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[Wild City]

‘Wild City’ is a research into non-planned and barely regulated processes of urban transformations. Starting off from the drastic changes in the urban structure of the city of Belgrade during the 1990’s, it tries to identify the internal logic of those transformations and investigates how to describe seemingly chaotic events in a process based and systemic way. The project has been made in a collaboration of Ana Dzokic, Milica Topalovic, Marc Neelen and Ivan Kucina. It has been developed both through a research at the Berlage Institute, Postgraduate Laboratory of Architecture, and as a part of STEALTH.

Transformation of the city through the processes of wild building and street trade


Cities are environments difficult to grasp in terms of their physical and spatial complexity - even more if an urban environment is undergoing dramatic reconfigurations that appear chaotic. This project inspects Belgrade, a city that during the 1990’s found itself in a turbulent condition in which many of the functions and services of the city, previously provided by institutions, had to be reinvented. In that period individual initiatives replaced the city’s primary systems in domains like trade, housing production and even public services. This fast and dynamic process created hybrid systems - in which self-organized ‘solutions’ played a major role

Instead of perceiving it as 'wild' - not understandable and for that reason not approachable - this project is an attempt to make connections, establish regularities within what appeared or was commonly described as chaos. Adaptability, the potential for small-scale innovations, and the ability to re-map the city through an unpredictable distribution of programs appeared to be essential for the new urban systems.

Street trade, overview of process participants and thier relations

In this process the city has been acting as a machine for production of new urban forms and as generator of its own substance. The thesis is that, by extracting mechanisms of transformation processes, the strength already available in many ‘ground up’ actions of urban actors can be further used as a design strategy.


To sense the scope of those officially unregistered changes taking place in Belgrade an initial observation method was created. Along tramline no.7 (following a section through the city) transformations taking place have been registered (photographed and documented) and thus, 16 different phenomena were recognized and described, ranging from 'street trade', 'illegal housing production' to 'inversion of institutions' and 'decentralization in public services' such as public transport.
Some processes proved extremely influential. The most radical reconfiguration of the city came about with so called street trade entering the public space and reshaping it. The evolution of street trade underwent six phases from mobility, to the use of light structures, phases of legislation, solidification to finally arrive at new typologies often parasiting former public space. Through the project a catalogue of these new typologies - ‘urban ready-mades’ - has been created. Further, to visualise physical and organisational transformation of the processes, a 3D sequential mapping technique has been developed.

3D sequential model of urban processes - department store and green market

Finally, the mechanisms of the transformation processes, named ‘urban genetics’, have been extracted. In nearly all of the studied processes, ranging from street trade to city transport, rapidly adapting organisations are achieved through conflict and negotiations between institutions and individuals. In a surprising way the transformation create hybrids, in which the smaller entities are in charge of producing newness and flexibility, while the larger ‘institutional’ entities maintain the minimum of stability.

The flow of events in such a chain follows a similar order in most processes: disequilibrium of initial systems, claiming territory by emergent practices, their growth, solidification, and progression towards hybrid forms.

Urban genetics codes, abstract patterns of transformations, show steps in negotiation between the inherent - centralised system (grey) and the emergent - distributed system (orange), over a range of processes: petrol selling, flea market, green market, public transport, housing extensions...


With Wild City a catalogue of processes and mechanisms of change has been grown, based in street-level research and in comparisons to evolutionary processes in other disciplines. It delivered a first set of tools to perceive ‘actors’, ‘forces’ and their behaviour in urban design notations. This knowledge has been the starting point for the ProcessMatter project, where these processes have been ported to a digital (simulation) environment to study their impact and potential outcomes.