(In)visible cities workshop


The 29th of November, zURBS was invited to do a workshop for participants of the research network “Negotiating (In)visibilities” in the context of their third conference at ETH Zürich. The network explores questions relating to cultural changes in the visible and the invisible. It consists of a group of researchers from all over the world, representing diverse areas of expertise within the fields of architecture, social sciences, arts and cultural studies.

Given the theme of (in)visibility it was obvious to us to base the workshop on our beloved book “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino. The book pretty much cut to the core of the work of zURBS as it addresses the imaginative potentialities of cities and can be used to visualize how cities can be where human imagination is not limited by the laws of physics or the limitations of modern urban theory. In this sense the book offers an alternative approach to thinking about cities, how they are formed, how they function and how we live in them.

See the presentation of the book and the workshop in the prezi below:

Marco Polo: You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.

Kublai Khan: Or the question it asks you…                                                                                                                         Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

The aim of the workshop was for the participants to go out and collect the invisible city of their imagination and by doing this testing out some tools as to how we can heighten our sensibilities towards our surroundings.

The workshop was executed as follows:

Participants were divided in groups of three and were sent out in the city with a map and a game manual:

 Following the map, they would move around in town visiting six different stops (e.g. a bar, a hostel, a church, a restaurant, a sex shop…). At each stop they would meet a person who would give them an envelop. At the envelop one of the invisible-city stories by Calvino was printed. The participants read the story together. Then they opened the envelop in which they would find an exercise relating to the story they had just read. After reading the exercise they went to the next stop and on their way they did the exercise. At the next stop they would meet a new person, get a new story and a new task, and then the procedure would repeat itself.


1. The city of Chloe: What encounters can you imagine between the people in this city? Find two strangers that have not yet met, imagine their stories and make them meet. Document in pictures and written dialogue.


2. The city of Leonia: What thrown out things do you find that represents this city’s opulence? Find them on your way to the next stop and collect them in your box.


3. The city of Tamara: What things do you see that can be images of things that mean other things? Find a building and deconstruct all the parts that tells you what this is, and draw each part separately. Based on all the parts, draw a new building that this could be if it was not what it is.


4. The city of Trude: What is unique to this city and thus not the same here as anywhere else? Make a list of things you can see/hear/smell, which you all agree that cannot be found in your own city.


5. The city of Valdrana: What reflections or repitions do you find that reflects the mirror-image of this city? Find them on your way to the next stop and photograph them.


6. The city of Zaira: What traces of the past can help you find the next stop on our tour? Find the next stop by asking for a place that … (here we gave some abstract descriptions of the place they had to find, which in this case was a sex shop that used to have big white tentacles above its door).




The participants were very enthusiastic and engaged about the workshop. They enjoyed being able to link the theory and talks of the conference, with a more tactile approach that enabled them to look at their surroundings in a completely new way. As many were visiting Zurich for the first time, they emphasized the unique opportunity the workshop provided by giving them tools to experience and discover a city in a new and alternative way.

All the material the participants collected on their way, were handed it in to us and we made a presentation out of it. This was then presented at the conference the next day. Have a look at the presentation below:

Get the workshop to YOUR city:

We are planning on doing the workshop in several cities and publishing all the collections of invisible cities around the world.

If you are interested in getting this workshop to your city or university, do not hesitate to contact us at all@zurbs.org.

Impressions from the workshop:

Deconstructions (City of Tamara)


Pictures/drawings from Group 1 (Henriette Steiner and Jane Rendell)



Pictures from Group 3 (Kassandra Wellendorf, Claus Bech-Danielsen and Mikkel Bille)


 Reflections and repetitions (City of Valdrana)

Pictures from Group 1





Pictures from Group 3


Pictures from Group 2 (Henrik Reeh, Kristin Veel and Nicolette Macovicky)



Imagined encounters (City of Chloe) 


Story from Group 2

Story from Group 3


About Andreia Sofia Paixao

I’m an architect but at the moment I’m doing a PhD in the “Architecture of Contemporary Metropolitan Territories” at the University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE-IUL). I have worked teaching children in a primary school, in performance studies and as a production assistant in dance and events on ecological themes. PhD Researcher _ Architecture / Contemporary Dance / Permaculture My research is situated at the intersection of architecture, landscape architecture, public art and urban development.

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