Press Release - "Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures"

New book: Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures

Authors: Thomas Ermacora and Lucy Bullivant

Recoded City is a global survey of participatory placemaking and distributed urbanism, burgeoning movements engaging citizens in advancing visions for their neighbourhoods and towns, and supporting their well-being through increased self-governance

Co-authored by regeneration architect and impact entrepreneur Thomas Ermacora and writer and curator Lucy Bullivant, Recoded City examines the potential of citizen-led collaborative neighbourhood renewal strategies emerging in the interstices of rigid, top-down masterplanning, which has seen identity stamped out of place. During the years 2010-13 the number of city dwellers increased by 200,000 per day. In our urbanised world it is vital that we make cities which are more resilient, future proofing neighbourhoods by making them relevant to and reflective of the people who live there.

But the top-down city has alienated people. In the modern globalised world extreme forms of capitalism overshadow human rights, and government resources are increasingly depleted. Whether by repairing the damage of natural disaster or healing the pains of uninspired planning, communities are starting to work proactively to pursue a localised placemaking which is more responsive, resource-efficient and holistic in its approach. At the same time architecture has been expanding as a multidisciplinary field.

The authors advocate architecture and urban design which is socially engaged and motivated by a civic duty to help the 90%, not the privileged 10%. In the Recoded City architects are enablers and facilitators, working with citizens for a better future.

In the ‘Wiki-culture’ age of accelerated change, new tribes of agitators and pragmatic activists are forming, propelled by the power of a collective voice. Grassroots placemaking is benefitting from the new democratising technologies of an open society, sharing economy and DIY culture serving to galvanise communities. The shift away from generic mega-planning towards nimble, distributed and socially informed architecture is now more tangible.

Drawing on new research about current and recent projects, Recoded City shines light on experimental and exemplary practice as part of its evaluation of this sector, in order to transcend its marginalisation as a cultural activity and enable it to be recognised as an emerging science, based on ideas and action. Recoded City presents 43 international case studies of emancipatory practices of both formal and informal urbanism, which provide inspiration for the future. These stories speak of the ‘soft power’ of the collective voice and a collaborative spirit, and teach us that a city’s primary resource is its inhabitants. Central to each endeavour is the community’s authentic sense of ownership engendered through their participation.

The stories are preceded by seven core chapters which plot the socio-political landscape that has defined participatory placemaking, from the civil rights movement to the present day; describe the current era of wiki culture which is equipping and empowering the marginalised with new digital tools; investigate the rise of liveability over productivity; and define a new framework for placemaking in a new paradigm.

The term ‘recoding’, an expression and process philosophy coined and applied by Ermacora for many years, employs the language of the digital and genomic era to describe a practice which brings together professionals and citizens. Working collaboratively they imagine paths to sustainable futures and take practical steps to realise them, all of which reinforces the DNA of place.

Spanning six continents, the 43 stories vary in scale and scope, ranging in focus from resources and activation tools, to neighbourhood regeneration and built development. Projects include the creation of new community centres by Home for All in Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami; an urban district in West Africa with high-yield rainwater harvesting; and the community-led preservation of New York’s High Line, in a spectrum of locations including conflict and disaster relief zones, sprawling suburbia and central business districts. Some are localised and finite, others are ongoing and itinerant, underlining the value of their lessons across cultures.

In narrating this body of stories, Recoded City asks if it is possible to scale up the techniques explored. Is there merit in applying benchmarkable criteria to a practice which refutes rigid frameworks? Ermacora and Bullivant attempt to provide answers, applying their own lens of criteria to the 43 stories, examining their origins, funding, ethos and successes, and rating them on a scale of 1 to 5 for their Impact, Scale, Design, Replicability and Engagement.

Designed in collaboration with The Design Surgery, Recoded City is characterised by bold infographics which bring visual clarity to evidence-based data, presented alongside documentary photographs of people-focused participatory placemaking processes.

