere consumer product for speculation and profit generation for banks, land owners or brokers) creates lifeless, sterile and repetitive landscapes of ‘housing containers’, devoid of devoid of cultural meaning-

Instead of being the unfolding of our existence and the expression of our freedom, our houses have become the imprisonment of our existence, the denial of our lives”.

Although loans and mortgages might make it easier for low-income households or startup businesses to purchase property, interests create a long-term debt towards banks. Residents and businesses therefore have insufficient funds to properly develop the structures they ‘occupy’ but do not truly own since full ownership implies the freedom to adapt and develop the property according to ones own needs or desires. Instead, People are forced to pay off their debts and will be inclined to preserve generic style, making the ‘property’ suitable for resale. Houses are no longer designed to suit anyone’s personal needs but merely produced according to a predefined, standardised model to contain the lives of anonymous consumers.

As a consequence, people no longer identify with what is supposed to be their home and become alienated from the environment in which their lives take place while funds (residents earnings and business profits) are skimmed off by banks and corporations which provide no real services or benefits whatsoever.

The relation between ownership of land and structures (what one would call a ‘home’) and psychological or practical investment (finance and labor required for development, upgrading and maintenance) in them, is reinforced by the argument of ‘security of tenure’. Simply put, it explains the willingness of residents for making such investments as dependent upon their perception of ownership over the land or structure. If they do not truly regard it as their property and are unsure for how long they will be allowed to occupy it, they are less likely to develop and maintain it.

It is often stated that in the absence of security of tenure, residents will be hesitant to invest in their housing as they will be concerned about demolition, displacement and relocation.
As De Soto points out, the strategy is premised on the assumption thatsecurity of tenure encourages residents to upgrade their houses and settlements.”25

Although these propositions refer mainly to middle-class housing, the fundamental problematic identified by Alexander, can be related directly to that of irregular housing and the colonias populares of Mexico City as a ‘poverty trap’.

At the core of The Grass Roots Housing Process lies the assertion that it is necessary to move away from the current commerce- and Speculation-dominated housing system and towards a more human-centered model which guarantees full ownership by residents and encourages incremental, continuous development and customisation of buildings according to the resources available to owners at a given point in time (resources which would previously have been consumed by banks in the form of interests and mortgage payments).

The scheme is essentially based on the aforementioned incremental or ‘piece meal’ development of structures which avoids the need for residents to take up loans and allows them to stay within a reasonable budget as they expand their propertiy. Financial incentives such as tax reduction or subsidised construction materials might be provided to control the rates of development.

Firstly, ‘communities’ of specific sizes would be established in order to define property rights and set up common funds (this concept will be discussed in more detail under 4 | Physical, Spatial and Technical Design). The residents of each community would pay a small sum of tributes (relative to the size and/or quality of their property) which go towards the development and maintenance of public or community-owned property as well as the accumulation of ‘seed money’ (common funds) for setting up a new community (cluster of buildings). The more clusters are established, the more seed money is accumulated collectively. This principle leads to continuous or, ideally, exponential growth over time and ensures the sustainability of the system. The design and construction process is to be undertaken by residents themselves and would be facilitated by expert ‘builders’ who are able to provide practical advice and support for the realisation of specific projects. The builder also functions as a mediator between residents in decision-making processes relating to the development of common spaces and coordinates the allocation of tools and resources.

The role of builder constitutes another aspect of Alexanders central argument. In response to the professional divide between architects and builders, which he draws attention to with harsh criticism at the outset of ‘The Grass Roots Housing Process’, Alexander proposes the reconciliation of the two occupations. Rather than conceiving of a generic design which is then realised as a finished product for an unknown buyer, the builders responsibility would be to assist residents in the design and implementation of personal, customised structures. On a psychological level, this would support the concept of ‘true ownership’ by establishing a sense of identity between people and their built environments as it encourages them to actively participate in its creation.

In this sense, The Grass Roots Housing Process represents a theoretical application of the generative grammar described in A Pattern Language and elaborates on the economic framework required to effectively implement an alternative housing model.

