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Independent School for the City

Independent School for the City is a Rotterdam-based postgraduate educational platform and a public centre focused on topics around the development of the city. It seeks to effect real change by blurring the lines between critique and practice, as well as research and policy, and by initiating incremental change rather than large-scale city planning projects.

Independent School for the City workshop. Photo by Maarten Laupman

The school builds on the belief that architectural, economic, spatial, and social strategies for the city should be based on real, first-hand empirical research into the city. Located in the city centre of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the school uses Rotterdam as a test case to confront the participants with the complexity and contradictions of contemporary cities all around the world. The Independent School for The City tackles major spatial issues like migration, the impact of climate change, the reinvention of democracy, and the consequences of economic growth or decline on the city. Its goal is to train a group of critical urbanists that know how to deal with the major spatial issues that will dominate our cities in the near future.

A school for urbanism that borrows skills and methods from different disciplines

Independent School for the City’s pedagogy draws from its founders´ critical and activist approach to the city, following the methodological triad of Research, Stories and Strategies (Action!). It is not a “design course”, but a school for urbanism that borrows skills and methods from different disciplines such as sociology, economics, history, anthropology, as well as urban planning and architecture – everything that helps to understand and improve the city. Research methods include filmmaking, journalism, history, art, graphic design, gaming, fieldwork, photography, planning, finance, and architecture. [1]

Independent School for the City was initiated by the Rotterdam based collective Crimson Historians & Urbanist, and the activist-architects of ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles]. It was founded in 2018 in Rotterdam.

Organisation and People

The Independent School for the City does not have a fixed curriculum but offers a flexible framework of activities that differs every year. It offers stand-alone workshops, masterclasses, studios and other educational activities that vary in duration from one week to three months. Courses range from a 4-day crash course on filmmaking to the intensive 12-week program on contemporary urbanism: Dirty Old Town. The activist and multidisciplinary approach of the Independent School is strongly embedded in all its activities. The school is deliberately uncredited to be more critical, to experiment more, and to reach a different audience than the established institutions and schools.

Crimson Historians & Urbanists are Ewout Dorman, Mike Emmerik, Annuska Pronkhorst, Michelle Provoost, Simone Rots, Wouter Vanstiphout and Cassandra Wilkins. ZUS was Founded in 2001 by Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman. Board members: Saskia van Stein (Chair), Nanne de Ru and Sereh Mandias.

This description is based on excerpts from websites as referred to in Notes and Resources and input from Mike Emmerik.


Independent School for the City website:
Crimson Historians and Urbanists website:

Michelle Song
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