The book is prefaced by writer, educator and founder of The Doors of Perception, John Thackara, with supporting essays by social enterprise founders and built environment experts:

Eva Franch i Gilabert, Storefront for Art & Architecture

Andy Lipkis, Tree People

Josiah Mugambi, Kenyan iHub

Michael Norton, Centre for Innovation in Voluntary Action (CIVA)

Edgar Pieterse, African Centre for Cities

Ute Weiland, Alfred Herrhausen Society

With endorsements from William McDonough, Paola Antonelli, Cameron Sinclair and Bjarke Ingels, among others, Recoded City is an essential guide for citizens, social innovators, designers, developers and practitioners committed to making better and more liveable cities.


Title: Recoded City: Co-creating Urban Futures

Authors: Thomas Ermacora and Lucy Bullivant

Preface: John Thackara

Publisher: Routledge

Design: Thomas Ermacora and The Design Surgery

Publication: 9 October 2015

ISBN: 9781138819801

RRP: £36.99

Events and Enquiries

To request a review copy of the book send an email to:

Press enquiries, image and interview requests:

Claire Curtice Publicists

Tel: +44 (0)20 7613 1442


Official launch:

Monday 11 January 2016 6:30 – 9:00pm

House of St Barnabas

1 Greek St, London W1D 4NQ



The 43 stories in Recoded City include:


atelier d’architecture autogérée – Regeneration, France (2011-ongoing)

Canning Town Caravanserai – Regeneration, UK (2012-13)

Clear Village – Regeneration, UK (2009-ongoing)

Collectif Etc – Activation, France (2009-ongoing)

Ecosistema Urbano – Resource, Spain, with projects in Norway (2000-ongoing)

Herkes için Mimarlik – Public realm, Turkey (2011-ongoing)

Marko + Placemakers – Public realm, UK (2000-ongoing)

Partizaning – Regeneration, Russia (2001-ongoing)

snark space making – Disaster relief, Italy (2008-ongoing)

Soundings – Regeneration, UK (2007-ongoing)

Strategic Design Solutions and La 27e Région – Regeneration, France (2002-08)

WikiHouse – Resource, UK (2011-ongoing)

North America

Center for Urban Pedagogy – Resource, USA (2001–ongoing)

Estudio Teddy Cruz – Development, USA/Mexico (2011-12)

Dreaming New Mexico – Resource, USA (1989-ongoing)

Dudley Street Neighbourhood Initiative – Regeneration, USA (1984-ongoing)

Friends of the High Line – Public realm, USA (1999-ongoing)

Operation Resilient Long Island – Disaster relief, USA (2012-ongoing)

SENSEable Cities Lab, MIT – Resource, USA (2004-ongoing)

Muf Architecture + Art, J&L Gibbons – Regeneration, UK (2009-ongoing)

Neighborland – Resource, USA (2010-ongoing)

Project for Public Spaces – Public realm, USA (1975-ongoing)

Project H Design – Regeneration, USA (2009-ongoing)

SERA Architects – Resource, USA (2002-ongoing)

Vancouver Public Space Network – Public realm, Canada (2006-ongoing)

WXY Studio – Public realm, USA (1998-ongoing)

South America

Alejandro Echeverri, Sergio Fajardo, Municipio de Medellín – Development, Colombia (2003-ongoing)

Elemental – Development, Chile (2011-ongoing)

Marcos L. Rosa – Development, Brazil (2008-ongoing)


Kéré Architecture – Development, Burkino Faso (2009-ongoing)

1to1 Agency of Engagement – Development, South Africa (2010-13)

MASS Design Group – Development, Rwanda (2011-ongoing)

PITCHAfrica – Development, Kenya (2004-ongoing)

Urban-Think Tank – Development, South Africa (1998-ongoing)


Anna Heringer – Development, Bangladesh (2006-ongoing)

Home for All – Disaster relief, Japan (2011-ongoing)

Rural Urban Framework – Development, China (2006-ongoing)

Studio Mumbai - Development, India (2005-ongoing)

TYIN tegnestue Architects – Development, Thailand (2010-ongoing)

URBZ – Development, India (2008-ongoing)

WORKSHOP architecture – Development, Philippines (2012-ongoing)


Gap Filler – Disaster relief, New Zealand (2010-ongoing)


Architecture for Humanity - Disaster relief in 48 countries (2005-14)

Author Biographies

Thomas Ermacora FRSA, is a Danish-Italian regeneration architect, impact entrepreneur and futures thinker, helping communities and developers making better and happier places. He is the producer, design director and co-author of Recoded City.

