6 Imaginative Redesigns For The World’s Fastest-Growing And Most Unequal Cities

From floating neighborhoods in Lagos to nonprofit housing in New York City, architects dream up fanciful ideas for how cities of the future can grapple with swelling populations.


By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, and most will be poor. Our cities–designed in a time when neither of these facts were true–are struggling to adapt to this change. But if we want our cities to do more than simply expand haphazardly to accept their new residents, it’s time to start planning.


That’s why a new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, which shows how six teams of architects and designers tackle the problem of growing income equality in cities from Lagos to New York, is so fascinating. The design teams spent 14 months looking at urban interventions in their own cities, and then used that inspiration to create new visions. “The teams were learning from informality, these spontaneous bottom-up interventions,” says curator Pedro Gadanho.

On a Tumblr for the exhibit, the museum is collecting existing examples of “tactical urbanism.” But they saw room for new ideas–and for architects to step in as intermediaries between citizens hacking solutions and cities making official plans.

“This is really also about the changing role of architects and how they can sort of function as connectors between top-down planning and bottom-up initiatives,” Gadanho says. “That’s quite important. We’re even questioning what the role of architects is in cities in these processes for urbanization.”

NLÉ, Lagos, Nigeria and Amsterdam, Netherlands; Zoohaus/Inteligencias Colectivas, Madrid, Spain

Lagos, Nigeria

Home to around 20 million people, the Nigerian capitol is the fastest-growing city in the world. As many as 250,000 people live in the sprawling Makoko slums. Architects took inspiration from the slums’ floating architecture–like this floating school–and created well-organized floating neighborhoods with solar-powered community centers.

“The collective actively looked for prototypes of urban objects and structures that then can be transformed into something that can be used at a larger scale,” says Gadanho. “So they went into the city, they looked at these examples, identified them, cataloged them, and they turned them into part of that vision for the future.”

Superpool, Istanbul, Turkey
Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée, Paris, France

Istanbul, Turkey

In the fast-growing Turkish economy, part of the middle-class dream is buying an apartment in one of the high-rise buildings on city outskirts. But the buildings are isolated, outdated, and fairly depressing. In this proposal, designers suggested transforming them with community spaces like new urban farming plots, coworking spaces, product-sharing shops, and a bike repair cafe.

MAP Office, Hong Kong, China, Network Architecture Lab, Columbia University, New York, U.S.

Hong Kong


Hong Kong is one of the most crowded cities in the world–with notoriously tiny apartments–but may soon have to find space for millions of new immigrants from mainland China. In a project called “Hong Kong Is Land,” designers propose adding eight new artificial islands to the territory. Each island, from the “Island of Resources” to the “Island of Surplus,” would represent a local value.

Mumbai, India

Home to both slums and a record number of skyscrapers, Mumbai is a perfect example of an unequal city. As slum housing is cleared away for new development, the city is starting to lose “tool houses,” tiny live-work spaces. The designers on this team, from the Ensamble Studio and MIT-POPlab, propose a new hybrid: high-rises that let people continue to work from home.

New York City, SITU Studio, New York, U.S., Cohabitation Strategies (CohStra), Rotterdam, Netherlands AND New York, U.S.

New York City, U.S.

As fewer and fewer people in New York can afford apartments, this team suggests shifting to a new type of ownership: “Housing Cooperative Trusts” that would be managed by nonprofits. Like the proposal for Turkey, these buildings would have shared spaces like rooftop gardens.

RUA Arquitetos, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, MAS Urban Design ETH, Zurich, Switzerland

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio is becoming a middle-class city. But as the city shifts, the architects took inspiration from Rio’s favelas, where residents often hack new additions to buildings out of waste material. The architects suggest a new catalog of additions that anyone can buy to build a new city together.

The exhibit, Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities, will be up from November 22 until May 10, 2015.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."