[OCL] Open Cities Laboratory

Urban Regeneration

“The challenge for urban design in its second half-century…is not to establish a canon for the discipline based on a particular idea about what a city ought to be. It is to come to terms intellectually with the diversity of urban dwellers’ needs and desires: to develop a sophisticated awareness of the environment and one’s impact upon it; to be more civil and responsive towards others; to not simply express concern for those less fortunate but to act on their behalf; to use technological advances for more equitable distribution of resources, not only for increasing personal wealth; and to tolerate less waste and redundancy. Different “urbanisms” should flourish in a still urbanizing world, including places where cappuccino may be happily consumed…”
– Professor Alex Kreiger, Professor in Practice of Urban Design, Emeritus Harvard GSD

Study Sustainable Urban Design and Architecture in Rome

The Open Cities Laboratory (OCL) cluster is our center for research on the social, spatial and environmental complexities of the 21st century city. Cities are humankind’s nature. They offer opportunities not only for innovation and economic growth but for a positive impact on the environment. Through our courses, internships & programs in the OCL cluster, you will study the historic growth and transformation of the city, the challenges it has repeatedly faced over time, and those it faces today. You will learn to reflect on questions such as how Rome proposes dealing with its changing climate.

Courses from the OCL Catalog

  • OCL 210 Sustainable Rome
  • OCL 200 Sustainable Roman Urbanism and Agriculture 
  • OCL 302 Urban Regeneration and Preservation 
  • INT 101 Academic Internship

Interesting in contributing to our research projects? Email the OCL Cluster Director: thomas.rankin@gustolab.com

Director Tom Rankin contributes to New Research on Urban Regeneration

Published earlier this year by Bordeaux Editions and edited by Giorgio de Finis, this book (in Italian only) contains contributions by Florencia Andreola • Luca Brignone • Eliana Cangelli • Serena Caroselli • Giovanni Caudo • Giulio Cederna • Nella Converti • Sabina De Luca • Irene Di Noto • Paolo Di Vetta • Davide Tommaso Ferrando • Enrico Gargiulo • Alfonso Giancotti • Margherita Grazioli • Keti Lelo • Rossella Marchini • Salvatore Monni • Francesco Montillo • Luca Montuori • Azzurra Muzzonigro • Matteo Orfini • Tom Rankin • Lorenzo Romito • Stefano Simoncini • Francesco Saverio Teruzzi.

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Some Highlights of the Open Cities Lab Field Learning

Internship Spotlight in Architecture, Urban Systems, and Landscape Design

Students may take part in workshops and field experience involving placemaking, architectural design, tactical urbanism, urban policy and planning and community development. Our internships are curricular, followed closely by our faculty who coordinate public symposia and publications. Students may take part in workshops and field experience involving placemaking, architectural design, tactical urbanism, urban policy and planning and community development. Our internships are curricular, followed closely by our faculty who coordinate public symposia and publications.

With the Open Cities Lab, you could intern with an architecture and landscape design studio founded in the early 2000s and based in Rome. This studio operates in a transversal way in the disciplines of landscape, architecture and city design, thanks to the complementary contributions of the various professionals who are part of it: architects specializing in the building project and in the definition of urban systems and landscape architects. Through the project, the studio aims to achieve a profound integration between the various components of the habitat: buildings and urban phenomena, internal and external spaces, characteristics and vocations of the place and behavior of the inhabitants.

Students interested in enrolling in an academic internship while abroad will receive individual advising as our staff works to find the best customized internship placements for our students. As part of the Open Cities Laboratory, you could have the chance to intern with an organic farm and historical initiative of sustainable urban agriculture. This community partner has been active in Rome since the 1970s and began as a project to recover abandoned public lands and to actively promote sustainable and alternative ways of living and active citizenship.

Meet the Director

Borromini Institute Director Tom Rankin is an architect residing in Rome, where he is actively involved in design research, practice, and teaching. He completed his Master’s degree in Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Princeton University and a “Laurea” in Architecture from “Sapienza” University of Rome.
His focus lies in studying the historical and emerging aspects of the city and landscape as a foundation for sustainable urbanism and architecture.

Interested in Joining our Programs?

Learn more about our semester, summer and short programs here.

OCL Cluster NEWS

  • Sustainable Service Learning

    Sustainable Service Learning

    Our students love to get involved in environmental projects in their adopted city, Rome. Whether this be helping fight climate change through conscientious shopping and recycling, joining in with Retake Rome to clean up public areas, or participating in internships supporting urban agricultural or welcoming immigrants, there are always ways for the study abroad student…

  • Program in Engineering and Construction Management

    Program in Engineering and Construction Management

    Our customized program for the University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering brought 22 students and their professor Ernest-John (EJ) Ignacio to Rome for a week of intensive learning. Highlights of the program were many:

  • Exploring Rome’s Ancient Port

    Exploring Rome’s Ancient Port

    32 students from two universities headed out by train from Rome’s Porta San Paolo and spent the morning exploring the back streets and monuments of Rome’s ancient port. Preserved in mud the way Pompeii was preserved in lava, but bearing witness to many more centuries of ancient history, Ostia provides a comprehensive look at Roman…

Principles of Shared Cities

an extract from “Sharing Cities, Activating the URBAN COMMONS” by shareable.net

Cities are simultaneously leading us toward and away from the brink of extinction. They are rising faster than nations to meet global challenges like cli- mate change – at the same time they are the key drivers of such systemic problems. We live in a new age of cities, but the human future has long been forged in cities, the cradles of civilizations and arguably our species’ most important and durable social innovation.