A principle described by Alexander as part of his conceptual, urban-scale design framework in A Pattern Language is that of what he refers to as ‘Activity Nodes’- Marketplaces or centres of social and commercial activity which generate synergetic relations (information exchange, trade, stimulating competition, collaboration etc…) among residents, communities and businesses.
Based on the argument that identifiable ‘urban centres’ are essential to the development of heterogeneity, identity, vitality and, therefore, a successful urban morphology, he proposes the ‘seeding’ (explained in more detail below) of such centres.26 By attracting residents from various surrounding communities, businesses, institutions and public services are not only able to generate higher income but serve to establish horizontal economic and social relations- a process known as ‘bridging’ (described in more detail under 4 | Physical, Spatial and Technical Design).

The creation of a sustainable, functional, living urban environment is rooted in what Christopher Alexander describes as ‘wholeness’:

an area of space or land, in which various centers have arisen” […] which are “to a greater or lesser degree, coupled with one another. As a result of this coupling, each centre gains a little more life.”27

The essential concept of wholeness can also be identified in fields of knowledge such as mathematics, biology and philosophy- usually implying a harmonious, natural composition of interrelated parts to form a coherent, though not necessarily linear or euclidean, system.28

In terms of urbanism and sociology, however, it is most commonly related to analytical approaches such as the ‘Central Place Theory’ by Walter Christaller or the ‘Theory of the Urban Web’29 which attempt to describe the dynamics of unplanned i.e.: emergent urban environments and their economic as well as physical structures as a complex, yet highly functional and (irregularly) structured network of centres without which a city would be stagnant and lifeless.30

This paradigm is reflected in the design proposal in the form of ‘Civic Activity Nodes’- areas (or platforms) which are interspersed between communities and represent commercial hubs, each with an appropriate catchment area. The concept of ‘bridging’, when applying to vertical ties with external stakeholders (corporations, industries, government institutions, NGOs or other potential investors outside the proposed development), is referred to as ‘linking’- a function which provides local business with access to national and international markets and is addressed in the design by ‘Industrial Activity Nodes’- marketplaces and centres of commerce for the sale of recycled raw material on an industrial scale.

2 | Emergence versus Determinism:

In much the same was as economies should be allowed to develop freely in response to their context and the existing demand, so urban morphologies, the structure of public spaces, pathways and programs should, in turn, be adaptable to emergent and dynamically changing social, economic and cultural processes; they should be a manifestation of residents needs and activities rather than a restrictive container, allowing or dictating them.

It must be considered that existing communities have already developed intricate social structures and ways of life which characterise their unique cultural identity and are inherently ‘informal’ I.e: irreducible to simplistic layouts or ‘structures of power’ [?] attempting to define them but thereby only suppressing their intrinsic complexity. In this light, the adaptability of the built environment appears all the more important. Nikos A. Salingaros, in his 2010 article Geospatial Analysis and Living Urban Geometry, asserts:

We are not speaking about the failure of a set of theories, or even single or a group of architects and planners: it is the failure of an entire discipline, which originated at the end of the nineteenth century around ideas of top-down control. Urban phenomena have now been recognized as enormously complex and therefore inherently uncontrollable from the top down. We do not just need better architects and planners: we actually need architects and planners of an entirely different kind, who take the challenge of self-organization in cities seriously .”31

According to Salingaros, understanding cities as complex systems is essential for successful ‘urban seeding’ interventions. Urbanism, therefore, should be more concerned with “managing the seeds of change [in an urban environment] and not try to control its final state32

The term ‘urban seeding’ refers to the optimisation of conditions for the processes of self-organised urban physical and programmatic development33 I.e: the facilitate of what what Alexander called ‘wholeness’. In contrast to more conventional, formalistic understandings of urbanism, Urban Seeding may be characterised by the following principles:

  • A distinction between what might be termed as ‘superstructure’ (infrastructure or building structure) and ‘local developments’ (programmatic structures) where the superstructure is “common to entire macro-cultural regions and changing at a slower pace of time ” and local developments would be considered “specific of every micro-cultural enclave and changing at a faster pace in time”.

