Metropolis Nonformal


Christian Werthmann and Jessica Bridger


Nonformal urbanization will be the dominant mode of urban growth in the coming decades. The results of this growth go by many well-known names, including: slums, favelas, and shantytowns. The precarious conditions of these settlements, excluded from formal legal, social, and infrastructural systems, present a central challenge—and opportunity—in our current and future cities. Short texts explain a range of projects and initiatives, complimented by photographs and personal insights, to present a diversity of responses to the global phenomenon known here as “Metropolis Nonformal”.


17cm x 24cm portrait
Publication date: 
January 2016
Rights world: 

The world’s population is ballooning, and most of Earth’s new citizens will live in urban areas. Cities around the globe are already collectively occupied by billions of people with many of these metropolises and megalopolises lacking the organized, government-facilitated infrastructure of so-called “modern” cities in North America and Europe. Instead, residents build their own housing with whatever materials are available, using methods and standards that are sometimes dangerous—and other times ingenious. In fact, safety and health risks do not preclude self-built brilliance, nor vice versa.

Metropolis Nonformal spotlights this trend, brainstorming how urbanists, architects, designers, and planners—whether researchers, theorists, or practitioners—can facilitate the twenty-first century’s predominant form of city-building. The book is derived from two symposia of the same name, which were arranged by Christian Werthmann—a professor of landscape architecture and design at Leibniz University in Hannover. Werthmann and urbanist Jessica Bridger document the talks presented by field experts in this resulting compilation; a thorough primer in urban development for those who reject neocolonialist norms of intervention, featuring timely themes of participation and community.

Although intellectually rigorous, Metropolis Nonformal is an enjoyable read, unclogged of jargon or pretense. The narrative is accompanied by photography provided by the participants, illustrating the places where they have lived and worked—and evoking the form and character of the future places of life and work for the next billion human beings. Metropolis Nonformal poses questions to both reader and industry as it examines how to integrate technology and best practices that are safe, environmental, and ecological, into the self-built city of the future.

About the author: 

Christian Werthmann is a professor of landscape architecture and design at Leibniz University in Hannover. Until 2012 he was an associate professor and the program director of the landscape architecture master’s program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Werthmann has written numerous books and articles, exhibited globally, and spoken at international conferences on landscape and urbanism. As a former Hans Fischer Senior Fellow at TU München, he curated two major Metropolis Nonformal symposia, in 2011 and 2013, which form the basis of this publication. His own research concentrates on the potential of landscape architecture and infrastructure in heavily urbanized and socially conflicted terrain. His most recent publication, “Rehabitar la Montana,” co-produced with the think tank URBAM, engages the nonformal occupation of geologically risky terrain in Medellín, Colombia.

Jessica Bridger is an urbanist, journalist, and consultant. Her writing and editing appear internationally in a variety of media, including Monocle, Metropolis, Landscape Architecture Magazine, uncube, Journal of the London Society, Volume, MONU, Topos, Architectural Review, and many more. Bridger serves as a contributing editor for Monocle Magazine and uncube. She is the author and editor of books abut urbanism, landscape architecture, and architecture. She is on the Management Committee of the Global Schindler Award, a student competition for urban design. Her consultancy conducts expert research, strategic planning, and media projects for public—and private—sector clients. She earned an MLA from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College. She was the 2011/2012 Bakema Fello of the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) and has lectured internationally about built-environment issues.