Shareable Cities, edited by Shareable
Solidarity. Sharing Cities represents a revived story about cities that recognizes community as the heroic protagonist in urban transformation. Aristotle, the leading philosopher during Athens’ golden age, believed that the city existed for the well-being of its people. In this story, people work together for the common good rather than compete for scarce resources. This age-old wisdom challenges popular narratives that portray high technology and competitive markets as heroes in the story of cities. A Sharing
City is of, by and for all people no matter their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or ability. In other words, Sharing Cities are primarily civic, with residents focused on taking care of each
other, their city, and partner cities too. Their primary function is to produce residents capable of working together for the common good, the foundational skill that makes all other things possible in society. Looking forward, and to paraphrase the Buddhist monk Thích Nhât Hanh, the next Buddha will be community. A multitude of loving, human-scale communities managed by capable residents is how we’ll protect all life on earth. The solution is us.
Distributed architecture. Sharing Cities support a commons-oriented shift from an industrial model of urban development, which centralizes the various functions of a city in separate zones for batch processing by bureaucracies, to a networked architecture, which distributes functions throughout the city for real-time processing through open networks. The distributed model is characterized by mixed-use zoning, modular architecture, event-based use of multifunction assets, and on-site processing of energy, water, and waste. It also enables new ways to manage resources (access over ownership) and multiple types of currencies (fiat, local, reputation) and property (public, private, and community). If managed democratically, Sharing Cities’ distributed architecture has the potential to dramatically increase the health, wealth, and resource efficiency of all city residents.
Private sufficiency, civic abundance. To quote George Monbiot, “There is not enough physical or environmental space for everyone to enjoy private luxury… Private luxury shuts down space, creating deprivation. But magnificent public amenities – wonderful parks and playgrounds, public sports centres and swimming pools, galleries, allotments and public transport networks – create more space for everyone, at a fraction of the cost.” Civic abundance should include public schools, spacious squares, expansive walkable cityscape, extensive bikeways, lending libraries, Fab Labs, pocket parks, coworking spaces, cultural centers, child care co-ops, food pantries, and more. In fact, each neighborhood should have a mix of civic amenities tailored to their needs. Sharing Cities are a path to abundance and celebration, not deprivation and drabness that downscaling consumption often suggests.
Common needs, co-designed solutions. Sharing Cities focus on common needs and pragmatic, community-developed solutions as opposed to top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions. This requires co- design, experimentation, learning, and iteration by the community. It also requires avoiding unnecessary replication of divisive national politics at the local level, which can take the focus off common needs and solutions. To paraphrase Father Arizmendi, the founder of Mondragon cooperative: ideologies divide, common needs unify.
Transformation over transaction. Sharing Cities emphasize solutions that build residents’ ability to work together. This is preferable to solutions that reduce provisioning to mere economic transactions. Services that build collaborative capacity can produce transformative social goods, lead to new collaborations, and help put a community on a positive, long-term trajectory. As in the case of northern Italy, a strong civic culture can last for centuries and is a precondition for long- term shared prosperity. Moreover, this emphasis creates space for individuals to develop as human beings. As Desmond Tutu has said, “a person is a person through other persons.” We need each other to become fully human.
Local control, global cooperation. Sharing Cities create many democratic, local centers of power that cooperate globally. This cooperation can take many forms. For instance, city governments could develop an open-source urban commons technology stack together. Think Airbnb and Uber, but with locally-owned, democratically-controlled instances of services that are also connected through a global platform. This is what futurist José Ramos calls “cosmo-localization.” It’s a strategy to achieve scale while building solidarity.
Impact through replication, not just scale. Sharing Cities can systematically encourage the documentation of local solutions so they can be adapted and replicated in other places. Here, solutions are only loosely connected. This process requires minimal technology and administrative investment. Scale is not the only path to dramatic impact. Both scale and replication strategies should be pursued.
Cross-sector collaboration, hybrid solutions. To thrive, the urban commons must adapt to the dense institutional web of
the city. Unlike isolated rural commons, urban commons have
no choice but to negotiate mutually beneficial relationships with government and the market. This must happen at the project and city scale as demonstrated by Bologna’s urban commons and the Co-Bologna project. Sharing Cities’ solutions are often hybrids of the commons, government, and market.
Systems thinking, empathy. City residents, urban planners, local politicians, and single-issue advocates need to become more aware of how different functions within a city interact with each other and are shaped by the surrounding region. For instance, the impacts of land use, transportation, housing, and jobs on each other are profound. There is an increased need for them to be planned together, and at a regional scale. Stakeholder groups must have empathy for one another and co-design urban solutions that optimize for the whole, not just one or a small cluster of issues or jurisdictions.
Build and fight. Sharing Cities must seize the immediately available opportunities for commons development. Many commons projects need little if any funding or permission to start. While political change is necessary, it’s unwise to depend solely on or wait passively for it. Today’s urgent challenges require immediate action. That said, a completely independent, parallel economy is not possible. The urban commons need to be fought for politically too, and that takes long-term vision and commitment. To borrow from Cooperation Jackson’s strategy, we must build and fight for Sharing Cities.
Competitive advantage through quality of life, security, and distinctiveness. Sharing Cities are great places to live because
they foster healthy relationships and natural environments, top contributors to health and happiness. Sharing Cities enhance social and environmental resilience. In an increasingly unstable world, the advantages of a supportive community and an accessible resource base represent an attractive safety net. In addition, Sharing Cities are distinctive because the commons preserve local culture and tradition. This distinctiveness helps them compete globally. The best cities will increasingly be known by the unique, and even transformative, experiences they make possible. The 21st century version of cathedrals, which drew millions of people to European cities during the Middle Ages, will be the uplifting social interactions, safety, and everyday joy experienced in Sharing Cities. As the old Irish proverb goes, it is in the shelter of each other that the people live.

What principles would you add?