  • The domain of local programmatic developments should thereby be left to mainly self-organising processes of transformation and do not require preconceived planning while the superstructural dimension “can and should be managed by formal processes of control, which in turn should be led by a mainly participative organizational rule.”

  • A theoretical and practical understanding of “the structural dynamics of change that characterize the evolution of self-organized urban settlements.” That is to say: the ability to anticipate the in which specific interventions and features in an urban environment might affect the local developments (and, thus the entire ‘system’) over longer periods of time.

An analogy which has been used to illustrate this conception of the city as a system comprised of two fundamental ‘frameworks’ is that of a computers hardware versus its software:

A computer is clearly separated into its physical components (as built), and its software (which is strictly informational): each relies upon the other to work together. In a city, hardware is built into solid structures (buildings, roads, infrastructure, etc.) whereas software consists of the moving elements (people, cars, goods, energy, etc.)”34

This, in turn, relates to the basic paradigm of Open Building where programmatic functions are allowed to establish themselves in adaptation to one-another as well as to changing external conditions while being ‘harboured’ by a formally engineered structural framework which provides the required space and resources for their development without determining their exact form function and relation.
Open Building as a conceptual approach to architectural design and urban planning, but also as a school of thought with deeper sociological implication, emerged during the 1960s in response to modernist principle of standardisation and the resulting mass housing developments (many of which were perceived to have failed on a human and social or psychological level). The notion of open building and adaptable architecture was first proposed by the Dutch architect and theorist John Habraken in 1961. In his book
Supports: An Alternative to Mass Housing, Habraken argues that:

[…] housing must always recognize two domains of action: the action of the community and that of the individual inhabitant. When the inhabitant is excluded, the result is uniformity and rigidity. When only the individual takes action, the result may be chaos and conflict.”35

What is needed then, according to Habrakens approach, is a balance between individual freedom and interconnectedness of ‘the whole’- be it a building containing multiple programmatic functions and spaces or a city made up of individual buildings.

3 | Civic Structure, engagement & Implementation:

Cities may be seen as the physical manifestation of complex, non-linear patterns created by human behaviour (needs, desires, actions, interactions- whether rational or irrational, formal or informal, conscious or subconscious) on various levels of scale. Any attempt to impose a rigid, rational system on these dynamic processes will therefore restrict their natural development and, by extension, that of the city itself. The result of such a scenario is a rejection of the planned and artificial environment, neatly and ‘correctly’ arranged as it may be, by inhabitants due to a mismatch between the two realms. Urban fabric of this kind (or the society it ‘contains’) will never develop the synergetic vitality and cultural richness of a found in environments which have evolved naturally over time. In Geospatial analysis and living urban geometry, Salingaros posits :

The underlying concept in creating a living city lies in accepting its hierarchical complexity. A city must be made up of interconnected components, each of which functions in as complete a manner as possible. For example, a person’s house or apartment should be as self-sufficient as possible […] These smaller units should then fit coherently into the larger units, thus defining a hierarchy of scales of increasing urban complexity(Salingaros, 2005).

This somewhat abstract notion ‘interconnected components forming a self-organising system across scales (individual to collective, structural component to urban morphology) is described as ‘modular decomposition’ whereas ‘functional segregation’ implies the superimposition of an alien, rigid and mechanical structure on a natural system i.e: the separation and isolation of its constituent elements.

The challenge of urban seeding and the development of an adequate superstructure which allows for the natural emergence of complex systems, then, is to allow connections to form between elements (people, groups, communities, subcultures, structures, facilities, activities, programs etc.) while also providing space for each of these elements to adapt and develop freely. Thus, each entity or its respective ‘level of scale’ is defined by its smaller constituent parts.

4 | Physical, Spatial and Technical Design:

The proposal, as illustrated by the drawings, was designed according to the theoretical principles outlined above and can therefore be seen as a conceptual or schematic model for an urban morphology which integrates these abstract ideas into a single system.