He studied Urban Design and Sustainable Development, International Affairs and Philosophy, and set up a sustainability consultancy working on eco-retrofits as well as masterplans. Notable collaborations include Gehry and Partners and more recently Carmody Groarke and Architecture for Humanity. He curated Dreams on Wheels, an exhibition on urban cycling culture, which toured 15 countries 2007-9, bringing global attention to Jan Gehl Architects’ signature slow mobility city.

In 2008 he shifted his focus to the empowerment of citizens, establishing Clear Village, a tactical urban design nonprofit delivering participatory initiatives across Europe. Clear Village has worked with social landlords, local authorities, and clients such as World Design Capital 2012, UNESCO Design Cities and the Design Council (UK). The tools and processes Ermacora has pioneered as chief creative and strategist of Clear Village have received numerous peer accolades and have been nominated for the INDEX Award 2013 and Placemaking Awards 2014 and 2015.

In 2012 he founded and designed the LimeWharf, a hybrid cultural innovation hub and incubation space which provides a platform for groundbreaking exhibitions and salons, and features London’s first fab lab (Machines Room) in Hackney, East London. Created as a new generation institution for neighbourhood development and employment relocalisation, LimeWharf has become a significant go-to place for organisations such as the British Council (, the Royal College of Art and the Royal Society of Arts.

A frequent contributor to international journals, conferences such as TED, and a board member of a number of ethical radical innovation start-ups, his works and observations are the reason for this book. With Recoded City, he aims to promote peers and influencers he has met over the years and put forward his design philosophy to accelerate the potential of distributed urbanism and maker technologies.

LimeWharf. org

Lucy Bullivant PhD Hon FRIBA is a London-based cultural historian, author, consultant and curator specialising in architecture, urban design and adaptive planning. She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the webzine Urbanista. org and Adjunct Professor, Urban Design History and Theory at Syracuse University. In 2015 she completed her PhD by Prior Output, From Masterplanning to Adaptive Planning: Understanding the Contemporary Tools for Civic Urban Order at Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design, London Metropolitan University.

She has written numerous books including Masterplanning Futures (Routledge, 2012) which won Book of the Year at the Urban Design Group Awards 2014; Responsive Environments: Architecture, Art and Design (2006); New Arcadians: Emerging UK Architects (2012); Anglo Files: UK Architecture’s Rising Generation (2005) and was Guest Editor of 4dsocial (AD, 2007) and 4dspace (2005).

Bullivant was Heinz Curator of Architectural Programmes, Royal Academy of Arts, London (1993-94) and has subsequently curated acclaimed international exhibitions including Urbanistas: Women Innovators in Architecture, Urban and Landscape Design, at the Roca London Gallery (2015); Space Invaders, with Pedro Gadanho, for the British Council, which toured Europe, Japan and Brazil (2001-3); Kid Size: The Material World of Childhood, with Vitra Design Museum (global tour, 1997-2005) and The Near and the Far: Fixed and In Flux, the British exhibition, XIX Triennale di Milano (1996) supported by the UK government. She speaks regularly at international conferences and is a frequent contributor to architectural titles including Platform, The Plan, Volume and A+U.

Recoded City follows Bullivant’s earlier publications evaluating alternative masterplanning frameworks and adaptive planning tools and processes, including responsive designs co-created by participants.

  • Recoded City

    Co-Creating Urban Futures

    By Thomas Ermacora, Lucy Bullivant

    Recoded City examines alternative urban design, planning and architecture for the other 90%: namely the practice of participatory placemaking, a burgeoning practice that co-author Thomas Ermacora terms ‘recoding’. In combining bottom-up and top-down means of regenerating and rebalancing…

    Paperback – 2015-11-30