Elective Course: Unfolding city complexity

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Stefano Cozzolino

Academic Staff


+ 49 (0) 241 40995-231





Jan Polívka

Head of Chair und Institute



Summer Semester 2020

Term: one semester


City complexity manifests itself spatially and takes part in the daily and ordinary life of all citizens. Every spot of a city has its own character, its own rhythm, and possesses its own identity. These are local features that only a superficial observer (or a stranger) cannot discern. Such complexity is visible in the urban artefacts, in societies and their economies. Above all, it is observable in the way these three systems (e.g. morphology, population and uses/functions) interact and influence each other giving rise to an ever evolving living organism: the city.

Vibrant, lively, inclusive and prosperous cities usually express a high level of intricacy and complexity. For this reason, the challenge of city design is primarily that of providing those necessary physical conditions that allow such (beneficial) complexity to emerge. In order to carry out good projects, architects, planners, and designers require an excellent ability to read and interpret the functioning of the urban system, especially at the very local scale.

This seminar will investigate and deepen the works of Jane Jacobs, a famous American-Canadian author who changed the way to think of urban transformation and dynamics by recognizing the positive role that citizens, local communities and neighborhoods can play into political bargains and developments projects. In this seminar, some of her prominent works will be read, commented and studied. Starting from those selected texts, the class will debate crucial issues for contemporary cities and key city design tactics and possible planning interventions. All this will be done by investigating also additional material (such as ongoing research projects, international case studies, documentaries and articles).

Therefore the objective of the seminar is twofold:

  1. to discover the key messages of a globally relevant author who influenced – and still does – many disciplines (e.g. sociology, economics, architecture, planning, etc.)
  2. to improve students urban analytical skills, advance new research questions, investigate some relevant urban design issues and find new interesting case studies. The central point is to investigate how the hardware (i.e. the built environment) influences the software (i.e. society and economies) and vice versa.

The lectures will be characterized by moments of (frontal) lesson and others of pure debate and interaction among students.

To successfully conclude the seminar, the student will be asked to prepare an analysis of a neighborhood/area of his/her interest (also of interest for the development of other courses/projects held at RWTH) and present it publicly. Students must demonstrate their capacity to use, reinterpret and advance the key messages of the author. (Important: the selection of groups, themes and areas of the exercise needs to be agreed with the lecturer).

To participate in this seminar, not specific backgrounds and knowledge are required.

This course is taught in English.

Main bibliography (selection of chapters):

  • Jacobs, J. (1961). Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House.

Additional bibliography (selection of chapters, one or two for book):

  • Jacobs, J. (1969). The economy of cities. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Jacobs, J. (1992). Systems of survival: A dialogue on the moral foundations of commerce and politics. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Jacobs, J. (2000) The Nature of Economies. New York: Random House.

Additional material such as articles, documentaries and projects will be provided in the course of the seminar according to the specific needs and interests of students.


to be announced...


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