The superstructure takes on the form of elevated platforms which, by providing a structural framework, space (a ‘secondary layer’ to the urban fabric, physically connected to the ground, yet independent form the monotonous, deadening grid of the colonias populares), as well as vertical and horizontal transportation routes and utilities (water, electricity, means of communication, sewage system), facilitates the gradual development of ‘infil structures’ such as dwellings, commercial spaces, public facilities, institutional buildings. With respect to the compute analogy given above, the superstructure therefore performs as the ‘hardware’ in providing all necessary resources and pathways for the development and operation of all fit-out structures i.e. programmatic facilities (or ‘software’ in terms of the analogy) and transforming or expanding at a slower rate than the latter.

In a practical sense, it is therefore best described as ‘expandable, modular infrastructure’ or simply as the raw structural and technical framework of a building on an urban scale.

By raising all programmes above ground level, the population density is reduced (i.e. distributed vertically), while maintaining a predominantly horizontal layout, benefiting the interconnectedness of related programmes, paths and centres of activity.

The composed structure thus represents a ‘conglomerate’ of three basic platform typologies with specific relative proportions to one-another. These proportions are defined by a coherent ratio or progression of scales as well as the function of each platform type which is, in turn, dependent on the two superstructural ‘layers’: Level 1 (elevated 8 meters above ground) hosts all functions related to the recycling of waste and the trading of the raw material produced, while Level 2 (elevated 12 meters above ground, harbours the civic realm (residential and public structures, common spaces, commercial areas). A development of multiple platforms of each type is referred to as a ‘Compound’.

Each platform is broken down into various functional areas or ‘Zones’ in order to establish a non-deterministic programmatic structure according to the principle of ‘modular decomposition’ or ‘nested entities’. The zoning plan also retains transitional areas or ‘Buffer Zones’ for programmatic expansion and inter-programmatic connective spaces. All platform types, however, are zoned as to produce a radial pattern of spaces, such that each platform represents an identifiable programmatic ‘module’ with a regional centre and a certain areas of influence. A Compound (multiple platforms of each type), thus inevitably becomes a system defined by multi-centrality i.e. regional identity.


The five functionally distinct platform types according to the two levels are:

Level 2 | Residential Communities & Civic Centres:

2 A| Residential Platforms:

With respect to the residential level, this generates distinct neighbourhoods or communities with a central public space and a ‘Nucleus’ i.e. community centre36 containing civic and administrative programs (such as a local town hall, communal organisations and a central forum) which are specific to that particular neighbourhood i.e. do not attract residents from neighbouring communities. Here, affairs such as the maintenance of commonly owned space and public facilities/buildings or the management of community funds are are can be decided upon by residents themselves. The maximum occupational capacity of each residential platform naturally limits the size of communities so that Community Action Planning (CAP) and effective decision-making processes in which all residents have a voice, remain viable and questions of ownership (private or common responsibilities) can be settled with a minimal bureaucratic effort.

The Nucleus also contains ‘Builder Offices’ for consultation and advice in matters related to the construction of dwellings or other self-built structures (see: 1 | Model of Ownership and Economic Development).

Every community is then spatially broken down or ‘decomposed’ further into three ‘Housing Clusters’, each with its own identifiable common space. Smaller platforms each representing two occupiable ‘Plots’ provide space and amenities for self-built dwellings. Below the vertically stacked housing structures, on the ground floor (platform level), some space will be reserved for small, local businesses, shared workspaces, and hospitality.

2 B | Civic Activity Nodes:

Likewise, a single Civic Activity Node is zoned so that its centre hosts important administrative functions (major public services or consultation and referral offices for legal and financial matters), educational facilities and civic organisations or NGO offices.

Social, recreational and commercial functions such as marketplaces or individual retail for consumer goods, offices, networking agencies, collaborative workshops, cafes, restaurants, small venue spaces and fora may develop around the periphery of a Civic Activity Node.

As a whole, a Civic Activity Node represents both a programmatic connection between three communal platforms as well as a centre of attraction in its own right. It serves as an information and networking hub by drawing residents form different neighbourhoods who have common interests and needs. In so doing, it establishes inter-communal relations to promote peer-to-peer collaboration and the exchange of knowledge and information. This constitutes the function of ‘bridging’ between various regional urban centres.

Circulation Platforms (Circulation Atria):

Small, bridge-like circulation platforms occupy the interstitial space between Civic Activity Nodes and Residential Platforms on the second level, and between Recycling Platforms and Industrial Activity Nodes on the first level to provide a direct physical connection between them (via a network of circulation paths) as well as to the ground level (through vertical circulation shafts, each containing three high-capacity freight elevators and a stairway). The ‘network’ of bridges and ramps with void spaces between segments of individual paths, produces a pours structure which allows for natural light and fresh air to pass through the entire compound until ground level. The atrium-like space thus created is described here as ‘Circulation Atrium’ but also plays an important role in terms of passive design and environmental sustainability. Vertical frame structures, attached to the edges of the circulation platforms on both levels are able to carry hydroponic drip-irrigation systems for the cultivation of crops and other agricultural vegetation. As they are well ventilated and receive direct sunlight until the residential level (Level 2), the atria provide an ideal space for vertical farming facilities which contribute to the self-sufficiency of residents and communities as well as to the climatic and environmental quality within and beneath the compound (superstructure). Convection currents within the atria cool replenish the air from within the compound as it flows across the two levels and through the greenery of the hydroponics framework.

Level 1 | Recycling Facilities & Industrial Marketplaces

1 A | Processing & Priduction Facilities:

The Recycling Platforms located on level 1 of a Compound are functionally divided into two sub-types: ‘Processing‘ and ‘Production‘.

Processing represents the first stage of the recycling chain and, in adaptation to to the limited means available, is based on low-cost techniques commonly employed by micro-factories of the informal recycling industry. Non-hazardous ‘refuse’ material delivered to the compound (organic waste material containing toxic substances are extracted before entering the facilities) from the surrounding city districts is sorted manually, cleaned and disintegrated (shredded) to obtain ‘scrap’ material for further processing according to its type and quality.

Plastics (the most prevalent material type), for example, is perseverated according to its class (PP-Polypropylene, PE-Polyethylene, PUR-Polyurethane, PS-Polystyrene etc.), quality or ‘grade’, colour and composition (mainly with respect to flame retardants which affect the mixing compatibility with certain other polymers). Simple but effective manual techniques such as visual and textural examination by trained (experienced) workers, or the ‘sink/float’ method (whereby cleaned and disintegrated plastics are submerged in a series of salt water or water/ethanol solutions with different mixing ratios to separate polymers of various densities; those with a lower density than the solution at each respective stage will float to the surface and can easily be skimmed off).

After separation, the materials are ‘pelletised’ (molten, extruded into strands and then shredded) to produce raw ‘granulates’ of specific types. This can then be sold in bulk to external industries or used locally (in the Production Facilities) for the manufacture of simple, injection molded objects or, most importantly, for the production of building components required for the ‘fit-out’ structures (self-built dwellings as well as public facilities and commercial structures) within the compound.

Both the Recycling and Production platforms are configured in a way that enables the self-organised development of collaborative procedures by multiple ‘micro-factories’, each specialising in a specific stage or process of the recycling chain. This allows for greater flexibility and adaptation to the supply of waste material and the demand for recycled raw material or manufactured products. The promotion of individual enterprises’ freedom to collaborate informally, aims to facilitate the development of the system as a whole in order to achieve an economy of scale from which individual workers and factory/workshop owners can profit directly while minimising bureaucratic and administrative barriers (‘red tape’), often restricting or preventing the operation of small businesses in the formal sector.

Various hypothetical configurations of recycling and production chains are detailed on the drawing ‘Diagrammatic plan | Recycling Platform’.

1 B | Industrial Activity Nodes (Marketplaces):

The Industrial Activity Nodes function as marketplaces for the sale of recycled raw material and building components. Similar to the Recycling Facilities, theor development may differ according to local demand, available material (depending interdependent with the output of neighbouring recycling facilities) and synergies (collaboration or competition) among individual retailers. The diversity of marketplaces or vendors, created by the process of informal economic ’emergence’ (unrestricted by formal regulations), will produce regions and compounds of speciffic character, thus creating regional dynamics of exchange and mutual supplementation.

Administrative functions, offices, and meeting or conference venues will be located at the centre of each Industrial Activity Node. Of particular importance are programs related to the establishment, administration and maintenance of external relations i.e. trade with firms, businesses, institutions (governmental or non-governmental) and industries outside the development as they represent the means for accessing national or even international markets. The establishment of vertical i.e. external relations to potential investors or influential stakeholders or government bodies is known as ‘linking’ and can be seen as the primary function performed by ‘core programs’ of the Industrial Activity Nodes.

The periphery of each node will host the marketplace itself which, as with the recycling facilities, will consist of individual entities (specialised vendors, services and sorage facilities) substituting one-another and generating a synergetic and moderately competitive environment which stimulates continuous development and expansion of the entire system.


The proposal provides a conceptual framework for achieving an economy of scale based on streamlining and integrating the processes of emergent urbanism, informal waste management and self-building. By establishing an economy of scale in the recycling of municipal waste, the scheme aims to exploit ‘idle capital’ (informal strategies of improvisation and substitution for formal goods services, a culture self-sufficiency, social cohesion and collaborative action, informal systems of value exchange, self-organisation and non-dependence on bureaucratic procedures etc.) held by the marginalised and impoverished communities of the colonias populares.

By offering value to state and municipal governments (saving them costs and efforts on municipal waste management), industries and corporations (providing a cheap and abundant source of recycled raw material) as well as to the citizens of Mexico city (contributing to the quality of the urban environment through waste collection) the urban poor may strengthen their leverage or bargaining power of towards authorities. Access to external resources, capital (government subsidies, microcredits, international / NGO support) as well as rights of citizenship (legal recognition) will thus become attainable.

In a literal sense, the proposed superstructure is conceived as functionally analogous to the dismantled building- retaining the structural framework, floors and technical systems but eliminating the envelope to create a porous infrastructural system to be occupied incrementally by self-built ‘fit-out’ structures to form an integrated, system of residential areas, commercial activities and facilities for recycling municipal waste (which, at the same time, provides the raw material for components used in the process of self building. In operation, the structure would therefore constitute a self-sustaining and expandable system or ‘Compound‘ of modular platforms on an urban scale. The ‘programmatic mass’ of these compounds is elevated at least eight meters above the urban ground level, allowing for its redevelopment as active urban space after part of the population form Mexico City’s Colonias Populares ‘migrated vertically’ into the residential communities of the compounds.
The informal and gradual development of residential and commercial areas intends to create a naturally ‘grown’ and complex (yet structured) urban fabric based on the principles of open building, self-organisation or ’emergent urbansim’, and participatory design and construction. The incremental development and expansion of compounds means that costs of construction can be distributed over longer periods of time, in adaptation to available funds or profits generated from the sale of recycled raw material. Although the initial ‘superstructure’ of each compound would be formally constructed and funded by the government and NGOs, associated can be seen as an investment to be returned by residents (workers) through conversion of a major liability (municipal waste) into a resource (recycled raw material) and the savings generated for local governments by reducing or even eliminating the need for formal waste management.

Conceptually, as explained earlier, the proposal represents a direct, schematic manifestation of theoretical concepts related to the morphology and dynamics of emergent urban fabric and complex systems, as well as the principles urban seeding, civic engagement and indirect structuring of urban communities as described in the research evaluation under ‘Design Proposal.

While the design proposal itself, if seen as a hypothetical manifestation of these concepts, would be more akin to speculative architectural projects such as ‘The Plug-in City’ and ‘The Walking City’ by Archigram37 or ‘The City of Morphologies’ by Alessandro Magliani.38 the underlying principles and strategies remain theoretically valid and may be adapted to similar contexts or applied at different scales.